AAUW Study Finds Girls Making Some Progress, But Gaps Remain

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Girls are catching up to boys in mathematics and science, but technology may be emerging as the next "boys' club," says a new report by the American Association of University Women.

The report scheduled for release this week, follows up on an AAUW study six years ago that ignited a national conversation about gender inequities in education with its contention that schools routinely "shortchanged" girls.

Like its predecessor, the new study from the Washington-based group is based on a review of nearly 1,000 studies.

"Gender Gaps: Where Schools Still Fail Our Children," shows that girls have made some strides in schools over the past six years. The numbers of girls enrolled in algebra, trigonometry, precalculus, and calculus, for example, grew at a faster rate than boys' enrollment did between 1990 and 1994. More girls are taking Advanced Placement and honors calculus and chemistry classes.

For More Information:

Copies of "Gender Gaps: Where Schools Still Fail Our Children," may be ordered from the American Association of University Women's sales office, Dept. 478, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701-0251; tel. (800) 225-9998, ext. 478.

And, in the latest rounds of international tests in math and science, the achievement gap between girls and boys in the United States was among the smallest in the world.

Janice Weinman

"But what we do find is alarming is this new trend in terms of technology," said Janice Weinman, the executive director of the Washington-based AAUW. "This is becoming the new club from which girls are feeling disenfranchised. Consequently, girls are not going to be appropriately prepared for the technology era of the new 21st century."

Beyond Typing

Both inside and outside of school, girls of all ages tend to have less exposure to computers and to say they feel less confident about using them, compared with boys, the report says. The gap widens, however, from grades 8 to 11. In 1996, for example, girls made up only 17 percent of students taking the College Board's Advanced Placement test in computer science.

When they do use computers in schools, the report says, girls are more apt to do it in clerical and data-entry classes.

"It's nice to use a computer to type, but that's not where technology is going," said Cheryl L. Sattler, an author of the report and a research scientist at the American Institutes of Research. The Washington-based research firm produced the report for the AAUW.

Among the study's other findings are that:

  • Even though similar numbers of high school boys and girls are taking math and science classes, boys still far outnumber girls in physics.
  • In school-to-work programs, which combine challenging academics with vocational training, girls still tend to cluster in traditional female occupations.
  • Although girls are taking more Advanced Placement courses and getting better grades than boys, their scores on those exams still tend to be lower.
  • On large-scale exams, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the top scorers in math and science still tend to be boys.

But boys face inequities in school, too, the report acknowledges. Girls predominate, for example, in advanced English courses and in foreign-language and arts classes.

In middle and elementary school, they also outscore boys by wide margins on NAEP tests in reading and writing.

"You can't compare girls against boys using boys as the benchmark," Ms. Weinman says. "Girls have weaknesses and strengths, and boys have weaknesses and strengths, too."

Changing the Tone

Some reviewers of the report said the effort to include boys in discussions of gender equity represents a shift from the alarm sounded in the 1992 report, "How Schools Shortchange Girls."

"I think in tone and in substance it is a quantum leap forward from the earlier piece because it is less strident, frankly," said Christopher Cross, the president of the Council for Basic Education, a nonprofit group in Washington that promotes high academic standards. "The fact that it is not alarmist should not obscure the importance of calling attention to these issues."

The report also omits any mention of one of the earlier report's more debated conclusions--a contention that teachers call on boys more often in class. The authors said they could find no new data on that subject.

But the changes did not appease some of the organization's critics, who said the association's emphasis on girls was unwarranted.

"The AAUW is till whining and calling girls victims, when girls for the most part do far better in schools than boys," said Judith S. Kleinman, a psychology professor from the University of Alaska Fairbanks who wrote a critique of the first report.

The statistics show, in fact, that, apart from physics, enrollment gaps between girls and boys in advanced math and science courses are variable and slight--especially when compared with the much greater academic disparities separating white and black students.

"This is not a picture of a huge gender gap that requires public-policy change," said Diane Ravitch, a research professor at New York University's school of education and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Vol. 18, Issue 7, Page 9

Published in Print: October 14, 1998, as AAUW Study Finds Girls Making Some Progress, But Gaps Remain
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The quote in this story is from Judith S. Kleinfeld.

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