Math study distortion: So what's the media's excuse? Laziness? An agenda? Both?

[, July 28, 2008]

This is too funny. When Larry Summers was forced out as president of Harvard for observing that when it came to math, men were more likely than women to be really, really bad or really, really good, our brilliant, discerning national press boiled this down to, "Harvard Prez Says Women Can't Add."

So last week, a new study of more than 7.2 million students from second grade to 11th grade came out. It found that taken overall, the math talents of girls and boys were equal. But if you looked far enough into the study, you would find that, yes, just as Summers said, there were considerably more males with exceptional math ability and considerably more who were abject dolts. Alex Tabarrok lays all this out on the great
Marginal Revolution blog.

But the study's authors buried this finding, perhaps intentionally. The result was our brilliant, discerning national press -- which couldn't be bothered to actually read the study -- completely blowing the story. Tabarrok cites this example from the L.A. Times:

The study also undermined the assumption -- infamously espoused by former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers in 2005 -- that boys are more likely than girls to be math geniuses. Girls scored in the top 5% almost as often as boys, the data showed.

But not in the top one half of 1 percent. Which was Summers' point.

Someone who scores at the 95th percentile in a math standardized test is hardly a math genius. A Math SAT of 710 is very impressive, but it doesn't connote genius.

I don't know if this rotten reporting reflects laziness or an agenda or both.

It appears only one -- one! -- education beat reporter actually read the report from start to finish, Keith J. Winstein of the Wall Street Journal. Contrast what he wrote with the LAT propaganda:

The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley, didn't find a significant overall difference between girls' and boys' scores. But the study also found that boys' scores were more variable than those of girls. More boys scored extremely well -- or extremely poorly -- than girls, who were more likely to earn scores closer to the average for all students.
One measure of a top score is achieving the "99th percentile" -- scoring in the top 1% of all students. Boys were significantly more likely to hit this goal than girls.

In Minnesota, for example, 1.85% of white boys in the 11th grade hit the 99th percentile, compared with 0.9% of girls -- meaning there were more than twice as many boys among the top scorers than girls.

Winstein actually had the nerve to do some genuine follow-up journalsim and to actually talk to one of the study authors to get some context.

The study found that boys are consistently more variable than girls, in every grade and in every state studied. That difference has "been a concern over the years," said Marcia C. Linn, a Berkeley education professor and one of the study's authors. "People didn't pay attention to it at first when there was a big difference" in average scores, she said. But now that girls and boys score similarly on average, researchers are taking notice, she said.

I, of course, have no hope that all readers will appreciate this nuance. I expect to get the usual nasty e-mails from feminists that I got the last time I defended Larry Summers for pointing out an inconvenient but widely documented truth.

Chris Reed

Math study finds girls are just as good as boys

[Associated Press, 7/25/2008]


WASHINGTON (AP) — Sixteen years after Barbie dolls declared, "Math class is tough!" girls are proving that when it comes to math they are just as tough as boys. In the largest study of its kind, girls measured up to boys in every grade, from second through 11th. The research was released Thursday in the journal Science.

Parents and teachers persist in thinking boys are simply better at math, said Janet Hyde, the University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher who led the study. And girls who grow up believing it wind up avoiding harder math classes.
"It keeps girls and women out of a lot of careers, particularly high-prestige, lucrative careers in science and technology," Hyde said.

That's changing, though slowly.

Women are now earning 48 percent of undergraduate college degrees in math; they still lag far behind in physics and engineering.

But in primary and secondary school, girls have caught up, with researchers attributing that advance to increasing numbers of girls taking advanced math classes such as calculus.

Hyde and her colleagues looked at annual math tests required by the No Child Left Behind education law in 2002. Ten states provided enough statistical information to review test scores by gender, allowing researchers to compare the performances of more than 7 million children.

The researchers found no difference in the scores of boys versus girls — not even in high school. Studies 20 years ago showed girls and boys did equally well on math in elementary school, but girls fell behind in high school.

"Girls have now achieved gender parity in performance on standardized math tests," Hyde said.

The stereotype that boys are better at math has been fueled, at least in part, by suggestions of biological differences in the way little boys and little girls learn. This idea is hotly disputed; Lawrence Summers, then the president of Harvard, was castigated in 2005 when he questioned the "intrinsic aptitude" of women for top-level math and science.

Joy Lee, a rising senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., says she always felt confident about math, but remembers how it felt to walk into a science class full of boys. "Maybe I was a little bit apprehensive about being the only girl, but that didn't last for very long," said Lee, president of a school club that tries to get young girls interested in science and technology, along with engineering and math.

"I definitely do encourage other girls to pursue those interests and to not be scared to take those courses just because there are not very many girls or because they think they're not good enough to do it," Lee said.

Still, while there are fewer women in science and technology, there are more women in college overall. To Hyde and her colleagues, that helps explain why girls consistently score lower on average on the SAT: More of them take the test, which is needed to get into college. The highest-performing students of both genders take the test, but more girls lower on the achievement scale take it, skewing the average.

For the class of 2007, the latest figures available, boys scored an average of 533 on the math section of the SAT, compared with 499 for girls.

On the ACT, another test on which girls lag slightly, the gender gap disappeared in Colorado and Illinois once state officials required all students to take the test.
As Hyde and her colleagues looked across the data for states' testing, they found something they didn't expect: In most states they reviewed, and at most grade levels, there weren't any questions that involved complex problem-solving, an ability needed to succeed in high levels of science and math. If tests don't assess these reasoning skills, they may not be taught, putting American students at a disadvantage to students in other countries with more challenging tests, the researchers said.

