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Should We Care About Gender Composition at New York’s Elite Public Schools?

By Sara Mead — March 25, 2013 1 min read

Interesting NYT article examines why, even as girls are pulling ahead of boys in measures of academic achievement--not just in New York, but across the United States and even internationally--boys significantly outnumber girls at New York City’s elite, exam-based public schools, such as Stuyvesant, The Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Tech. This is one of the more interesting issues in the current evolution of gender and educational achievement in America: Over the past few decades, women have caught up with and then surpassed men in indicators of educational attainment, and girls (on average) tend to do better in school than boys. At the same time, boys and men tend to remain over-represented in some of the highest ranks of educational and professional attainment, for a mix of reasons that are in some cases obvious and in others not well understood at all. For its part, The New York Times doesn’t seem to come up with much of an answer explaining the phenomenon it describes, although I suspect NYC Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky captures the key point in this paragraph:

[Polakow-Suransky] said that at the highest echelons of test-takers, girls scored as well as boys, but that overall, fewer of the strongest female students were taking the exam.

What no one seems to understand here is why. Are girls, as some interviewed for the story suggest, less likely to take the exam because the schools that use it tend to have a heavy focus on math and science? (Other elite NYC public schools that use different entry measures tend to have much higher percentages of girls, and in fact have disproportionately female enrollments that mirror the male-heavy skew at the schools listed above.) Are parents, teachers, and counselors less likely to identify girls as candidates for the elite schools or to suggest that they take the exam in the first place? Do girls from certain communities have family obligations or life expectations that make them less likely to see the value of attending a highly selective public high school? No one seems to know for sure. It would be interesting to know.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.