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Girls and Math: Enough is Known
for Action
JUNE 1991
Contents:
by Patricia B. Campbell, Ph.D.
CampbellKibler Associates
Girls are taking almost the same number of math courses
as boys (2.9 vs. 3.0) however they are less apt to take Trig or Calculus.
In 1979 women accounted for 9% of the science and engineering
work force; in 1988 that increased to 16%. However women are 45% of
the total work force.
 National Science Board
In the last 15 years, many things have changed with regard to girls
and math. While boys still outnumber girls in upperlevel math, girls
are no longer uncommon. And while women are not entering careers that
need math in numbers equal to men, neither are women a rarity in these
fields. At all levels there has been increased awareness of the underrepresentation
of women in math, science, and engineering and what this could mean
for the country, as well as for individual women. Calling it an issue
of "paramount concern," former National Science Foundation
director Erich Block urged Americans to look to under represented minorities
and women to meet the growing demand for scientists and engineers in
the United States.1
Society's perception of women and math is changing, albeit slowly.
Television scenes of mothers telling children to wait for their father
for help with math because the mothers were "never any good at
math" are being matched by scenes such as the November 1990 "Evening
Shade" where the father tells his daughter to wait until her mother
gets home to help with math homework because the mother is so much better
in math. Even in the movies, women who can't balance their checkbooks
are being replaced by women such as the wife in Presumed Innocent
who had a Ph.D. in math and a husband who had loved her helping him
through algebra. Of course, she was the murderer, but...
"Math gap" narrows
During the past few years, there has been an explosion of research
on girls and boys and math. Thanks to research, we now know that sex
differences in math achievement are small and declining.
Analysis across hundreds of studies has found that in the general
population women and girls outperform men and boys by a very small amount.
Females score slightly higher in computation, males slightly higher
in complex problem solving, and there are no differences in math concepts.
There are no sex differences in problem solving until high school,
when differences favoring males occur. Greater male superiority in math
achievement shows up in more academically selective populations.
Analysis of studies done before and after 1974 has found sex differences
declining over the years to negligible levels. While women still lag
behind in some aspects of spatial abilities and in math achievement
at the top levels of mathematics, they are gaining on men in mathematics
as a whole.2
Research has also identified at least one of the reasons that boys
show more interest in math. Boys in math classes tend to receive
more teacher time and attention than girls. Teachers have been found
to give boys more praise, more criticism, more remediation, and to be
more apt to accept boys' responses. They also respond more frequently
to boys' requests for help and talk to boys more about ideas and concepts.3
Boys are much more apt than girls to be in the small group of students
who receive most of the teacher's academic time and interest and to
receive more encouragement from their parents to take advanced math.4
Giving more attention and resources to boys is so much the norm that
teachers who try to give equal attention to girls often feel uncomfortable
because they feel the boys are being slighted.5
Questioning a "math gene"
The great preponderance of evidence indicates there is no "math
gene." Sex differences in mathematics achievement have become
small enough in most areas to become negligible. While society may change
fast enough for this to happen, biology doesn't. Genetic differences
tend to remain stable, but sex differences in mathematics achievement
are decreasing.
Sex differences in such traditionally "masculine" areas as
spatial relations have been eliminated by changing teaching practices
and providing both girls and boys with opportunities to build their
skills.6 Practice
can improve many things, but not genes.
The finding that gifted seventhgrade boys are much more likely than
girls to score highly on the SAT: Math is often used to justify a biological
basis to math sex differences. However, this reasoning is seriously
flawed. Fundamental errors occur when researchers "assume that
because girls and boys have been in the same math classes they have
had the same experiences, assume that differences on SAT, a test the
courts have found to be biased against women, are biological, assume
that gifted children whose parents pay over $30 for their children to
take a test represent the population as a whole, [and] tell girls and
boys before they take the SAT that girls "don't do as well
as boys!"7
In earlier ages, it was believed that women could not pursue mathematics
because their heads were too small, their nervous systems too delicate,
or their reasoning capacities insufficient. Even such an eminent educational
theorist as Rousseau believed that women were not qualified for research
in abstract areas such as mathematics and science because their brains
were unfit. While such notions are clearly passe, they do have twentieth
century counterparts.8
Changing the question
The question we should be asking is not "is there a math gene?"
but rather "Why are there so many fewer women than men in mathrelated
fields, when the sex differences are so small?"
