Wed, 11 Jun 1997 21:57:18 -0400 (EDT)

This probably won't change any views on this list, but Sadker Day deserves a
reply. The method of its promotion, as with Take your daughter to Work day,
equates it less with a true national observance, such as Veterans' Day or
Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and more with the national turkey farmers
association declaring November national Turkey month.
As a high school student, I see special accomodations being given to
girls in the sciences, yet boys lag further behind in the humanities. I am
devoted to educational equity, but for both genders. I do not support the
indoctrination of students with the issues of who is priveledged and who is
not. It merely promotes feelings of victimization, mostly unfounded, among
girls and furthers the widespread apathy of boys towards school.
Sorry about any spelling errors, but I've spent far more time on the
subject of societal inequalities than spelling in English class lately.

Stephen Sliva

By Christina Hoff Sommers, quoted without permission. Sue me.

Do our schools harm girls? Two provocative studies sponsored by the American
Association of University Women (AAUW) concluded just that - namely that
classroom bias is systematically undermining schoolgirls by depleting their
confidence and self-esteem. According to the AAUW, "the wealth of statistical
evidence must convince even the most skeptical that gender bias in our
schools is shortchanging our girls - and compromising our country."

The findings and the AAUW's "call to action" made headlines around the
country. "Dreadful Waste of Female Talent," said the San Francisco Chronicle.
"Bias Against Girls Is Found Rife in Schools, With Lasting Damage" (New York
Times). "Girls' Confidence Erodes Over Years, Study Says" (Chicago Tribune).
And more.

As it happens, though, the AAUW's research is never subjected to peer review.
It is generally not published in professional journals (it took me many weeks
to get a reluctant AAUW to let me see their actual data on self-esteem). And
the research has little credibility among experts in child and adolescent
development. Despite this, the "do a study, declare a crisis, get a bill"
approach could not have been more effective.

Responding quickly to the AAUW's "Initiative for Educational Equity," members
of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues introduced the Gender Equity
in Education Act. The legislation duly cited the new research, which, it
said, "reveals that at all classroom levels girls receive different treatment
from teachers than do boys, often resulting in lower levels of self-esteem
for girls." It outlined measures for "eliminating inequitable practices in
the classroom." H.R. 1793 would: Provide funds to school districts, community
organizations and other entities "to implement gender equity programs."
Provide funds for "training programs for educational personnel . . . to
provide educational equity." Establish a special assistant for gender equity
to promote, coordinate and evaluate gender equity policies.

Rarely have legislators expressed so much gratitude to those who had lobbied
them to write and pass a bill. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) commended the
AAUW for its "powerful" study of America's shortchanged girls. Sen. Edward
Kennedy (D-Mass.) spoke of "the landmark 1992 study . . . that refutes the
common assumption that boys and girls are treated equally in our educational
system." Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) expressed her appreciation for the new
knowledge uncovered by the AAUW: "Today we know that little girls as young as
11 years old suffer from low levels of self-esteem."

The National Council for Research on Women called Congress's response "a
milestone for
demonstrating valuable linkages between feminist research and policy in
investigating gender discrimination in education." But the question is:
valuable to whom? In fact, the Gender Equity Act is a textbook example of
congressional gullibility in relying on studies done by special interest
groups. No doubt, the AAUW's official reputation for professionalism and
probity carried a great deal of weight in persuading skeptical legislators to
accept the dramatic claims about the plight of America's schoolgirls.
However, the image of scholarly impeccability rapidly fades as soon as one
looks at the
actual research behind the findings.

In the first of the two studies, 3,000 children, ages 9 to 15, were
questioned about their
self-confidence and academic aspirations. The key findings were summarized in
the widely
distributed AAUW brochure, "Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America: A
Call to Action": "In a crucial measure of self-esteem, 60 percent of
elementary school girls and 69 percent of elementary school boys say they are
`happy the way I am.' But by high school, girls' self-esteem falls 31 points,
to only 29 percent, while boys' self-esteem falls only 23 points to 46

These figures do indeed give the distressing impression that 71 percent of
this nation's adolescent girls are unhappy with themselves. But the brochure
conveniently leaves out the fact that the numbers refer only to boys and
girls who had checked "always true" in response to "am happy the way I am."
In effect, the AAUW counted as "unhappy" all respondents who had checked
"sort of true," and "sometimes true/sometimes false." If one rejects that
bizarre approach, the percentage of unhappy girls is dramatically lower: 12
percent, not 71, and 8 percent for boys.

