Skip to main content

Expanding and enacting transformative meanings of equity, diversity and social justice in science education


In this paper, we provide a conceptual critique of the various constructs often used to justify policies and/or research to promote equity, diversity and social justice in science education. As research expands in these areas, we seek to provide some clarity to support researchers in deepening their work toward transformative goals in science teaching and learning. First, we explore the ways in which researches often argue why equity, diversity or social justice should be addressed, detailing arguments for economic superiority, morality and sociotransformative action. Next, we outline how researchers have argued that equity, diversity and social justice should be addressed including approaches such as equal distribution, mandated policy and sociotransformative education. We conclude with some examples  of recent research that bring into practice the lesser known of these, the sociotransformative approach, arguing that this approach provides the field of science education research with a more promising way to create sustainable change. The sociotransformative approach is centered on improving the lived experiences of historically marginalized youth and encourages researchers to focus on reporting research as narratives of engagement. That is, a more representative and balanced analysis of the challenges and successes of teaching and learning in culturally diverse schools and of the responsive (and responsible) role researchers can (and should) play in helping bring about positive social change. This paper helps situate the other articles in this special issue in the larger conversations on equity, diversity and social justice occurring within the field of science education.


En este artículo, ofrecemos una crítica conceptual de los diversos constructos utilizados a menudo para justificar políticas y / o investigación para promover la equidad, la diversidad y la justicia social en la educación científica. A medida que la investigación se expande en estas áreas, buscamos proporcionar cierta claridad para apoyar a los investigadores a profundizar su trabajo hacia objetivos transformadores en la enseñanza y el aprendizaje de las ciencias. Primero, exploramos las formas en que los investigadores a menudo discuten por qué deben abordarse la equidad, la diversidad o la justicia social, detallando sus argumentos para la superioridad económica, la moralidad o la acción sociotransformativa. A continuación, describimos cómo los investigadores han argumentado que se deben abordar la equidad, la diversidad y la justicia social, incluyendo enfoques como la distribución equitativa, las políticas obligatorias y la educación sociotransformativa. Concluimos con algunos ejemplos de investigaciones recientes que ponen en práctica el enfoque menos conocido, el enfoque sociotransformativo--argumentando que este enfoque proporciona al campo de la investigación en educación científica una forma más prometedora de crear un cambio sostenible. El enfoque sociotransformativo se centra en la mejora de las experiencias vividas de los jóvenes históricamente marginados y alienta a los investigadores a centrar sus reportes científicos en unas narrativas de activismo. Es decir, un análisis más representativo y equilibrado de los desafíos y éxitos de la enseñanza y el aprendizaje en escuelas culturalmente diversas y del papel receptivo (y responsable) que los investigadores pueden (y deben) desempeñar para ayudar a lograr un cambio social positivo. Este documento ayuda a situar los otros artículos en este número especial en las conversaciones más amplias sobre equidad, diversidad y justicia social que se producen en el campo de la educación científica.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Achieve. (2013). Next generation science standards: For states, by states. Retreived from Accessed Oct 2017.

  • Aguilar-Valdez, J. R., LópezLeiva, C. A., Roberts-Harris, D., Torres-Velásquez, D., Lobo, G., & Westby, C. (2013). Ciencia en Nepantla: The journey of Nepantler@ s in science learning and teaching. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 8(4), 821–858.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Anzaldua, G. (2002). Now let us shiftthe path of conocimientoinner work, public acts. In G. Anzaldúa & A. Keating (Eds.), This bridge we call home: Radical visions for transformation (pp. 540–578). New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Atwater, M. (2011). Multicultural science education, equity and social justice. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Special virtual Issue.

  • Bang, M., Faber, L., Gurneau, J., Marin, A., & Soto, C. (2016). Community-based design research: Learning across generations and strategic transformations of institutional relations toward axiological innovations. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 23(1), 28–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Making human beings human: Bioecological perspectives on human development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483. (1954). United States Supreme Court. US Government.

  • Congress, U.S. (1776). Declaration of independence. Retreived from Accessed Oct 2017.

  • Congress, U. S. (1958). National Defense Education Act of 1958. Public Law 85-846.

  • Gardner, D. P. (1983). A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform. National Commission on Excellence in Education. Retreived from Accessed Oct 2017.

  • Gewirtz, S. (1998). Conceptualizing social justice in education: mapping the territory. Journal ofEducation Policy, 13(4), 469–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harper, S. R. (2010). An anti-deficit achievement framework for research on students of color in STEM. New Directions for Institutional Research, 2010(148), 63–74.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hartocollis, A. (2017). Long after protests, students shun the University of Missouri. The New York times. Retreived from Accessed Oct 2017.

  • Joseph, N., Haynes, C., & Cobb, F. (2016). Interrogating whiteness and relinquishing power: White’s faculty commitment to radical consciousness in STEM classrooms. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the achievement gap to the education debt: Understanding achievement in US schools. Educational Researcher, 35(7), 3–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lather, P. (1991). Getting smart: Feminist research and pedagogy with/in the postmodern. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563. (1974). United States Supreme Court. US Government.