We have been successful in encouraging middleclass girls in math and
science at the precollege level, but we have not been as successful
at the college level where young women enter math and science fields
at much lower rates than young men and also drop out of math and science
majors in greater numbers than do similarly talented young men with
the same grades.9
We have also not been successful in encouraging lowincome girls and
girls of color in math and science even at the precollege level. And
math is still a critical filter. Lowincome students and students of
color who take algebra and geometry go to college in numbers equal to
wealthier whites. However, only half as many lowincome students and
students of color take these important course.10
Where to start
The irony is that we know what to do. Based on research and evaluation
we know how to get girls to take more math and science.11
Here are some of the strategies that we know work.
 Intervene in seventh and eighth grades. In most schools,
students decide in 8th grade if they will take algebra, an important
first step to continued math involvement. After being in a program
with activities showing that algebra can be fun, and being encouraged
that they could do math, one group of lowincome, urban, Hispanic
girls all decided to take algebra.12
 Intervene in ninth and tenth grades. Sophomore year is another
key decisionmaking time. While girls and boys are equally apt to
take algebra and geometry, girls are more likely than boys to stop
there and take no more math.13
 Design programs and math classes that incorporate what girls
feel they are currently missing in much "school math."
Girls decide to take more math and science (and continue taking the
courses) after participating in math sessions they see as more fun,
more relaxed, with less pressure and less competition, with more handson
work and problem solving, and with teachers who explain more and answer
questions, "making sure you understand."14
The career question
We also know some successful strategies to get girls to consider math
and science careers.
 Get girls beyond the "nerd" factor." Stereotypes
about people who are good in math and science are still a problem.
Informal social sessions with adult scientists have been shown to
change high school girls' views of people who are good in math and
science from "nerdy" and "strange" to people who
are social and have a sense of humor. This holds for both white girls
and girls of color.15
 Emphasize career exposure, not career choice. Sessions on
selecting a career for high school and middle school students don't
seem to work in encouraging girls to choose math or sciencerelated
careers. However, talking with scientists and engineers about their
work has caused girls in several programs to consider those careers
for themselves.16
 Involve girls in activities that reflect the work of people in
different science and math careers. Participating in handson
engineering activities made girls in one program six times
more likely to consider engineering as a career.17
 Reduce the isolation frequently felt by girls who are already
interested in math and science. Scheduling time for girls to "just
talk" to each other has helped them find out that there are "girls
just like me" who "have the same problems [of being a 'smart'
girl in math and science]." Where followup is done, it has been
found that most of the girls continue to keep in touch and provide
each other with an ongoing support structure.18
Challenges ahead
While there is much we know, we have several important challenges left
to face.
 How do we institutionalize effective programs? Programs to
encourage girls in math and science are "dependent on the kindness
[or at least the funding] of strangers." Effective programs need
to become institutionalized, to become budget items of the organizations
that have hosted them for so long.
 How do we reach large numbers of teachers? There will never
be enough programs to reach all students who need them. Yet many of
the characteristics of effective programsmore handson and fun work,
less individual competitioncan and should become a part of math and
science classes.
 How do we move away from the syndrome of "them that has,
gets"? Most programs and classes are for boys and girls.
Yet in coed settingseven those incorporating gender equityboys tend
to get the lion's share of attention and opportunities. Indeed, at
the end of one gender equity effort, teachers listed fewer girls as
interested in science than they listed before the program started!
We must learn how to make special programs special for all.
Researchers and practitioners, scholars and activists need to join
together, to share what we know and to learn from each other. Those
whose major interest is in equity must be involved in math reform efforts
to ensure that these efforts are equitable, and those whose major interest
is in math reform must be involved in equity efforts to ensure that
these efforts are effective.
