Schools try to close gender gap in science, math, tech studies


Last month’s results on the ACT, a college-entrance exam taken by a growing number of Georgia high school students, highlighted an ongoing problem.

Boys are doing better than girls in STEM, the acronym educators use for science, technology, engineering and math.

Girls’ scores lagged those of boys in math and science by greater margins in Georgia than nationally. On last year’s SAT, the mean score in Georgia for boys was 29 points higher in math. By comparison, the difference was just eight points in reading.

The gender gap also exists in those subjects on the college level.

In 2013, men outnumbered women nearly 3-to-1 in attaining computing degrees or certificates in Georgia, according to Change the Equation, a coalition aiming to make all students STEM-literate. Men, the data show, received engineering degrees or certificates by a near 4-to-1 ratio. And those rates have increased over the past decade.

“This gender thing is disturbing,” said Dana Rickman, policy and research director for the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

Educators are increasingly trying to find ways to close the gap. One such effort is in the works in Gwinnett County, the state’s largest public school system. Lanier Middle School will soon have an after-school program for girls focused on science and technology.

Lanier High School junior Teishana Antoine, wanted to help younger girls like herself who are considering careers in these subjects and helped get a $3,000 grant from tech giants Apple, Intel and Microsoft for the program.

“We can also be the ones creating the (computer) code and showing (girls) what STEM really is,” said Antoine, 16, surrounded in a recent interview by seven female classmates interested in STEM.

State education department officials last year co-sponsored a workshop to get more middle school girls greater exposure to STEM.

The statistics aren’t all troubling for girls in STEM. Girls fared as well as boys on the state’s Georgia Milestones assessments this past spring. Forty-two percent of Georgia Tech’s freshman class are women, according to the school, the highest percentage since it started tracking such data. Tech’s undergraduate admissions office has a special women’s recruitment team. The tech company Intel last year gave Georgia Tech $5 million to be used over five years to produce a more diverse workforce.

Georgia business and political leaders have preached the gospel of STEM, noting the prosperity of those professions. Without more well-educated STEM workers, Georgia’s economy suffers, they say.

Barbara Ericson, a longtime researcher on the topic, said there’s also a practical need for women who know their stuff in STEM.

“Diverse teams make better products,” said Ericson, director of outreach in Georgia Tech’s Institute for Computing Education.

Some data show boys are taking more rigorous STEM courses than girls, which gives them an advantage during the college admissions process. More boys took Advanced Placement high school exams in math and science last year, according to the most recent annual summary report.

The barrier appears to be social and cultural: Because of society’s expectations and stereotypes, girls don’t get the same encouragement to excel in those areas, and too many consequently believe they cannot, say Rickman and others.

More than a dozen female students interviewed for this article agreed. They say girls like math and science, but many focus on classes where they can better explore their creativity in middle school and high school. Some girls, they say, get discouraged when having trouble in a math and science class and lose interest. They also say some girls, surrounded by boys in math and science activities, lose confidence.

“It’s kind of hard to step up if you are the only girl in a group,” said Sydney Leahy, 13, an eighth-grader at Lanier Middle.

Michele Langhans, a science teacher at the school, says she stresses to girls the long-term importance of excelling in STEM.

“There are more college scholarships in STEM,” she said.

Several experts say girls need more women STEM teachers.

Federal data show about 58 percent of public high school teachers are women. In math and science the percentages are slightly lower, 57 and nearly 54 percent, respectively. In English, though, where girls perform better on standardized tests, about 77 percent of teachers are women.

In January, a team of researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina Charlotte released a report that found “a positive and significant association between the proportion of female math and science teachers in high school and young women’s probability of declaring a STEM major.”

Part of the problem may also lie with Super Mario. Well, not solely that popular video game character, but video games that are geared toward boys and get them more interested in computer science, Ericson said. Some research has shown teenagers who play online video games score above average in math and science.

For her part, Ericson has sent letters to minority and female students who’ve done well on the PSAT to encourage them to take Advanced Placement Computer Science classes in high school. The College Board, which puts together AP courses, recently created a Computer Science Principles class it hopes will draw more women and minority students. Gwinnett has one of the classes.

At Lanier High, the girls interested in STEM support each other. They help each other with projects and in competitions. Three years ago, there were no girls on the executive board of a STEM-related student group. Now, five of the eight board members are girls.

Lanier High teacher Michael Reilly, who founded the school’s Center for Design and Technology program, explained how three boys got on the board.

“They threw them a bone,” he joked.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Education

Snow days don’t mean extra days later for most metro students
Snow days don’t mean extra days later for most metro students

Most students in metro Atlanta have missed a week or more of classroom time due to weather this school year, but few have to make up any of it. Nearly every school district has a waiver from the state requirement of a minimum of 180 classroom days. And some, including Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, are keeping their students on track with the internet...
Whoops! Atlanta reverses decision to open schools Friday
Whoops! Atlanta reverses decision to open schools Friday

Atlanta Public Schools has changed its decision about re-opening Friday, determining that the roads are still too unsafe to travel. On Thursday afternoon, the district had announced that it would re-open after two days of being closed. But after 6:30 p.m., the district released this statement: “Atlanta Public Schools was hopeful that we would...
North metro Atlanta school district decides to re-open Friday
North metro Atlanta school district decides to re-open Friday

Forsyth County Schools will re-open Friday after two days of being closed due to treacherous road conditions. Atlanta Public Schools have already announced they’ll open, while Clayton County will remain closed. Other districts, including big ones like Gwinnett and Cobb counties, are still weighing what to do. But the decision announced after...
Clayton County Schools will remain closed Friday
Clayton County Schools will remain closed Friday

Clayton County Schools officials said school will remain closed Friday due to icy conditions. Schools have been closed since Wednesday after snow begin falling late Tuesday night.  “We recognize our school buses mostly travel on secondary and housing development roads and streets,” Superintendent Morcease Beasley said in a statement...
How and when should Atlanta schools make up snow days? APS reviews 6 options
How and when should Atlanta schools make up snow days? APS reviews 6 options

Atlanta Public Schools wants parents to help solve a big conundrum: How should the district make up snow days?After two snow days this week, the number of days the school district has lost this school year to inclement weather -- from snow, ice or Tropical Storm Irma -- now adds up to six. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, in a Thursday blog post,...
More Stories