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Are Boys Better At Math? Girls With English?

FILE - Girls from a city preparatory school play with an interactive exhibit at the National Museum of Mathematics in New York.
FILE - Girls from a city preparatory school play with an interactive exhibit at the National Museum of Mathematics in New York.

Do boys perform better in math than girls? Do girls excel in reading?

The data vary.

Recent studies from Stanford University show that gender gaps in math proficiency still exist but are closing. And many factors besides gender influence how children learn, depending on their families' income and education.

Stanford looked at 260 million test scores in more than 10,000 school districts in the United States between 2008 and 2015. Researchers found:

— The math gap between genders has narrowed over the years.

— Boys outperform girls in math only slightly.

— Boys outperform girls in math in wealthy, suburban school districts.

— Girls outperform boys in math in low-income districts only slightly.

— Girls excel in English across all economic groups.

— Wealth likely plays a role in creating gender gaps.

"This study highlights that gender disparities still exist within the United States," said Erin Fahle, doctoral candidate in education policy at Stanford in northern California. "Our research is highlighting that both male and female students' educational opportunities are constrained by gender norms and stereotypes and our expectations for what they will do academically."

FILE - Ninth-graders work on laptop computers during a class at the Philadelphia High School for Girls in Philadelphia.
FILE - Ninth-graders work on laptop computers during a class at the Philadelphia High School for Girls in Philadelphia.

Overall, gaps among younger students in math and English performance are smaller than gaps among older students, Fahle told VOA. Her team looked at how parents invest resources in their children and how they speak with them.

Income factor

Family income can influence how children relate and interact with others, for example, by providing enrichment and educational activities. This can impact higher education, as well.

"Potentially, in the more affluent communities, parents are investing more in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] opportunities in male children relative to female children," Fahle said.

Status also plays a role, according to researchers.

"The sons of 'high status' men get more years of education on average than the daughters, while the daughters of 'low status' men get more years of education on average than the sons," said Rosemary Hopcroft, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

This disparity between sons and daughters is not new. Two prior studies by Hopcroft, from 2005 and 2014 with colleague David O. Martin, have shown the same results.

Studies also were conducted by Boston College in 2003, the University of Pécs in Hungary and University of Liverpool in 1997 and the University of California-Davis in 1998.

Part of the reason studies differ is that conclusions about the gender gap in education are viewed differently, depending on a researcher's field of study.

FILE - A student works on his robot at Escuela Vieau Middle School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
FILE - A student works on his robot at Escuela Vieau Middle School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

"Generally, feminists usually are in favor of things that favor women. Well, this favors women, only women on one end of the socioeconomic scale, right, women from poor families," said Hopcroft. "And then it seems that boys at the top end of the scale are benefited."

"It's sort of very complicated, because it switches around, you see," she said.

Instructor bias

One study discovered "consistent evidence" that teachers give lower ratings to girls in math.

"Consistently, we see that teachers are rating girls as less capable than boys when the test is saying they are equally capable and the teacher thinks they are working equally as hard," said Joseph Cimpian, an associate professor of economics and education at New York University-Steinhardt, formerly known as the NYU School of Education.

"It's not clear why teachers hold beliefs that girls are less mathematically capable than similar boys," said Cimpian. "Teachers aren't necessarily aware of their own biases."

In addition, boys and girls have different approaches to problem-solving, and this is clear in their performances in mathematics, according to research from professors at the University of Illinois, New York University and West Chester University published in 2016.

"Boys are taught to be more of a risk-taker, and this may play out in the math classroom," said Sarah Lubienski, a mathematics education professor at Indiana University-Bloomington. Girls "dutifully follow the teacher's instructions and learn how to solve math problems by following rules, but they're less likely to score at the very top of the math achievement distribution, because of differences in problem-solving approaches."

The Stanford study may reveal a lot, but it also shows where more needs to be done, "to understand some of the phenomenons that we see," said Fahle.

See all News Updates of the Day

Senator draws attention to universities that haven’t returned remains

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, speaks with reporters as he walks to a vote on Capitol Hill, Sept. 6, 2023 in Washington.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, speaks with reporters as he walks to a vote on Capitol Hill, Sept. 6, 2023 in Washington.

More than 70 U.S. universities continue to hold human remains taken from Native American burial sites, although those remains were supposed to be returned 30 years ago.

Jennifer Bendery writes in Huffington Post that one senator has been using his position in an attempt to shame universities into returning remains and artifacts. (April 2024)

COVID forced one international student to go hungry

FILE - Masked students walk to the COVID-19 vaccination site at the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium on the Jackson State University campus in Jackson, Miss., July 27, 2021.
FILE - Masked students walk to the COVID-19 vaccination site at the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium on the Jackson State University campus in Jackson, Miss., July 27, 2021.