As Paul Tsongas reminds us, "Equal opportunity, we have learned,
is more than an open gate. It is the appropriate complement of skills
and fundamental selfesteem that makes the open gate meaningful. To
just open the gate is to engage in a cruel gesture, no matter how innocently
it is done."19
The gate is opening, much of the knowledge is there. It is up to us
whether girls are offered a real chance or just a cruel gesture.
For further reading on Dr. Campbell's research, see her article
"So What Do We Do with the Poor, NonWhite Female? Issues of Gender,
Race, and Social Class in Mathematics and Equity," in Peabody
Journal of Education (vol. 66, no. 2 [dated Winter 1989; forthcoming
1991]).
Notes
 National Science Foundation, "Women and Minorities in Science
and Engineering" (Washington, D.C., 1990, report).
 Janet Hyde, Elizabeth Fennema, and Susan J. Lamon, "Gender
Differences in Mathematics Performance: A Meta Analysis," Psychological
Bulletin 107, no. 2 (1990): 139; Lynn Friedman, "Mathematics
and the Gender Gap: A Meta Analysis of Recent Studies on Sex Differences
in Mathematical Tasks," Review of Educational Research
59, no. 2 (1989): 185.
 Jacquelynee Eccles, "Bringing Young Women to Math and Science,"
in Gender and Thought: Psychological Perspectives, ed. by M.
Crawford and M. Gentry (New York: SpringerVerlag, 1989), 49; Jane
Stallings, "School Classroom and Home Influences on Women's Decisions
to Enroll in Advanced Mathematics Courses," in Women and Mathematics:
Balancing the Equation, ed. by Susan Chipman, Lorelei Brush, and
Donna Wilson (Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, 1985), 224.
 Eccles, "Bringing Young Women to Math and Science," 4849.
 Judith Whyte, "Observing Sex Stereotypes and Interactions
in the School Lab and Workshop," Educational Review 36,
no. 1 (1984): 75.
 P. Flores, "How Dick and Jane Perform Differently in Geometry:
Test Results on Reasoning, Visualization, Transformation, Applications
and Coordinates" (paper presented to the annual meeting of the
American Educational Research Association, Boston, Mass.), 1.
 Patricia Campbell, Tom R. Kibler, and Kathryn B. CampbellKibler,
"The SAT at 12," College Prep (1991): 9; Patricia
B. Campbell, The Hidden Discriminator: Sex and Race Bias in Educational
Research (Newton, Mass.: WEEA Publishing Center/EDC, 1989), 2427.
 Jane Armstrong, "A National Assessment of Participation and
Achievement of Women in Mathematics," in Women and Mathematics:
Balancing the Equation, ed. by Susan Chipman, Lorelei Brush, and
Donna Wilson (Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, 1985), 60.
 National Science Foundation, "Women and Minorities in Science
and Engineering"; Barbara Schroder, "Some Preliminary Data
About Undergraduate Women and Minorities in Math and Science at Rutgers,
New Brunswick" (Office of Educational Polity Studies, New Brunswick,
N.J., 1989, report); Patricia B. Campbell, "EUREKA! Participant
Followup Analysis" (CampbellKibler Associates, Groton, Mass.,
1990, report).
 College Board, Factors Increasing Access to College, publication
003969 (New York: College Board Publications, 1990)
 For further information on the research in this area, see E. Fennema
and G.C. Leder, eds., Mathematics and Gender (New York: Teachers
College, 1990), 14968, and Janet Hyde, Elizabeth Fennema, and Susan
Lamon, "Gender Differences in Mathematical Performance: A Meta
Analysis," Psychological Bulletin 107, no. 2 (1990): 13955.
 Patricia B. Campbell and Susan S. Metz, "What Does It Take
to Increase the Number of Women Majoring in Engineering," in
ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings (Washington, D.C.: American
Society of Engineering Education, 1987; reprinted in The Stevens
Indicator 104, no. 4 [1987]).
