AAUW changes tune on gender bias impact Report: Six years ago, the association said girls were 'shortchanged' in coeducational settings, but today it is challenging the idea that single-sex education is better for female students.

The Education Beat

March 18, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THE AMERICAN Association of University Women has a knack for riling 'em up.

Six years ago, the association took considerable heat when it issued a report documenting the damage done to girls by gender bias in education.

Girls are often "shortchanged" in coeducational settings, the report said. The self-esteem of the best female students can be badly damaged.

The next year, conservative talk-show hosts went into full voice criticizing another AAUW report, "Hostile Hallways," which described pervasive sexual harassment of girls at all levels of schooling.

Perhaps the AAUW, the nation's champion of educational equity for women and girls, was feeling its oats. Just before these reports, it had forced Mattel Toys to withdraw a talking Barbie doll that uttered these offensive words: "Math class is tough."

At any rate, it's five years later, and the AAUW is singing a somewhat different tune. In a new report, "Separated by Sex," the organization challenges the idea that single-sex education is better for girls than coeducation.

"What the research shows is that separating by sex is not the solution to gender inequality in education," said Maggie Ford, president of the AAUW Educational Foundation, which compiled the report. "When elements of good education are present, girls and boys succeed."

The AAUW argued that it isn't changing its tune in 1998. (Goucher College officials said the same thing when they voted to admit men in the late 1980s.) It's entirely possible, of course, to succeed in school and still suffer gender bias.

Moreover, as a spokeswoman for Baltimore's all-girls Roland Park Country School said this week, "There's a lot more to education than what we can measure in achievement tests."

Also, there are all kinds of single-sex settings in education. What the AAUW's latest report shows is that the academic consequences of attending one type of school vs. another type of school "are virtually zero for middle-class or otherwise advantaged students."

By contrast, the consequences are "significant" for disadvantaged students. The all-boys' classes at Robert Coleman Elementary School in West Baltimore might make more sense educationally than the all-male private Gilman School.

The AAUW document is less a report than it is an anthology of recent research into single-sex education. The paper we liked for its common sense and lively writing is "What's Sex Got to Do With It?" by Patricia B. Campbell and Ellen Wahl. Campbell and Wahl list these four "questionable assumptions" about gender and education:

1. Girls and boys are opposites with different skills, interests and learning styles. Thus, one or both sexes are better served by single-sex classes.

2. Boys will be boys, and little, if anything, can be done to stop boys from disrespecting girls and creating a difficult environment. Thus, girls are better served in single-sex classes.

3. Gender equity refers to fairness for girls. Thus, the focus should be on what works for girls, in whatever setting.

4. Our efforts to reduce the gender gaps in subjects such as math and science, or in promoting coed environments that serve both boys and girls, have not been successful. Thus, single-sex classes are the only option left for addressing the inequities.

Americans called apathetic to science and technology

Norman Augustine, the former Lockheed Martin chairman and mainstay of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, teaches engineering at Princeton University.

In a recent journal article, Augustine writes that apathy about science and technology is "almost considered a badge of honor" by Americans. Too often, he writes, the achievements of scientists and engineers are taken for granted, while their occasional failures are subjected to intense public criticism.

He suggests that more people be exposed to "rocket science for beginners" and that scientists learn how to communicate with nonscientists.

By the way, Augustine was instrumental in the state's development of the MSPAP tests, the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.

EAI, renamed TesseracT, takes its act to Britain

An international EAI sighting:

The Times of London reports that Education Alternatives Inc., recently renamed TesseracT, is trying to enter the British market taking over failing public schools.

"In America, less money is spent on administration and ancillary personnel when private companies are involved," the Times quotes Philip Geiger, president of the Minneapolis-based company. "Instead it goes on curriculum development, programme design and professional development. The same thing could work in Britain."

Baltimoreans hear a familiar ring there.

The Times also reports that a potential rival of TesseracT in the newly opening British school privatization market is Sylvan Learning Systems "of Baltimore, Ohio."

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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