The AAUW also failed to publicize the very awkward finding that African-
American boys, who are educationally most at risk, score highest of all on
the AAUW's self-esteem indexes: 78 percent of African-American boys said they
were "always" "happy the way I am" compared with 34 percent of white girls.
Black girls too are well ahead of white girls as well as white boys on the
self-esteem scale. These results undermine either the link the AAUW claims
between self- esteem and academic performance or the study's controversial
methodology of measuring "self-esteem" by polling children for "happiness"

A second study, based on classroom observations, claimed that girls suffer
because boys receive the lion's share of teacher attention. For example, the
AAUW informs us that boys call out in class eight times more than girls and
get the teacher's respectful attention when they do. Girls, by contrast, are
corrected and told to raise their hands before they speak. This "fact" has
become a favorite with journalists and politicians as knock-down evidence of
pervasive classroom bias.

However, when we look at the evidence cited by the AAUW, we find that it
mysteriously misreads an earlier study, reported in a 1981 volume of a
journal called the Pointer, that speaks of an eight-fold difference - but not
in a way that favors boys: "Boys, particularly low-achieving boys, receive
eight to 10 times as many reprimands as do their female classmates . . . .
When both girls and boys are misbehaving equally, boys still receive more
frequent discipline." When asked about these and other objections, Anne
Bryant, AAUW's executive director was indignant: "Our research is beyond
reproach," she told the Boston Globe.

Nevertheless, the critical research purporting to show that America's
schoolgirls are being silenced and damaged is either nonexistent or
unconvincing. Nor has anyone actually shownthat a lack of teacher attention
adversely affects academic performance. On the contrary, girls - supposedly
suffering deficits in both self- esteem and teacher attention - consistently
outperform boys in grades, attendance and participation in extracurricular

More girls than boys go on to college. More plan to pursue postgraduate
degrees. Even the
frequently cited claim that girls score lower on standardized tests is
misleading. In the 1990 National Assessment of Educational Progress Test
given to all l7-year-old students - not just the two-fifths of high school
seniors who take the SAT - males outperformed females by 3 points in math and
11 points in science, while the girls much more dramatically outperformed
boys by 13 points in reading and 24 points in writing.

Now, a concerned Congress is about to address a phony gender gap by diverting
resources needed for coping with the very real learning gap that separates
American and foreign children. On one recent international math test,
American boys lagged behind Korean girls by a gap more than 15 times larger
than the gap between our boys and girls. Yet American students express far
more confidence in their math and science proficiency than their more
proficient peers in Taiwan or Korea. Among advanced industrial nations,
American children rank near the bottom - but they're "happy the way they

Most of H.R. 1793 has already been integrated into the Elementary and
Secondary Education Act and has passed the House. It is now pending in the
Senate under the name "Gender Equity in Education Package." The package has
some good things in it, including funds for programs that encourage more
girls to pursue careers in math and science and programs for expanding
opportunities for unemployed women.

But its unobjectionable parts are accompanied by the reckless provisions that
will, when enacted, create an intrusive "gender equity" bureaucracy with
plenty of time and money on its hands to permanently monitor the schools and
retrain our nation's mostly female, but, to use current jargon,
"unconsciously sexist" teachers - a boondoggle for the self-styled gender
bias experts.

The legislation has been virtually unopposed. As one AAUW staffer observed,
"They would not want to vote against equity." As Stone Phillips of NBC's
"Dateline" put it, "This may be one bill immune from congressional gridlock."
There is still time for senators to look as carefully at the AAUW reports as
they would at studies presented by tobacco or gun lobbyists. What they will
find is a lot of unvetted advocacy research, and not a single reputable study
justifying the alarms over America's "shortchanged" girls.

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