 National Science Foundation, "Women and Minorities in Science
and Engineering."
 Patricia B. Campbell and Catharine Shackford, "EUREKA! Program
Evaluation" (CampbellKibler Associates, Groton, Mass., 1990,
report); Campbell, "EUREKA! Participant Followup Analysis."
 Patricia B. Campbell, "Douglass Science Institute: Three Years
of Encouraging Young Women in Math, Science and Engineering"
(CampbellKibler Associates, Groton, Mass., 1991, report).
 Campbell and Shackford, "EUREKA! Program Evaluation";
Campbell, "Douglass Science Institute."
 Campbell and Shackford, "EUREKA! Program Evaluation."
 Campbell, "Douglass Science Institute."
 Paul Tsongas, A Call to Economic Arms: The New American Mandate
(Boston: Foley, Hoag, and Eliot, 1991), 72.
by Katherine Hanson
Education Development Center
As the nation moves closer to the year 2000 and to a new vision of
education under the National Education Goals, academics, researchers,
and classroom teachers are looking at ways in which to both examine
and rectify inequities in mathematics instruction. Some, like Elizabeth
Fennema at the University of Wisconsin are exploring the development
of cognitively based instruction as a way to increase equity in the
teaching and learning of mathematics. Others, like the Family Math Program
at Berkeley, work directly in communities and schools to introduce new
approaches to teaching.
And, beyond this is the development of new discussions around gender,
race, language, or ethnic differentiation within mathematics education.
Although Fennema's work is one attempt to create an education model
that focuses on cognitive rather than affective issues, very little
has yet been done to explore what is happening in terms of perceived
or actual equity within mathematics classroom. For instance, even within
mathematics software development, many developers have admitted that
in their focus on creating good software, they have not yet begun to
look at the issues of gender differentiation as they apply to the use
of their models.
Some groundwork for such an exploration of gender and race differentiation
within mathematics instruction has been set by discussions within the
Urban Mathematics Collaboratives (UMC). This Ford Foundationfunded
effort to improve mathematics instruction around the country currently
supports collaboratives in 14 cities. UMC teachers, who work across
the spectrum of K12 mathematics education in urban schools, have had
to deal directly with issues of equity since their students reflect
the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of our cities. Together
with the UMC Outreach Project at EDC, UMC teachers have drafted a strong
policy statement on equity in mathematics education that can serve as
a guide for all educators. We quote here from that statement as one
approach to reform in mathematics education that can provide a basis
for dialogue.
The paper recognizes that:
"until recently, the United States had been able to meet
its needs for a mathematically trained workforce by providing advanced
study for a small, elite segment of its school population, typically
Anglo and male. In part, too, however, the causes [of inequity] lay
with mathematics education and with the disjuncture between schools
and the lives of their students. Mathematics curriculum, textbooks,
and instruction often failed to speak to the lives and concerns of females
and other under represented groups. Consequently, these groups were
cut off from real opportunities for success in mathematics."
The UMC statement also recognizes that the kinds of changes that must
be made cannot be made by teachers alone. "The success of
mathematics teachers depends, in part, on the commitment of others with
a stake in mathematics educationstudents, parents, representatives
of business and industry, textbook and test publishers, university faculty
in mathematics and mathematics education, and district administrators
responsible for mathematics programs." Together these groups
can begin to solve the inequity in mathematics learning. For those who
believe that mathematics programs must serve all students as a means
of ensuring equal opportunity and strengthening the nation's social
and economic institutions, UMC offers a view of equity embodied in six
propositions.
 High achievement/high expectations. The principal objective and
desired outcome of . . . mathematics teaching and learning is the
high achievement of all students, especially those who have been under
represented in advanced mathematics study and mathematically based
careers. Mathematics instruction must reflect the assumption that
all students can succeed in learning mathematics. Mathematics teachers
must have high expectations for the success of each student, and classroom
experiences must be structured in such a way that students gain confidence
in their ability to do mathematics. Mathematics instruction must be
tailored to the particular learning needs of students, and teachers
must embrace the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of the student
population as a valuable resource for their teaching . . .
