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Research on 'Gender Issues' Is Found Not To Harm Careers

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Philadelphia--It may be less difficult to be a successful researcher of women's education and other "gender issues" than to be a successful woman administrator, according to findings presented at a meeting of education researchers here this month.

The studies of women in research and school administration were among a number of projects discussed by the approximately 200 researchers who gathered at the University of Pennsylvania for the eighth annual conference on research on women in education. The meeting, sponsored by the American Educational Research Association's (aera) special-interest group on research on women in education, offers scholars a chance to present their own findings and catch up on what others have been doing.

"It's an opportunity for people who are interested in research in women's educational equity to get together and share what they've learned, meet with colleagues, and figure out how they can work together on particular projects," said Susan Klein, a researcher with the National Institute of Education who is chairman of the special-interest group.

Discussing her study of researchers who examine gender issues, Patricia B. Campbell, an independent education consultant, pointed out that those who devote much of their professional energy to that field worry that "doing research on women and gender issues can be detrimental to one's professional health."

"Researchers are often encouraged to 'balance' their work on women and gender issues with work in other areas, both to increase their credibility in the field and their ability to be successful in their careers," she wrote in her paper, "Researchers of Women in Education: Who Are We?"

But conducting such research seems not to be the threat to professional advancement that many researchers believe, Ms. Campbell suggested.

Her study involved a survey of a random sample of aera members (500 men and 500 women), as well as all minority members of the organization. She asked those surveyed about the extent to which they conducted "research, development, dissemination, and evaluation efforts that dealt solely with gender issues."

Of those surveyed, researchers who reported spending significant amounts of time on these issues were more likely to be women and more likely to be members of ethnic-minority groups. Otherwise, Ms. Campbell said, they were "very similar demographically to people doing research in other areas."

In at least one key area--salary--the findings suggested that researchers who study gender issues are more successful than those who do not: The higher the salary, the more apt a researcher was to have done some research in that area.

In most other respects--age, marital status, location, and the year they received their degrees--she found no significant differences between those who regularly do such research and those who do not.

"Doing research only on gender issues is not, based on this survey, the serious threat to professional survival it is often thought to be," Ms. Campbell said, "although it must be noted that this survey was done among the survivors, those who are still involved in educational research."

The status of women professionals in education, however, does not seem to be improving, several studies presented at the meetings suggested. In a survey of elementary-school principals in Pennsylvania, Margay B. Grose, a former Pennsylvania elementary-school principal, explored possible reasons for the current lack of women principals in that state. As is true nationally, the percentage of women elementary-school principals in the state's public schools has been declining steadily.

Several factors, she found, seemed to play a part in explaining this trend. Both men and women regarded a willingness to move to a new school district as a key factor in career advancement. Women, however, were less willing to make such a move.

Another possible explanation, she found, may be that since many women have less seniority than their male counterparts, they are the first hit by reductions in staff.

On several questions, Ms. Grose found, the responses of women principals differed from those of their male peers. "Nearly five times as many women (21.2 percent versus 4.2 percent) felt that 'discrimination' was a 'significant' factor in the current paucity of women principals," she said.

Also, more women than men said they believed that, in general, retiring women principals are likely to be replaced by men.

Close to half of both groups, however, said they believed that school boards have a "very great preference" for men when it comes time to hire a principal.

In another study of women administrators in Pennsylvania, Barbara Nelson Pavan of Temple University and Lorraine Rometo of Wissahickon High School developed a "profile" of the typical female administrator in the state. "She is white, first-born, and presently married with two children now grown," they write. "Encouragement has come from her parents, her spouse, and herself rather than from mentors. She has worked in only one suburban or urban district receiving superior work ratings from her superintendent, and had a very low absentee and leave rate. Job mobility is limited by home ownership to 150 miles."

The 241 women who responded to the questionnaire said that the barriers they encountered most often included: discrimination against women, lack of administrative openings, time scheduling, financial problems, job/home conflict, lack of acceptance in social situations dominated by male administrators, resentment from subordinates and peers, and expectations that women should be "followers."

Perseverance, the administrators said, was often the best way to cope with these barriers.

In other presentations at the research gathering:

Carol Gilligan, a Harvard University psychologist, described her study of the moral development of girls--a subject that she said has been largely ignored by psychologists.

Maxine Greene of Columbia University's Teachers College spoke on "The Philosophical Rationale for Sex Equity." Her presentation was based on a chapter of a book, Achieving Sex Equity in Education, to which about 200 researchers and educators have contributed.

Now being considered for publication by an academic press, the volume is intended to be a "synthesis" of the research on how sex equity affects education, on successful programs designed to foster sex equity, and on recommendations on how sex equity can best be achieved, that emerge from the data, Ms. Klein said.--sw

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