Column One: Research

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As early as the 3rd grade, girls have less confidence than boys in their mathematical ability, a study by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles has found.

However, the study says, the young girls were more likely than those in junior-high school to believe that anyone could succeed in the subject if he or she tried hard.

The findings suggest, the authors write in the September issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology, that, in contrast to the older girls, "young girls' general dispositions to expect poorer performance in mathematics can be overcome, at least in the short run, by successful performance."

Although previous studies have found gender differences in beliefs about math, the new study, by Deborah J. Stipek and J. Heidi Gralinski, is apparently the first to examine girls as young as 3rd graders.

The study found that, at both ages, the girls were less likely than boys to attribute success to ability and failure to luck. It also found that girls were more likely than boys to be ashamed of a poor performance.

Although the difference between the genders was small, the authors note, it was "nontrivial enough to render efforts to improve girls' achievement-related beliefs worthwhile ."

Schools must work with parents to build the "social capital" of a community, which has been eroded as family structures have changed, a new report by the U.S. Education Department concludes.

"Parental Involvement in Education," written by the University of Chicago sociologist James S. Coleman, notes that schools must not wait for parents to initiate contact, and must accommodate parents' interests. In addition, the report suggests, schools can use technologies--such as facsimile machines and electronic mail--to overcome barriers to parental involvement.

The report also notes that, by encouraging parents to help children with their homework, schools can re-establish the social capital of the family.

"Incorporating the interests and activities of parents into the functioning of a school can in the long run give the school greater strength for its task of educating children; but this is a more difficult task of school administration," the report concludes.

The report is the latest in a series of "Policy Perspectives" produced by the department's office of educational research and improvement. Copies are available for $1.50 each from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. The stock number is 065-000-00459-3. --R.R.

Vol. 11, Issue 05, Page 6

Published in Print: October 2, 1991, as Column One: Research
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