When Samantha (not her real name) enrolled in community college in the U.S., her family at home in South Africa scrimped and saved to support her.

But the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the family’s finances, and at one point Samantha had four on-campus jobs just to make ends meet. Many in the U.S. believe international students are wealthy sources of funding for universities, but stories like Samantha’s suggest otherwise.

Andrea Gutierrez reports for The World. (March 2024)

Tips for paying for a STEM degree as an international student

FILE - FILE - A visitor to the 21st China Beijing International High-tech Expo looks at a computer chip through the microscope displayed by the Tsinghua Unigroup project in Beijing, on May 17, 2018.
FILE - FILE - A visitor to the 21st China Beijing International High-tech Expo looks at a computer chip through the microscope displayed by the Tsinghua Unigroup project in Beijing, on May 17, 2018.

For US News & World Report, Melanie Lockert describes how to calculate the cost of a STEM degree, and where to find funding. (March 2024)

NAIA all but bans its transgender college athletes from women's sports

FILE - NAIA women’s basketball players gather after a game in St. Louis, Feb. 22, 2024. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, said Monday that transgender athletes would be all but banned from women's sports.
FILE - NAIA women’s basketball players gather after a game in St. Louis, Feb. 22, 2024. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, said Monday that transgender athletes would be all but banned from women's sports.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, announced a policy Monday that all but bans transgender athletes from competing in women's sports.

The NAIA's Council of Presidents approved the policy in a 20-0 vote. The NAIA, which oversees some 83,000 athletes at schools across the country, is believed to be the first college sports organization to take such a step.

According to the transgender participation policy, all athletes may participate in NAIA-sponsored male sports but only athletes whose biological sex assigned at birth is female and have not begun hormone therapy will be allowed to participate in women's sports.

A student who has begun hormone therapy may participate in activities such as workouts, practices and team activities, but not in interscholastic competition.

"With the exception of competitive cheer and competitive dance, the NAIA created separate categories for male and female participants," the NAIA said. "Each NAIA sport includes some combination of strength, speed and stamina, providing competitive advantages for male student-athletes. As a result, the NAIA policy for transgender student-athletes applies to all sports except for competitive cheer and competitive dance, which are open to all students."

There is no known number of transgender athletes at the high school and college levels, though it is believed to be small. The topic has become a hot-button issue for those for and against transgender athletes competing on girls' and women's sports teams.

At least 24 states have laws barring transgender women and girls from competing in certain women's or girls sports competitions. Last month, more than a dozen current and former college athletes filed a federal lawsuit against the NCAA, accusing the sports governing body for more than 500,000 athletes of violating their rights by allowing transgender women to compete in women's sports.

The Biden administration originally planned to release a new federal Title IX rule — the law forbids discrimination based on sex in education — addressing both campus sexual assault and transgender athletes. But earlier this year, the department decided to split them into separate rules, and the athletics rule now remains in limbo even as the sexual assault policy moves forward.

Hours after the NAIA announcement, the NCAA released a statement: "College sports are the premier stage for women's sports in America and the NCAA will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women's sports and ensure fair competition for all student-athletes in all NCAA championships."

The NCAA has had a policy for transgender athlete participation in place since 2010, which called for one year of testosterone suppression treatment and documented testosterone levels submitted before championship competitions. In 2022, the NCAA revised its policies on transgender athlete participation in an attempt to align with national sport governing bodies, following the lead of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

The three-phase implementation of the policy included a continuation of the 2010 policy, requiring transgender women to be on hormone replacement therapy for at least one year, plus the submission of a hormone-level test before the start of both the regular season and championship events.

The third phase adds national and international sport governing body standards to the NCAA's policy and is scheduled to be implemented for the 2024-25 school year on August 1.

There are some 15.3 million public high school students in the United States and a 2019 study by the CDC estimated 1.8% of them — about 275,000 — are transgender. The number of athletes within that group is much smaller; a 2017 survey by Human Rights Campaign suggested fewer than 15% of all transgender boys and transgender girls play sports.

The number of NAIA transgender athletes would be far smaller.

Humanities degrees are tougher sell for international students 

FILE - People walk near the campus center at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., Dec. 9, 2013.
FILE - People walk near the campus center at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., Dec. 9, 2013.

That’s the argument of one Princeton undergraduate from South Korea.

OPT, the government program that allows college students to work in the US for a short time after graduation without securing a work visa, is biased toward STEM degree holders.

As a result, many international students forego humanities, or choose tech or consulting jobs when their passions lie elsewhere.

Read Siyeon Lee’s argument in the Princetonian. (March 2024)

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