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The transformation of the U.S. economy into the knowledge-based Information Age is well under way, making mathematics, science, engineering, and technology even more critical to the future of American students. Yet according to the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), more than 50 percent of all students plan to drop advanced math and science courses, regardless of their career interests and without knowing the consequences.
Math, science, engineering, and technology are particularly important for women, who historically have been underrepresented in these fields. Over the past two decades, women and girls have progressed and are beginning to close the gap in certain areas. For example, the kinds of courses taken in high school and the number of courses taken have increased. More girls are taking algebra I and geometry today than in 1990. Taking these courses by the ninth and tenth grades is seen as a major predictor of whether a student will continue to college. In college, young women are majoring in math and science fields at a higher rate. Females consistently earn equivalent or higher grades than males throughout their educational experience.
But obstacles remain. There is a growing disparity among girls based on racial, ethnic, economic, and regional differences. Girls are often unprepared for new fields such as computer science, biotechnology, and environmental science. And women are either not entering these fields or leaving quickly. The number of women entering computer science courses has dropped steadily for the last ten years. Teacher preparation programs give insufficient focus to gender equity, with a negative impact on both girls and boys.
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