For girls, school is a lesson in bias Report details inequality

February 12, 1992|By New York Times News Service

School is still a place of unequal opportunity, where girls face discrimination from teachers, textbooks, tests and their male classmates, according to a report being released today that examined virtually all major studies on girls and education.

Girls and boys start school roughly equal in skills and confidence, but girls trail by the end of high school, said the study, "How Schools Shortchange Women: The AAUW Report," commissioned by the American Association of University Women Education Foundation.

"This latest report presents the truth behind another myth -- that boys and girls receive equal education," said Alice McKee, president of the AAUW Educational Foundation, in the report's foreword. "The wealth of statistical evidence must convince even the most skeptical that gender bias in our schools is shortchanging girls -- and compromising our country."

For the report, researchers at the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women examined more than 1,000 publications about girls and education, including hundreds of research studies. From the material, most of it from the 1980s, the researchers concluded that:

* Teachers pay less attention to girls than boys.

* Girls still lag in mathematics and science scores, and even those who do well in those subjects tend not to choose math and science careers.

* Reports of sexual harassment of girls by their male classmates is increasing.

* Some tests remain biased against girls, hurting their chancesof scholarships and getting into college.

* School textbooks still ignore or stereotype women, and girls learn almost nothing in school about many of their most pressing problems, such as sexual abuse, discrimination and depression.

"This is truly a wake-up call to the nation's education and policy leaders, parents, administrators and guidance counselors that unless we pay attention to girls' needs today, we will find out 15 years from now that there is still a glass ceiling," said Anne Bryant, executive director of the association. The report addressed the experiences of girls in public schools from preschool through high school.

The report does acknowledge that girls generally get better grades than boys, but it argues that, when all their school experiences are examined, girls are still shortchanged.

And the U.S. Department of Education says that 61.6 percent of the girls who graduated from high school in 1989 were enrolled in college that fall, as against 57.6 percent of the boys.

The report makes 40 recommendations, including training teachers and changing teaching methods to meet girls' needs, encouraging girls in mathematics and science, toughening school policies against sexual harassment and placing girls' problems on the agenda of education reformers.

While the individual research programs that the report synthesized have been published previously, together they paint damning picture of girls' lives in school. The findings, many educators said, will surprise many teachers and administrators. "I think this is dynamite stuff," said Keith Geiger, president of the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union. He said the research "makes the point very clearly that there are many subtle and unknown things teachers do in the classroom" that hurt girls.

Both he and David Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said they planned to distribute the report to their members to help teachers learn how to treat girls more fairly.

In one of the best-known studies cited in the report, Myra and David Sadker observed teachers over three years and found that most called on boys more often than girls, offered boys more detailed and constructive criticism and allowed boys to shout out answers but reprimanded girls for doing so.

These and other examples of bias have held back girls in math and science, the report argues. Two recent studies found that many science teachers, and some mathematics teachers, tended to ignore girls in favor of boys.

Boys not only continue to score higher than girls on science standardized tests, but the gap may be widening, the report found.

Moreover, even those girls who did well in science and mathematics tended not to pursue careers in those fields. Studies of girls who continued to study science after high school showed that encouragement of teachers was crucial in their decisions.

Researchers also found that girls had less confidence in their math abilities than boys did, and that as their confidence diminished, so did their performance.

But the report also offered some good news: The gap between boys' and girls' mathematics scores is narrowing, according to a review of standardized test results.

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