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Schools Badly Shortchange Girls--Report

February 12, 1992|JEAN MERL | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

From the way courses are designed to the methods teachers use to bestow attention on students, America's public schools are badly shortchanging girls, furthering inequities that hinder the choices they make as adults, the American Assn. of University Women contends in a landmark report to be released today.

The report pulls together two decades of research to provide the most comprehensive look to date at the bias girls face from preschool through high school. Among its findings:

* Teachers give girls significantly less attention than boys.

* Although the gender gap in math is declining, girls still are not pursuing math-related careers in the same proportion as boys are, and a large, and perhaps growing, gender gap persists in science.

* Curricula often ignore females or reinforce stereotypes.

* Most standardized tests are biased against girls.

In addition, the study found indications that African-American girls fare even worse than white girls in classroom interaction. Although black girls try to initiate more teacher contact than any other group, they are frequently rebuffed and usually receive less teacher reinforcement.

Further, the report found that sexual harassment of girls by boys is on the rise, in part, the authors say, because school authorities tend to dismiss the incidents as "harmless instances of 'boys being boys.' "

The study concludes with 40 recommendations aimed at increasing all students' chances of receiving equitable treatment.

Noting that the majority of workers entering the job market by the turn of the century will be women or minorities, AAUW officials said the inequities evidenced in the study must be reversed if the United States is to be competitive in global markets.

"Construction of the glass ceiling begins not in the executive suite but in the classroom," Alice McKee, president of the AAUW Educational Foundation, said of women's difficulties in rising to key leadership positions in business, the professions and academia.

"It starts in preschool, when girls get less teacher attention, and lessons focus on the developmental needs of boys," McKee added. "By the time girls reach high school, they have been systematically tracked toward traditional, sex-segregated jobs and away from areas of study that lead to high-paying jobs in science, technology and engineering. America cannot afford to squander half its talent."

The report was scheduled for discussion today by prominent educators at the AAUW's National Education Summit on Girls, being held in Washington. It also will be the subject of an AAUW-sponsored seminar for California education, business and government leaders Feb. 28 in San Francisco.

It follows an AAUW-commissioned poll last year which found that girls, unlike boys, do not generally emerge from school with the same degree of confidence and self-esteem with which most began their education.

AAUW President Sharon Schuster said the organization commissioned the study because of concerns that "girls are invisible" in the years-long national debate over how to improve American schools. A review of 35 major reports over two decades found only four that made any substantive references to girls' problems in the educational system, she said.

Among the group's recommendations were strengthening enforcement of a 1972 law banning sex discrimination in federally funded education programs; better training of teachers, counselors and administrators to avoid gender bias; revamping courses to expand opportunities for girls, and the elimination of gender stereotyping in matters ranging from discipline to textbooks.

As for standardized tests, researchers found that when scholarships are given based on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the most widely used college entrance exam, boys are more apt to receive them than girls who get equal or slightly better high school grades. Further, of boys and girls with the same math SAT scores, the girls do better in college.

Many of Orange County's 21 chapters of the AAUW have programs under way to erase gender bias in schools. The Huntington Beach chapter, for example, has an active mentor project pairing girls in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades with women in various careers.

"We especially try to identify girls who might be successful in school now but who need encouragement to continue on to college," Huntington Beach chapter president Pat Cohen said. "We have found that time and again that it's the middle-school girl who is at risk. While they do equal or better than boys at the fourth-grade level, by the time they are in high school, they are behind."

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