Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Gender and Achievement

My classes are focused on sociology of education at the moment, and one area we talk about that generates a lot of interest is gender and education. From literature, including 1991's Failing at Fairness: How Schools Cheat Girls and the more recent AAUW's Gender Gaps, we know that girls' learning problems are not identified, boys get more attention in classrooms, and girls start school testing higher in academic subjects but wind up achieving 50 points less on SATs. Finally, middle school is particularly troublesome.

At the same time, U.S. Department of Education data indicates that more girls than boys graduate high school, more women than men receive a bachelor's degree, and women now outnumber men in master's degree programs.

There is a dynamic in education, that achievement is impacted by social group, because while the returns to education are measurable across class, race, ethnicity and gender, as the outcome some groups benefit less than others, and as a result, are not as motivated to complete and excel. But this dynamic does not hold up between men and women. For example, compensation is not equitable between the genders. Yet females are high achievers. So why do women do so well when they receive fewer rewards? Some hypotheses are that women:

-are aware of the discrepancy but don't care
-are focused on the gains of feminism and so ignore the discrepancy
-have a traditionally dependent role which means economic returns are not the motivating factor (i.e. making a "good match")
-are socialized into specific roles in the early years
-value a private motivation (domestic life/home and family/community) more than a public one (economic/polity)

A complicating factor is that boys are disproportionately labeled as having special needs, perhaps because boys more often exhibit developmental delays, or are more likely to have their problems get attention, or because girls are more likely to display rewarded classroom behaviors (sitting quietly, raising her hand in turn).

Personally, I guess I do value private motivation, but at the same time, I see a lot of women in their 30s and 40s returning to college, and many are motived by economic reasons. I wonder if anyone has any thoughts on this fascinating subject?

1 comment:

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