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GOOD NEWS on the Math Front

By Jackie Burrell
Thursday, July 24th, 2008 at 11:00 am in Schools.

Brain power (illus. by Gary Meader, MCT) Remember those horrifying statistics about girls’ math scores sadly lagging behind boys’? Twenty years ago, girls and boys’ mathematical prowess was fairly equal through the elementary years, but by the time they hit high school, there was just no comparison. Those days are over, according to a new study of 7 million children, published by UC Berkeley and University of Wisconsin, Madison, researchers this morning in Science Magazine. Today’s girls do every bit as well as boys on standardized math exams, probably because they’re finally taking the same number of challenging math courses in high school.

Well, duh. But here’s where it gets interesting.

Despite girls taking just as many calculus classes as boys, and earning 48 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in mathematics, it hasn’t changed the public perception at all. Study leader Janet Hyde, a Wisconsin psychology professor, says not only does the “girls can’t do math” stereotype live on, it’s used to explain — or excuse — the lack of high ranking, female mathematicians, engineers and physicists. Stereotypes are “incredibly influential,” says Hyde. “If your mom or your teacher thinks you can’t do math, that can have a big impact.”

In other words, don’t just question authority, folks, question stereotypes, especially ones as pernicious as this. And let’s make sure our daughters are taking not just high level math, but physics and other high level sciences courses too — because that’s where the other gender gap persists.

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