American Culture Seen to Thwart Girls' Math Development
Educators have worried for years that U.S. schools are squandering the mathematical talents of young girls, allowing them to fall victim to stereotypes that they can’t succeed in that subject, and shouldn’t take it seriously.
Now, a study finds that European and Asian countries are doing a better job of identifying and cultivating the skills of girls with superior math ability than the United States is.
Previous research has examined the differences in the performance and academic interests of male and female students in math, based on standardized tests given to broad student populations.
But the authors of the new study examine the gender and backgrounds of students with “profound aptitude” in the subject, as judged on extremely demanding tests of math skill, such as the International Mathematical Olympiad, the USA Mathematical Olympiad, and the Putnam Mathematical Competition, a college-level exam. The study was published this month in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, the journal of a professional organization of mathematicians, with headquarters in Providence, R.I.
The authors found that many countries consistently produce a higher percentage of girls with elite math skills than the United States does, which they attribute to a tendency in American society to discourage girls from pursuing those studies.
In the United States, “we have a country where there’s this social stigma that affects kids,” said Janet E. Mertz, a professor of oncology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and one of the authors. For girls in this country, she added, “the culture has become almost anti-math.”
When looking at participation on the International Mathematical Olympiad, the study found that 20 percent of the participating Russian team members from 1988 to 1997 were female; in Serbia and Montenegro, it was 8 percent. In the United States, by comparison, no girls took part. Other English-speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, also had more female representation than the United States.
Countries can shape their ability to produce high-powered female math talent through educational, cultural, and environmental factors, Ms. Mertz said. She noted that from 1988 to 1997, 11 percent of the former East German math Olympiad’s participants were female, but that in West Germany, the percentage was zero. “It can’t be genetic,” Ms. Mertz said of Germany’s results. “It’s something going on in their environment.”
Copyright 2009 by Editorial Projects in Education. All rights reserved.
Add your own comment
Today on Education.com
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- The Five Warning Signs of Asperger's Syndrome
- What Makes a School Effective?
- Child Development Theories
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Bullying in Schools
- Test Problems: Seven Reasons Why Standardized Tests Are Not Working
- Should Your Child Be Held Back a Grade? Know Your Rights
- First Grade Sight Words List