Foundation Head Ponders State of Research on Gender, Schooling

By Anne L. Bryant — November 02, 1991 3 min read
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The American Association of University Women Educational Foundation this summer awarded the second round of Eleanor Roosevelt fellowships to teachers. The grants support research into how girls learn, as well as the development of strategies to improve education for girls.

The stipends are the most recent effort by the foundation to study schooling for girls. In January, the organization released the results of a survey that found that schools help contribute to the drop in self-esteem and aspirations girls experience during adolescence. The study was released at the outset of a symposium that examined ways to address the issue.

In addition, the foundation has commissioned a major study, scheduled to be released in February, that is expected to examine the issue of gender and schooling. Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the A.A.U.W. Educational Foundation, spoke with Associate Editor Robert Rothman about the current state of research on the topic.

Q. There is a great interest now in medical research on issues concerning women’s health. Is there a compa: rable interest in education research on gender issues?

A. I think there is beginning to be. It took us years to get the attention women’s health has gotten. It’s taken years, but it’s finally happening [with the issue of) girls in the classroom.

Our poll brought some public attention to the issue. [So has] research by Carol Gilligan, David and Myra Sadker, and a [recent study] by Jacqueline Eccles. The public and the media are picking up on the fact we do have a problem that needs addressing.

[One reason for the delay is that] we’ve been so careful about language, we have tended not to use words like “girls,” or “boys,” or “men,” or “women.” We’ve talked about “all youths.” We’re caught behind that language, and we’ve avoided the special needs of girls.

[Another reason is that a] lot ofthe research done on children is either done on race-identifiable factors, or sex, often not both. Our level of knowledge of what is happening to black girls and Latino girls ... is deplorably bad. We don’t have the data we need. So we end up creating programs that are not suited to the population they are intended to reach.

Q. One such program, the proposed academies for black males in Detroit, was struck down by a judge who noted that “girls fail, too.” To what extent are the needs of boys and girls similar?

A. The concern with the all-male schools was on a couple of issues. One is the blatant Title IX issue. If you start setting up segregated schools again, you’re making a dangerous precedent .... There is also a direct conflict with the equal-protection clauses of the Constitution. Those are the two legal reasons why that school is not allowed to exist in the public-education framework in this country.

[There are also educational reasons.] The danger is a resource question. If you create a school, and put a lot of resources in it, what happens to girls? ...

In terms of differences [between boys and girls,] yes, there are difference. One of the challenges is to create curricula, and teachers cognizant [ of the differences I in a classroom who can appeal to different children. Teachers do it all the time. They deal with shy Tommy and aggressive Sam .... It doesn’t take separate schools. It takes understanding, and tailoring teaching to fit the situation.

Q. Some research has been showing that, as more and more girls take higher- level math classes, the gender gap in that subject appears to be narrowing. Do you see that trend continuing?

A. I do see it continuing, particularly if we continue to emphasize it. If we pay attention to something, and there are resource applied to it, we get results .... I’m very encouraged by some beginning data that says maybe grades are becoming similar.

[Research shows that] the capabilities are similar. The challenge as a nation is to keep young men and women in math and science classes through college. Then we need to make sure the workplace is fair, and that women are hired and promoted at an equal rate. That’s where we’ve got big problems.

Q. Your foundation has been awarding Eleanor Roosevelt teacher fellowships for a number of years now. What have you learned from the research those teachers have undertaken?

A. We have over 50 now, all publicschool teachers who want to improve the way they reach and teach girls. We’ve learned fabulous things .... One of the things that’s terribly clear is that experimentation, hands-on work, and relevance to careers and the future life of an individual is critical to math and science teaching .... The math community is well ahead of other fields in [those] terms. What we are learning is, that when you reach girl, you are teaching boys better, too.

A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 1991 edition of Education Week


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