What about the girls?

I came across this super-upsetting graph in an newsletter from the Department of Education (called Teaching Matters, you can sign up for it here). This data comes from a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) on gaps in access and persistance in higher education (for full report, click here) I’ve found the ACT to be such a line in the sand in terms of college readiness and the chart above clearly illustrates the race and gender discrepancies in scores.

There are several really gripping findings in the study but another chart that jumped out at me was the one below which shows passing percentages on Advanced Placement exams by subject, race and gender.


This chart is even more troubling because more often than not AP classes are not open-enrollment and so these scores represent the top performing students and not the population at large. Although performance by race differed dramatically in many subjects I was stunned to see how wide the gap is for young women of color.

One of the central moments of my development as a teacher was in my second year when my principal sat in on my lesson and kept a record of student-teacher interactions (questions asked, hands raised, cold-calls, reprimands, etc.). At the end of class he wrote on a post-it “Interesting lesson! What about the girls?” As I looked at the chart, I was stunned to see that for every interaction with a female student I had almost three more with a male student. I was giving almost three times the attention to boys in my class. I was mortified. I had read Reviving Ophelia! I took TONS of women’s studies classes in college! I was only two years out from writing my undergraduate thesis titled Can We Milk This Tiger: A Study of Feminist Theory and Revolutionary Praxis in Central America and I there I was actually favoring my male students.

Unfortunately, the data above shows I am not alone. What about the girls?


4 thoughts on “What about the girls?

  1. Heather says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because I have a class that has almost twice as many girls as boys this year, but the boys really dominate most conversations despite my current best efforts to even things out. There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years about how we are or are not serving boys in schools, and this graphic is a good reminder that we can’t forget about our girls.

    • It’s a tough balancing act . . . we once had a school-wide “Socratic Seminar” where all of the students red segments of Reviving Ophelia and talked about where they saw evidence of the trends the author described (girls not volunteering in class, acting stupid to impress boys, etc.) in our own building.

  2. Luisa says:

    Interesting/disturbing…LouAnne Johnson wrote a book about her own experience with this trend: http://www.amazon.com/The-Girls-Back-Class-Choices-Dropping/dp/0312958803

    Love your blog!

  3. […] To say “education is the civil rights issue of our time” is to say what many, many others have said before and it’s stating the painfully obvious. Thirty years ago the US was rife with major racial inequities but we led the world in terms of education; specifically, in the percentage of secondary and post-secondary degrees. Today the US is 14th in post-secondary degrees and 22nd in percentage of high school degrees. In the 1970s, 1 out of every 4 jobs required a college degree and today 2 out of every 3 jobs require some college. As Jon Shnur, the founder of America Achieves, said “Today the minimal ticket to a middle class life is some kind of post-secondary degree.” Our education situation is disconcerting for all Americans; however, for minorities and those from low socio-economic backgrounds the achievement gap is formidable. […]

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