  • May, S., & Sleeter, C. E. (Eds.). (2010). Critical multiculturalism: Theory and praxis. New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mensah, F. M. (2012). Positional identity as a lens for connecting elementary preservice teachers to teaching in urban classrooms. In M. Varelas (Ed.), Identity construction and science education research (pp. 105–121). Rotterdam: SensePublishers.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Morales-Doyle, D. (2017). Justice-centered science pedagogy: A catalyst for academic achievement and social transformation. Science Education, 101(6), 1034–1060.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • National Research Council. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • North, C. (2008). What is this talk about “social justice”? Mapping the terrain of education's latest catchphrase. Teachers College Record, 110(6), 1182–1206.

    Google Scholar 

  • Oakes, J. (1990). Multiplying inequalities: The effects of race, social class, and tracking on opportunities to learn mathematics and science. Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rivera Maulucci, M. S. (2012). Social justice research in science education: Methodologies, positioning, and implications for future research. In B. J. Fraser, K. Tobin, & C. J. McRobbie (Eds.), Second international handbook of science education (pp. 583–594). New York, NY: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Rivera Maulucci, M. S. (2013). Emotions and positional identity in becoming a social justice science teacher: Nicole’s story. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 50(4), 453–478.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rodriguez, A. J. (1997). The dangerous discourse of invisibility: A critique of the National Research Council’s National Science Education Standards. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 34(1), 19–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rodriguez, A. J. (1998). Strategies for counterresistance: Toward sociotransformative constructivism and learning to teach science for diversity and for understanding. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35(6), 589–622.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rodriguez, A. J. (2001). From gap gazing to promising cases: Moving toward equity in urban education reform. Journal of Research in Science Teaching., 38(10), 1115–1129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rodriguez, A. J. (2004). Turning despondency into hope: Charting new paths to improve students’ achievement and participation in science education. Southeast Eisenhower Regional Consortium for Mathematics and Science Education @ SERVE. Tallahassee, FL. Accessed Oct 2017.

  • Rodriguez, A. J. (2010). The impact of opp(regre)ssive policies on teacher development and student learning. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 5, 923–940.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rodriguez, A. J. (2014). Latino ancestry. In R. Gunstone (Ed.), Encyclopedia of science education (pp. 1–4). New York, NY: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rodriguez, A. J. (2015a). What about a dimension of engagement, equity, and diversity practices? A critique of the next generation science standards. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(7), 1031–1051.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rodriguez, A. J. (2015b). Managing sociocultural and institutional challenges through sociotransformative constructivism: A longitudinal case study of a high school science teacher. Journal of Research in Science Teaching., 52(4), 448–460.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rodriguez, A. J. (2016). For whom do we do equity and social justice work? Recasting the discourse about the other to effect transformative change. In N. M. Joseph, C. Haynes, & F. Cobb (Eds.), Interrogating whiteness and relinquishing power: White faculty’s commitment to racial consciousness in STEM classrooms (pp. 241–252). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schindel Dimick, A. (2012). Student empowerment in an environmental science classroom: Toward a framework for social justice science education. Science Education, 96(6), 990–1012.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • The White House. (2001). The no child left behind act. Washington, DC: The White House, U.S. Government.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tolbert, S., Calabrese Barton, A., & Moll, L. (2017). What can teachers do to restructure power dynamics in science classrooms? In L. Bryan & K. Tobin (Eds.), 13 questions: Reframing education’s conversations: Science. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tolbert, S., Snook, N., Knox, C., & Udoinwang, I. (2016). Promoting youth empowerment and social change in/through school science. Journal of Activist Science and Technology Education, Special Issue (Counter)-Hegemony of STEM. Retreived from Accessed Oct 2017.

  • Tolbert, S., Schindel, A., & Rodriguez, A. J. (2018). Relevance and relational responsibility in justice-oriented science education research. Science Education.

    Google Scholar 

  • United States Censusus Bureau. (2012). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2012. United States Government. Retreived from Accessed Oct 2017.

  • U.S. Deparment of Education. (2000). Educate America Act, Goals 2000.

  • Zhao, Y. (2009). Catching up or leading the way: American education in the age of globalization. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alberto J. Rodriguez.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

This manuscript is part of the special issue Equity in Science Teacher Education: Toward an Expanded Definition, guest edited by Brian Fortney, Deb Morrison, Alberto J. Rodriguez, and Bhaskar Upadhyay.

Lead Editors: B. Fortney & B. Upadhyay.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Rodriguez, A.J., Morrison, D. Expanding and enacting transformative meanings of equity, diversity and social justice in science education. Cult Stud of Sci Educ 14, 265–281 (2019).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Equity
  • Social justice
  • Sociotransformative constructivism
  • Critical
  • Cross-cultural education