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National Groups Promise Steps To Combat Inequities for Girls

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WASHINGTON--Leaders Of nearly three dozen national education and youth-serving groups assembled here last week to begin outlining a plan for adopting recommendations from a report that concludes girls are being shortchanged by schools.

Timed to coincide with the official release of the report, commissioned by the American Association of University Women, the "National Education Summit on Girls" served as a forum for discussion of how educators and policymakers can go about making precollegiate education more equitable for girls.

Immediate commitments from the participating groups included promises of wide dissemination of the report, invitations to the A.A.U.W. to make presentations at other conferences, and plans to undertake training of educators to help eradicate gender bias from schools.

"All of this comes down to making sure girls are the epicenter of the education-reform movement," said Sharon Schuster, the A.A.U.W.'S president.

Most participants in the summit expressed wholehearted support for the report and its recommendations.

But the report drew sharp criticism from the chief of the Education Department's office of educational research and improvement, who did not attend the event. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane S. Ravitch said in an interview that gender bias is not a problem in schools and that the report's conclusions "require some leaps of logic."

Pledges From Key Groups

The A.A.U.W. report, a synthesis of existing research, concluded that girls face a wide range of often subtle barriers to achieving their full academic potential in school. These barriers, it said, ultimately serve to limit women's career prospects. (See Education Week, Feb. 12, 1992.)

It then put forth 40 recommendations for action, from tougher enforcement of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to changes in tests and textbooks.

Several leaders at the summit pledged to begin or continue programs supporting the recommendations.

David G. Imig, the executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, told summit participants that his group has committed to a "multilayered program of gender-sensitive teacher education."

The group will work with two of the researchers cited in the A.A.U.W. report, Myra and David Sadker, to produce a "multimedia" presentation about gender issues and gender sensitivity that can go to teacher educators for use in their classrooms, Mr. Imig added in an interview.

Florida Commissioner of Education Betty Castor, representing the Council of Chief State School Officers, told the meeting that the council wants to see greater accountability for schools and districts, including on the issue of their treatment of girls.

The state chiefs are calling on states, for example, to report student data in ways that allow better analysis of how girls are faring in school.

Ms. Castor said the schools chiefs are also asking the governors to address gender bias in their education "report cards" and other activities.

Some criticism of the A.A.U.W. report came in a joint written Statement made available at the summit by the College Board and the Educational Testing Service.

In it, the presidents of the two organizations said it is inappropriate to "equate score differences [between boys and girls on standardized tests] with bias in the tests." Instead, they wrote, the report's data show that test-score differences are "meaningful indicators that girls may be educationally shortchanged... that test scores reflect real differences of concern, not biased tests."

The two groups also said the report "implies greater certainty about the causes for various observed differences between girls and boys than research to-date indicates is warranted."

'Absolute Islands of Equity'

Both Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and Assistant Secretary Ravitch were invited to the meeting but declined to attend.

A spokesman for Mr. Alexander, who was in town, said he cannot attend every event he is invited to.

Ms. Ravitch, who was highly critical of the A.A.U.W. report, said her calendar was already booked by the time her invitation arrived.

"Frankly, it doesn't interest me to be called in to attend a coronation," Ms. Ravitch said last week. "First, you have to accept that [gender bias] is the problem."

Ms. Ravitch said gender bias is not what is curtailing girls' achievement in school. "I think the problem in this country is not gender bias, but bias against academic achievement," she said.

She said the Bush Administration's position is to seek, through such initiatives as America 2000, a better education and higher expectations for all children.

In addition, she argued, the A.A.U.W. report mischaracterizes the two decades since the passage of Title IX, the principal federal law targeting sex discrimination in education.

"This has been 20 years of remarkable change," Ms. Ravitch said. "The trend is clearly in the direction of equity."

Today, she noted, 61 percent of girls who finish high school enter college, compared with 57 percent of male graduates. Women made up 55 percent of the enrollment in higher education in 1989, she said, up from 41 percent in 1971.

Ms. Ravitch said the popular media are more to blame than schools for stereotypical images of women.

"By contrast," she said, "schools are absolute islands of equity."

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