Amid worries about the burgeoning scientific and mathematical might of nations such as China and India, federal officials say the United States must make better use of an untapped asset: girls.
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings convened what was billed as the first-ever “summit” on the advancement of girls in math and science, held here at the Library of Congress last week.
Corporate leaders and policy experts, along with officials from federal agencies such at the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, joined her.
Ms. Spellings pointed to oft-cited statistics showing girls’ underrepresentation in science- and computer-related Advanced Placement courses and as college majors in those subjects.
“Our country cannot afford to lose half of our potential innovators,” she told attendees.
The secretary said she has directed the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the Department of Education, to conduct a “comprehensive review” of existing research on why more girls aren’t showing a stronger interest in math and science studies and careers.
“We need definitive insights into what goes wrong, and why,” Ms. Spellings said.
Sally Ride, the former astronaut and the first American woman to make a space flight, said surveys have shown that girls are keen on science in the early grades, but then seem to lose interest as they advance through the K-12 system. Subtle pressure to choose non-science-related professions—from teachers, parents, and others—contributes to that trend, said Ms. Ride, now the president of a company that provides science products and programs for children, with a particular focus on girls.
Many parents, Ms. Ride said, “are sending messages to their daughters without really intending to.”
A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2006 edition of Education Week