 Student access to rich mathematical content . . . By 'rich' mathematical
content we mean rich in mathematical concepts, rich in applications
and connections to students' social settings, and rich in perspectives
and values that reflect students' cultural heritages . . .
 Student assessment and equity . . . Schools must abandon their
excessive reliance on standardized, multiplechoice tests as the principal
measure of student achievement. Too often, results from these tests
are inappropriately used to assign students to tracks or ability groups,
condemning many capable but lowscoring students to a devastating
cycle of remediation. Teachers must have opportunities to develop
and use new forms of assessmenthands on demonstrations, portfolios,
openended questions, and studentgenerated teststhat are directly
linked to student performance and that reinforce student learning
rather than inhibit it . . .
 Teachers' professional development: Issues of equity. Mathematics
teachers in urban communities will need special preparation and ongoing
support to address issues of inequity and to accommodate the learning
needs of an increasingly diverse student population . . . It is important
that urban mathematics teachers be afforded meaningful opportunities
to understand [the needs of their students] and to learn about effective
methods [of teaching]. Equity must become a dominant theme of preservice
and inservice mathematics education . . .
 Teachers' professional development: Mathematics curriculum and
instruction. Mathematics teachers who work in urban schools must have
access to a broad spectrum of professional development opportunities
in their subject areas. Providing all students with equal access to
mathematics instruction will be a false promise if the curriculum
itself is outdated or irrelevant . . . Intellectual renewal, lifelong
learning, and active engagement with colleagues are all part of teachers'
professional lives . . .
 School restructuring and equity. School restructuring is essential
for achieving greater equity in mathematics education. Teachers must
have greater freedom in making curricular and instructional decisions,
in organizing the school day, in determining student assignment, in
allocating resources, and in structuring professional development
opportunities if they are to meet the individual learning needs of
all students.
For a copy of the complete UMC policy statement, or for information
on other equity work going on in mathematics and science, contact the
WEEA Publishing Center.
by Katherine Hanson
Education Development Center (EDC), Inc.
Over the last 15 years the Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA) Program
has funded a number of projects that have addressed the issues surrounding
females and the study of math. The WEEA Publishing Center carries many
innovative and proven curricula developed by these projects.
AddVentures for Girls: Building Math Confidence combines teacher
development and empowerment with the strategies that we know work in
teaching girls. Called "a major breakthrough in creating a more
equitable mathematics environment," this teacherdeveloped program
educates teachers on issues related to girls and mathattitudes, making
math relevant, the learning environment, computers, testtaking skills,
and moreand then presents specific strategies and activities that address
these issues.
AddVentures for Girls is available in two volumes, one for
elementary teachers and one for middle school teachers, thereby helping
girls get a good start in math. Sections in both volumes help teachers
plan practical steps to involve parents, school counselors, administrators,
and other teachers in encouraging math for girls.
Developed through a 1989 WEEA grant is a series of brochures by Dr.
Patricia Campbell that highlight her latest research on effective strategies
for encouraging girls in math, science, and engineering. The brochures
are aimed at different groups, including parents, teachers, and program
administrators. They translate research into practical strategies for
designing effective programs, for evaluating programs, for collaboration
between schools and outside programs, and for helping parents to encourage
their girls in math and science.
A curriculum entitled Science Equals Success contains over 30
activities that utilize approaches identified by the nationally recognized
EQUALS Program as being particularly success with girls. These activities
are designed for girls in grades 49, and work to interest and motivate
girls during one of the critical periods when many lose interest in
math and science.
A number of WEEA products address specific issues in teaching and learning
math. Spatial Encounters is a selfdirected program for all ages
that helps students develop and practice spatial visualization and orientation
skillstools that help students in classes such as geometry and that
are necessary in many math and sciencerelated professions.
