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National STEM crisis? Then why are girls entering college with superior academic qualifications in STEM than boys?
View related content: Carpe Diem
We hear all the time about a “gender STEM gap,” a “shortage of women in STEM,” “gender inequality in STEM” and “female underrepresentation in STEM.” Click on those links for Google searches of those terms and you’ll find tens of thousands of links and references. In a 2009 NY Times interview, former astronaut Sally Ride called the “persistent gender gap in STEM fields a national crisis that will be deeply detrimental to America’s global competitiveness.” Further, Dr. Ride said that “children ages 10 to 12, especially girls, are the most susceptible to being ‘pushed off the track’ of pursuing science by negative stereotypes.” According to the AAUW:
Unconscious gender bias is a significant barrier to girls’ progress in STEM. Early education plays a critical role for girls’ development, setting the stage for their level of interest, confidence, and achievements, particularly in STEM. The messages they receive during their K–12 education play a large role in the decisions and choices students make later in life.
Wow! If young girls are really being “pushed off the track” of pursuing science by negative stereotypes and face barriers from unconscious gender bias, then how do we explain the overwhelming evidence to the contrary summarized in the table above, based on College Board data here for 2016 (most recent year available)?
At the high school level for college-bound seniors who took the 2016 SAT test, we have the following overwhelming evidence that high school girls are actually out-performing their male counterparts in both math and science and they, therefore, enter college with superior academic qualifications and background in STEM than boys. For example:
1. More high school girls than boys take four years (or more than four years) of mathematics courses, and more girls (55%) than boys (45%) take Advanced Placement/Honors math classes.
2. More high school girls than boys take geometry and algebra classes.
3. On average girls get slightly higher grades (3.24 GPA) in high school mathematics classes than boys (3.21).
4. Similarly, more high school girls than boys take four years (or more) of natural science courses, and more girls (56%) than boys take Advanced Placement/Honors science courses.
5. Girls are more likely than boys to take high school classes in biology (55%), chemistry (55%), physics (51%), and geology earth or space science (55%).
6. Girls get slightly higher grades (3.37 GPA) than boys (3.33) on average in natural science courses.
7. Overall, high school girls have higher GPAs on average (3.45) than boys (3.30) and are more likely than boys to graduate in the top 10% of their class (56% vs. 44%) and the next highest 10% (54% vs. 46%). Girls are far more likely than boys to earn an A+ GPA (97-100) — 150 girls have the highest GPA for every 100 boys (60% vs. 40%). For students earning A level GPAs (93-96), there are 156 high school girls for every 100 boys (61% vs. 39%).
Bottom Line: At the high school level, girls take more math and science classes than boys, they take more AP/Honors classes than boys, they earn higher GPAs overall and in math and science courses, and they are far more likely to graduate in the top 10% (and top 20%) of their high school classes. So if there is any unconscious bias against girls in science and math, gender stereotyping, or girls getting “pushed off the STEM track” it sure isn’t supported by the data above that demonstrates the impressive academic success in math and science courses by high school girls, who are far outperforming their male counterparts in STEM education and academic excellence.
Girls today are entering college with far superior academic qualifications and a better background in STEM classes than boys. Unless women suddenly face gender bias and stereotyping at the college level that didn’t exist in K-12, or existed but didn’t stop them from excelling in STEM classes, perhaps it’s then a personal choice of college degree programs that leads to female underrepresentation in certain STEM fields. While under-represented in engineering and computer science, females are nevertheless over-represented in many STEM fields like biology, health sciences, veterinary medicine, anthropology, zoology, pharmacology, genetics, biomedical sciences, etc. To the extent that there is a gender gap in STEM, it’s not universal and certainly doesn’t exist in all fields, and is limited to certain STEM fields. High school girls are excelling in math and science and are doing just fine continuing their academic success in the college degree programs that they voluntarily choose, both in STEM and non-STEM fields.
Q: Isn’t it time to stop with the “national STEM crisis” and “unconscious gender bias as a STEM barrier” hyperbole?