Education Letter to the Editor

Why Women in Math Oppose Panel Member

August 08, 2006 1 min read

To the Editor:

I would like to clarify a point raised in your coverage of the Association for Women in Mathematics’ concern regarding Camilla Persson Benbow’s presence on the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (“Women’s Association Demands Removal of Researcher From National Math Panel,” edweek.org, June 28, 2006; “Special-Interest Groups Confront National Math Panel,” July 12, 2006).

You reported in the latter article that our unease about Ms. Benbow is due to “three scholarly articles she wrote during the 1980s.” Our main concern, however, is based on later events.

Research and statistics from the past 20 years counter the hypothesis and findings of Ms. Benbow’s 1980s articles. In particular, she reported that the ratio of 7th and 8th grade boys to girls scoring at the top level of the mathematics section of the SAT was 13-to-1. The current ratio is about 3-to-1, and where it will ultimately end up is still unknown.

But current ratios are not cited by Ms. Benbow and others. Instead, as your articles relate, Ms. Benbow completely stands by her 1980s work. Her presence on the panel suggests that later findings and other work not supporting her 1983 hypothesis will continue to be ignored.

The Association for Women in Mathematics does indeed have reservations about the 1980s research. In the 1980s, there were many criticisms of Ms. Benbow’s work from our organization and others. Our members, most of whom are mathematicians, criticized the use of the mathematics portion of the SAT for talent searches, the interpretation of the talent-search findings, and the associated hypothesis of inevitable gender differences in favor of males at the highest level of mathematical performance. Those criticisms remain.

My complete description of the AWM’s concerns regarding Ms. Benbow was read at the public-comment session of the mathematics panel’s recent meeting. The statement is posted on the association’s Web site (www.awm-math.org), and I invite Education Week readers to consider the evidence assembled there.

Cathy Kessel

Berkeley, Calif.

The writer is the president-elect of the Fairfax, Va.-based Association for Women in Mathematics.

A version of this article appeared in the August 09, 2006 edition of Education Week as Why Women in Math Oppose Panel Member