One of the recommended strategies for making math relevant for girls
is to discuss career options in math and sciencerelated fields. A
number of WEEA products do this, in ways that appeal particularly to
girls, including How High the Sky? How Far the Moon? An Educational
Program for Girls and Women in Math and Science.
Math anxiety is a common reason some female students have trouble in
mathematics courses. A Mindset for Math: Techniques for Identifying
and Working with MathAnxious Girls helps teachers reduce math anxiety
among upper elementary and middle school students. And Developing
Math Learning Skills: A Parallel Support Course for the MathAnxious
Student helps adult students or program participants develop successful
strategies for learning and enjoying mathematics.
To order WEEA materials call our distribution center at 8007935076.
Prices are subject to change.
AddVentures for Girls: Building Math Confidence
(Elementary #2710 $39.00 Middle School #2709 $42.00)
by the Research and Planning Center
University of Nevada
Volumes for elementary school teachers and middle school teachers use
fun, handson activities that incorporate strategies and approaches
particularly effective with girls.
Encouraging Girls in Math and Science Series
Sold in packets of 25, or as a sampler set (one each of the four
titles)
"Nothing Can Stop Us Now: Designing Effective Programs for Girls
in Math, Science and Engineering" (#2739 $18.00)
"Working Together, Making Changes: Working in
and out of School to Encourage Girls in Math and Science" (#2737
$18.00)
"What Works and What Doesn't: Ways to Evaluate
Programs for Girls in Math, Science, and Engineering" (#2740 $18.00)
"Math, Science, and Your Daughter: What Can Parents
Do?" (#2738 $18.00)
by Patricia Campbell, CampbellKibler Associates
These four brochures target different audiences with results of the
latest research on what works in math and science programming for girls.
Highly readable and strategy oriented.
Science EQUALS Success (#2711 $25.00)
by Charlotte EQUALS
Contains over 30 handson, discoveryoriented science activities designed
especially for girls and students of color in grades 49. The activities
incorporate problem solving, cooperative learning, spatial skills, and
career awareness, processes recommended by the EQUALS Program. A collaborative
effort of the University of North CarolinaCharlotte, the CharlotteMecklenburg
School System, and the Science Museums of Charlotte, Inc.
Spatial Encounters (#2434 $40.00)
by the Institute for Applied Research Services
University of New MexicoAlbuquerque
Exercises in spatial awareness that combine fun and learning. The activities
include memorization of shapes, figure completion, and figure rotation
and emphasize real world applications. For K12 and adults
How High the Sky? How Far the Moon? An Educational
Program for Girls and Women in Math and Science (#2104 $21.00)
by Sharon Menard
A comprehensive program for teaching science and equity at the same
time. For grades K12, lessons are arranged by grade levels and contain
lesson plans and materials.
Developing Math Learning Skills: A Parallel Support
Course for the MathAnxious Student (#2702 $10.00)
by New Mexico State UniversityLas Cruces
A comprehensive program for helping women at college level or in adult
programsincluding teacher trainingwork through psychological and knowledgebased
barriers to enjoy and understand mathematics. Participants in this program
have had documented increases in arithmetic and algebra scores.
Teaching Mathematics Effectively and Equitably to Females.(#2744
$6.00)
Discusses achievement history and trends, higher education experience,
and gender research; looks at student gender differences; explores learning
styles and classroom behaviors, attitudes toward mathematics learning,
mathematics course taking, and social expectations. Moves from research
to practical recommendations for creating an environment that encourages
the mathematics development of both females and males.
Building Self: Adolescent Girls and SelfEsteem (#2745 $6.00)
Building Self explores research about girls' selfesteem during
the difficult transition to adolescence and discusses what we might
learn from young women who are able to maintain their selfesteem.
Outlines the key factors that make up selfesteem and reviews those
that put young women at risk for low selfesteem.
Publishing Information
The WEEA Digest
is published by the WEEA Publishing Center, a project at Education Development
Center, Inc., under contract with the U.S. Department of Education,
Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Opinions expressed herein
do not necessarily reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Education
and no official endorsement should be inferred.
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