site is no longer active.
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 upper-level 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 seventh-grade 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
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 math-related
fields, when the sex differences are so small?"
We have been successful in encouraging middle-class 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
We have also not been successful in encouraging low-income girls and
girls of color in math and science even at the precollege level. And math
is still a critical filter. Low-income students and students of color
who take algebra and geometry go to college in numbers equal to wealthier
whites. However, only half as many low-income 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 low-income, urban, Hispanic girls all decided
to take algebra.12
- Intervene in ninth and tenth grades. Sophomore year is another
key decision-making 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 hands-on 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
- 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 science-related 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 hands-on 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 follow-up 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
While there is much we know, we have several important challenges left
- 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 programs-more hands-on and fun work,
less individual competition-can and should become a part of math and
- 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 settings-even
those incorporating gender equity-boys 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
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 self-esteem 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, Non-White 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
- 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: Springer-Verlag, 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,"
- 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.
Campbell-Kibler, "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,
- 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 Follow-up Analysis" (Campbell-Kibler 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), 149-68, and Janet Hyde, Elizabeth Fennema,
and Susan Lamon, "Gender Differences in Mathematical Performance:
A Meta Analysis," Psychological Bulletin 107, no. 2 (1990):
- 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 ).
- National Science Foundation, "Women and Minorities
in Science and Engineering."
- Patricia B. Campbell and Catharine Shackford, "EUREKA!
Program Evaluation" (Campbell-Kibler Associates, Groton, Mass.,
1990, report); Campbell, "EUREKA! Participant Follow-up Analysis."
- Patricia B. Campbell, "Douglass Science Institute:
Three Years of Encouraging Young Women in Math, Science and Engineering"
(Campbell-Kibler 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.
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 Foundation-funded effort
to improve mathematics instruction around the country currently supports
collaboratives in 14 cities. UMC teachers, who work across the spectrum
of K-12 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 education-students, 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, multiple-choice 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 low-scoring students to a devastating cycle of remediation.
Teachers must have opportunities to develop and use new forms of assessment-hands
on demonstrations, portfolios, open-ended questions, and student-generated
tests-that 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, life-long 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
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.
Add-Ventures 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 teacher-developed program educates
teachers on issues related to girls and math-attitudes, making math relevant,
the learning environment, computers, test-taking skills, and more-and
then presents specific strategies and activities that address these issues.
Add-Ventures 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 4-9, and work to interest and motivate
girls during one of the critical periods when many lose interest in math
A number of WEEA products address specific issues in teaching and learning
math. Spatial Encounters is a self-directed program for all ages
that helps students develop and practice spatial visualization and orientation
skills-tools that help students in classes such as geometry and that are
necessary in many math- and science-related professions.
One of the recommended strategies for making math relevant for girls
is to discuss career options in math- and science-related 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 Math-Anxious Girls helps teachers reduce math anxiety
among upper elementary and middle school students. And Developing Math
Learning Skills: A Parallel Support Course for the Math-Anxious Student
helps adult students or program participants develop successful strategies
for learning and enjoying mathematics.
| To order WEEA publications, call 800-793-5076.
Or send your request with payment including $3.50
shipping for the first item, + $0.80 for each additional, to:
PO Box 1020
Sewickley, PA 15143-1020.
Add-Ventures for Girls: Building Math
(Elementary #2710 $35.00 Jr. High School #2709 $32.00)
by the Research and Planning Center
University of Nevada
Volumes for elementary school teachers and middle school
teachers use fun, hands-on activities that incorporate strategies and
approaches particularly effective with girls.
"Nothing Can Stop Us Now: Designing
Effective Programs for Girls in Math, Science and Engineering"
"Working Together, Making Changes:
Working in and out of School to Encourage Girls in Math and Science"
"What Works and What Doesn't: Ways
to Evaluate Programs for Girls in Math, Science, and Engineering"
"Math, Science, and Your Daughter:
What Can Parents Do?" (#2738 $12.00)
by Patricia Campbell, Campbell-Kibler 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
by Charlotte EQUALS
Contains over 30 hands-on, discovery-oriented science
activities designed especially for girls and students of color in grades
4-9. 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 Carolina-Charlotte,
the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System, and the Science Museums of
Spatial Encounters (#2434
by the Institute for Applied Research Services
University of New Mexico--Albuquerque
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 K-12
How High the Sky? How
Far the Moon? An Educational Program for Girls and Women in Math and
Science (#2104 $17.00)
by Sharon Menard
A comprehensive program for teaching science and equity
at the same time. For grades K-12, lessons are arranged by grade levels
and contain lesson plans and materials.
A Mindset for Math: Techniques for Identifying
and Working with Math-Anxious Girls (#2681
by Ohio State University
A program for upper elementary and middle school students
that treats anxiety as a component of math instruction. Helps girls
recognize feelings of anxiety and learn to reduce them, using proven
stress-reduction techniques. Activities make math relevant and fun.
Developing Math Learning Skills: A Parallel
Support Course for the Math-Anxious Student (#2702
by New Mexico State University-Las Cruces
A comprehensive program for helping women at college
level or in adult programs-including teacher training-work through psychological
and knowledge-based barriers to enjoy and understand mathematics. Participants
in this program have had documented increases in arithmetic and algebra
Monographs present in-depth discussions on cutting-edge issues in gender
Teaching Mathematics Effectively and Equitably to Females
Katherine Hanson, WEEA Equity Resource Center
Building Self: Adolescent Girls and
Self-Esteem (#2745 $6.00)
Sundra Flansburg, WEEA Equity Resource Center
The WEEA Digest is published
by the WEEA Equity Resource 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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