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Girls Narrow Gender Gap in Advanced Classes, Study Finds

October 14, 1998|NICK ANDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

High school girls are narrowing the gap in participation in advanced math and science courses but still lag behind boys in such key disciplines as physics and computer science, a study released today concludes.

Boys, on the other hand, are far less likely than girls to take advanced English or foreign language classes in high school, or to set their sights on education, health or social science majors in college.

"Gender Gaps: Where Schools Still Fail our Children," a report from the American Assn. of University Women Educational Foundation, canvassing about 1,000 research documents produced in this decade, follows up on a 1992 study that concluded girls were getting shortchanged by the nation's schools.

Despite its title, the new study appears to offer more cause for optimism than concern.

"Girls have made great strides in education and probably receive a fairer education today than in 1992," the executive summary said.

Although the number of boys taking Advanced Placement chemistry and calculus courses in 1990 was significantly greater than that of girls, by 1994 the two sexes were taking the courses in almost equal numbers. By that year, in fact, girls were nearly equal or outpacing boys in participation in Advanced Placement English, American history, Western civilization, biology and foreign language classes.

But in Advanced Placement physics, the data show, boys participated far more than girls, and the gap was widening.

In certain computer fields--of growing interest as schools across the nation upgrade their technology--girls and boys are slipping into gender stereotypes, the report argues. For instance, girls are far more likely than boys to enroll in data entry or clerical classes related to computers--what the report calls "the 1990s version of typing."

Boys took computer science classes in greater numbers and in 1996 made up 83% of all students who took the Advanced Placement computer science exams.

The report also concludes that college-bound students divided by gender in their intended majors.

More than 15% of boys who took the SAT in 1997 intended to major in "business and commerce," compared with about 12% of the girls. In engineering, the numbers were more than 15% of the boys and fewer than 4% of the girls. But more than 12% of the girls intended to go into education compared with about 5% of the boys.

What is to be done about these gaps? The report argues that educators must take an activist role. "Simply offering boys and girls same menu of career choices without actively encouraging them to consider nontraditional fields does little to change the status quo," the authors wrote.

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