What the Literature Says*
Participation and success in math, science, and technology courses, especially those taught in an equitable and “hands-on” manner, increase the likelihood of women participating in nontraditional careers.
Timing: It is essential that girls and women persist and achieve in math, science, and technology careers, because young women are increasingly attracted to a wider, more diverse range of jobs as they get older. However, by the time young women start to fully consider a wide range of jobs as attractive options, critical decisions about qualifications will already have been made, restricting the actual options available to them.
Methods: One study found that a one-unit increase in calculus in high school doubled the odds that women would later choose a science or math major. However, some methods of teaching mathematics, ones that do not allow a “connected, relational understanding,” disenfranchise or exclude women, students of color, and students of low socioeconomic status from equitable learning opportunities. Women’s desire for conceptual and connected understanding is thwarted by traditional mathematics teaching methods.
Math interest: Although young women achieve at a rate comparable to young men, young women’s interest in math courses remains flat. “For young men in higher-level math tracks, math interest is much more strongly related to math school grades than for young women in the same math courses.” Both girls and boys have made impressive achievement gains between 1990 and 2000 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Nearly half of the mathematics bachelor’s degrees are awarded to women. However, the number of women working as mathematicians is low, and less than 5 percent of full mathematics professors in the top 50 science and engineering departments are women. Women earned less than 27 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science in 1998, but there was no difference in technology use between men and women. “We can but we don’t want to” seems to be the philosophy. Women’s attainment of bachelor’s degrees in computer science has declined since this study was done in 1998 to less than 25% in 2004.