Girls Are Not Shortchanged by Schools

Published November 1, 1998

Most people take it for granted that “schools shortchange girls.” But in a harshly worded report, a University of Alaska researcher describes the myth as a deliberate deception designed to promote the special interests of well-educated women at the expense of groups that the schools really shortchange, including African-American males.

The myth was created by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in “a public relations document masquerading as social science research,” according to University of Alaska psychology professor Judith Kleinfeld. Her study, “The Myth That Schools Shortchange Girls: Social Science in the Service of Deception,” was published in June by the Washington, DC-based Women’s Freedom Network.

The 1992 AAUW report created the impression that girls are ignored by teachers, suffer from low self-esteem, and lag behind boys in academic achievement.

“The facts are different,” writes Kleinfeld, who teaches at the university’s Fairbanks campus. “Girls excel in school. Girls get higher grades in every school subject, get higher class rank, get placed half as often in special education classes, score significantly higher on standardized tests of writing and reading achievement, enter college more often, and graduate more often with bachelor’s and master’s degrees.”

While girls do perform less well than boys in advanced science and mathematics, that gap is much smaller than the performance gap between boys and girls in reading and writing. Also, Kleinfeld notes, women have made dramatic gains in mathematics and science, as evidenced by the fact that over 40 percent of biology and life science doctoral degrees awarded to Americans now go to women. As well as earning 55 percent of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees, women now receive close to 45 percent of professional and doctoral degrees, up sharply from only 7 percent in the early 1970s.

Other studies also raise questions about the AAUW report. Surveying national data on gender issues, a 1997 Metropolitan-Life study concluded: “Contrary to the commonly held view that boys are at an advantage over girls in schools, girls appear to have an advantage over boys in terms of their future plans, teachers’ expectations, everyday experiences at school and interactions in the classroom.”

Kleinfeld re-examined the AAUW’s own research on the issue, finding no support for its charge that schools discriminate against girls. Boys and girls both agree that teachers think girls are smarter, praise them more, like them more, and want to be around them. A research study by David and Myra Sadker, used by the AAUW to support claims of dramatic differences in teacher attention to girls and boys, has somehow been “lost.”

Although the AAUW highlighted the now-missing research findings in its public relations report, “How Schools Shortchange Girls: A Study of Major Findings on Girls and Education,” it excluded other findings on gender bias from its own research studies that showed just the opposite: Teachers give almost twice as much attention to girls than boys. It’s worth noting that teachers themselves are three times more likely to be female than male, according to Mike Antonucci’s March 1997 report, One Yard Below: Education Statistics from a Different Angle.

Kleinfeld is concerned that the myth has diverted policy attention from a real at-risk gender group: African-American boys, who are far behind African-American girls and who score lowest of all population groups on virtually every educational scale. That group also concerns Antonucci, who notes their over-representation in America’s prison population.

For more information …

A 13-page summary of Judith Kleinfeld’s report, “The Myth that Schools Shortchange Girls,” is available through PolicyBot. Search for old document #2113506. The full text of the 72-page report is available from Kleinfeld at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, College of Liberal Arts, 613B Gruening Building, P.O. Box 756460, Fairbanks, AK 99775-6460, phone 907/474-5266, e-mail [email protected].