Reimagining Education

NY Times Article Highlights Women Bridging Gap in Science Opportunities

Women Bridging Gap in Science Opportunities

Published: June 2, 2009

“The prospects for women who are scientists and engineers at major research universities have improved, although women continue to face inequalities in salary and access to some other resources, a panel of the National Research Council concludes in a new report.

In recent years “men and women faculty in science, engineering and mathematics have enjoyed comparable opportunities,” the panel said in its report, released on Tuesday. It found that women who apply for university jobs and, once they have them, for promotion and tenure, are at least as likely to succeed as men. But compared with their numbers among new Ph.D.’s, women are still underrepresented in applicant pools, a puzzle that offers an opportunity for further research, the panel said.

The panel said one factor outshined all others in encouraging women to apply for jobs: having women on the committees appointed to fill them.

In another report this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Wisconsin reviewed a variety of studies and concluded that the achievement gap between boys and girls in mathematics performance had narrowed to the vanishing point.

“U.S. girls have now reached parity with boys, even in high school and even for measures requiring complex problem solving,” the Wisconsin researchers said. Although girls are still underrepresented in the ranks of young math prodigies, they said, that gap is narrowing, which undermines claims that a greater prevalence of profound mathematical talent in males is biologically determined. The researchers said this and other phenomena “provide abundant evidence for the impact of sociocultural and other environmental factors on the development of mathematical skills and talent and the size, if any, of math gender gaps.”

The research council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, convened its expert panel at the request of Congress. The panel surveyed six disciplines — biology, chemistry, mathematics, civil and electrical engineering and physics — and based its analysis on interviews with faculty members at 89 institutions and data from federal agencies, professional societies and other sources.

The panel was led by Claude Canizares, a physicist who is vice president for research atM.I.T., and Dr. Sally Shaywitz of Yale Medical School, an expert on learning.

The Wisconsin researchers, Janet S. Hyde and Janet E. Mertz, studied data from 10 states collected in tests mandated by the No Child Left Behind legislation as well as data from theNational Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal testing program. Differences between girls’ and boys’ performance in the 10 states were “close to zero in all grades,” they said, even in high schools were gaps existed earlier. In the national assessment, they said, differences between girls’ and boys’ performance were “trivial.”

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