That might be a glaring omission, said Stephen Camarata, a Vanderbilt University professor who has researched the issue but was not involved in the study.
"We need to know that, if our measures aren't capturing some aspect of math that's important," Camarata said. "Then we can decide whether there's an actual male or female advantage."

A panel of experts convened by the Education Department recommended that state tests be updated to emphasize critical thinking.

While some states already have fairly rigorous tests, "we can do a better job," said Kerri Briggs, the department's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

"If we're going to be globally competitive, we need students who are able to do higher-level math skills," she said.

Back in 1992, Barbie stopped saying math was hard after Mattel received complaints from, among others, the American Association of University Women.
So far, while her current career choices include baby doctor and veterinarian — and Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, too — Barbie has not branched out into technology or engineering.

Qualification figures show growing gap between sexes

[NZ Herald, Friday July 25, 2008]

Martha McKenzie-Minifie

Girls are still outdoing boys in university entrance - and new figures show the gap has widened.

Last year, 45 per cent of female school leavers got the qualification, or an equivalent, compared with 33 per cent of the males.

Despite high-level work on the issue, the 12 percentage point "gender gap" was the largest in four years. Between 2004 and 2006 it had held steady at 10 percentage points.

The rise is a 20 per cent increase in the gap compared with a year earlier but is described in the latest Ministry of Education's school leavers report as "relatively unchanged".

Education Minister Chris Carter said a specialist reference group's report on boys' achievement was due in about a fortnight.

The gender gap might relate to the emphasis on internal assessment in modern qualifications systems, as opposed to end-of-year external exams, he said, and New Zealand was not alone. "This in an international trend. Educationists all over the world are grappling with this."

The data, released yesterday, showed that overall more students were leaving with higher qualifications. Sixty-six per cent leaving secondary school last year achieved level 2 NCEA or above, up from 60 per cent in 2006.

The proportion with little or no formal attainment halved, from 11 per cent in 2006 to 5 per cent last year.

Approach to help boys learn

[The Day, 7/26/2008 ]

The decision to end gender-specific classes at the Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in New London is unfortunate for the students who may have benefited from them, and for the district that is already the subject of criticism for its inability to close the achievement gap between its urban population and students in the suburbs.

These same-sex classes may have been the answer for some students who are struggling in school, particularly young males. But by city schools' staff members' own admission, they may have moved too quickly to set up the same-sex classrooms, and therefore doomed them.

We think the city should try again, but plan accordingly first. And the state could help the effort, and those of other districts, by offering incentives or by encouraging recruitment of more male teachers for the elementary and middle-school levels.

One failure in New London's case was the inability to find a male teacher for the class of boys. National data shows that some boys, particularly in the younger grades, do better with male teachers.

Many little boys have trouble sitting still. And there is clear evidence that boys are active learners. They learn better by doing, not by sitting and listening. Give a boy a hands-on project, and he has a better chance of successfully completing it.

Not to take anything away from studious young girls, but educators know that much of early education is language-based, and girls, on average, are stronger than boys in language. That's one reason why girls typically outpace boys academically in the earlier grades.

So there are valid reasons for trying same-sex classrooms. Not for every student, but for those whose parents think it is the right fit for their child. It is an idea that is catching hold across the country, with more and more public schools offering the option.

So it was unfortunate that New London's pilot project failed. But we believe the district should rethink its plan and resuscitate it for the 2009-2010 school year. And rather than do it in the sixth grade, perhaps New London should consider such a class for elementary school.

New London schools have big obstacles to overcome. No one program or service will solve all the problems. But a few gender-specific classrooms, taught by gender-specific teachers, might provide the formula for success for some students.

Boys education failure continues to be ignored

[Scoop Independent news, Friday, 30 May 2008]

United Future deputy leader Judy Turner says that the education gap between girls and boys demands immediate action. Her comments follow a report showing that boys are behind at every level in reading and writing, and that more needs to be done to provide a male-friendly learning environment.

The report found:

* There is no difference in the rate of truancy for boys and girls, but significantly more boys, Mâori and Pasifika boys in particular, are stood-down and suspended; are excluded or expelled; and gain early leaving exemptions.

* Females are more likely than males to gain an NCEA qualification at all levels.

* Females tend to stay at school longer and leave school with higher attainment levels than males.

* Males are more likely than females to leave school with little or no formal qualification but this difference has decreased over recent years.

“A huge percentage of boys arrive at intermediate or high school already years behind their appropriate reading age. This is inexcusable – their reading problems are holding them back in their other subjects too and they often never recover,” says Mrs Turner.

“The fact that there was a concerning gender gap five years ago, and that there still is now should not be any relief to the Minister. Does he find this gap acceptable as long as it doesn’t get wider?”

After five years of NCEA system, the gender gap measured 10-12 percent in favour of girls. That means for every six girls in New Zealand schools, only five boys pass NCEA level 1.

“Boys need more attention and the system needs to change to better accommodate the needs of boys at a young age. The flow on effect at University level is obvious and of great concern.

Figures show that 44% more young women than men were enrolled for bachelor degrees. The statistics for Maori is even more concerning, with only 34% of Maori university graduates male, compared to 66% female

“For a start, we desperately need male teachers in primary schools to provide both quality care and education, and provide positive male role models for our young children," said Mrs Turner, a former primary teacher.

"Nationally, only 18% of all primary school teachers were male for the years 2003-2006, down from 19% in 2002.

“This is a huge problem that has not been adequately addressed or acknowledged by the Ministry or the Government. I challenge the Minister to publicly acknowledge that we have a problem in our education system that adversely affects boys, and to commit to finding solutions,” says Mrs Turner.