Thursday, July 24, 2008

Breaking: Girls Can Do Math!

I actually got word of this yesterday - you know, from my "sources" - but it was "embargoed" until today:
A new study comparing the math scores of 7 million students across the country shows what the five female university researchers already knew: Girls are just as good as boys at math.

The research seems to settle a long-running debate over the existence of a math gene that gives boys an edge over girls in advanced coursework and ultimately in the workforce.


The study found no difference between boys and girls in performance on math tests given in grades two through 11.

Decades ago, that wasn't the case. Girls took fewer advanced math and science courses and those who did posted lower scores.
And yes, I really do get emails about information that isn't supposed to be totally public yet. Most of them are not this interesting. I'd actually prefer not to receive any of them, but I'm not allowed to unsubscribe from the relevant list.


Bret said...

Now, I know two female P.E.s who regularly kick my ass up and down the block, so I'll be the last person to say "Haw haw, gurls can't do math!"

But a comparative study about math performance that ends with 11th grade (Geometry? Algebra II?) doesn't really put anything to bed at all.

Paul said...

I'm not sure what putting the question "to bed" would mean, but given the total absence of evidence that girls are any worse at math than boys, I'd say the argument that girls are worse at math than boys is based on nothing but sexism.

Bret said...

"putting it to bed" = "seems to settle a long-running debate".

I don't really know anything about this debate, but I assumed that since it was long running, this meant at least two sides had merit.

I think I probably have a strange view of 'how girls are' because of the industry I work in, but I've always gotten the rough impression that whether they can do it or not, girls tend not to like math. I always assumed that's what the deal was.

heidi heilig said...

that's just me. _I_ don't like math.

Bret, you know Tara. The math major. :)

Paul said...

The "girls can't do math" side has always relied on two pieces of evidence: test scores, and under-representation in math and science fields. As an empirical matter, both of those points have always been accurate, but irrelevant, since it's kind of meaningless to say that girls don't want to enter a field that is hostile in many ways to their presence and that they are not encouraged to enter in the first place. (We don't assume that runners with head starts are necessarily any faster than the runners they beat.)

But experiment after experiment shows that when you remove institutional and psychological barriers to female participation, female performance matches (and often exceeds) male performance. (See, for instance, research on stereotype threat.)

There is a long-running debate over Darwinian evolution by a process of natural selection, but that doesn't tell us much about the relative merits of each side of the argument.