Gender Issues and Schooling

Mary Lundeberg & Lindsey Mohan. 21st Century Education: A Reference Handbook. Editor: Thomas L Good. Sage Publication. 2008.

Are girls less confident than boys? Is there a gender gap in achievement, and if so, does it matter? Have gaps in achievement changed over time? Do boys misbehave more than girls? Questions related to gender differences in schooling are discussed in this chapter. One controversy is whether differences between girls and boys in motivation, achievement, or classroom behaviors are because of sex differences or gender differences. Sex differences refer to biological, innate, and/or physiological characteristics associated with males or females; for example, women can become pregnant, whereas men cannot. Generally, men are taller and stronger than women (although individual variations exist). In contrast, gender differences refer to cultural differences that are constructed through social interactions, social expectations, language, power relationships, and perceptions.

Language used to describe children influences gender, and researchers have found that parents and others treat infants and children differently based on sex. New parents are often asked the sex of their baby, and if the baby is male, people comment on his strength, whereas if the baby is female, people comment on her beauty. Gender roles are social expectations regarding masculinity and femininity that shape how we think, act, and feel. Parents who reward children for behaving in gender-appropriate ways influence gender roles.

Toys, experiences, and expectations provided to the infant begin the shaping of a child’s gender identity (their view of themselves as masculine or feminine). The media, peers, and social norms present in a particular culture send messages about how boys and girls should behave, think, look, and feel. Adolescence is a critical time in the formation of gender identity, and gender stereotypes present in media and culture can potentially damage individuals. For example, increases in anorexia have been linked to images of very thin models.

Gender roles and identity are also influenced by teachers and by institutions, in indirect ways through modeling, and more directly through rewards and punishments. Most mathematics and physics teachers are men, which suggests that these positions are masculine roles, and most language arts, elementary teachers are women, which may imply feminine roles. Although some people believe that boys are innately better at math and science, while girls excel in language and literacy, research refutes this position.

Some recent brain-imaging studies indicated potential different ways men and women process information. Initially, researchers thought women had greater neural density in the left side of the brain (the language center), whereas men had greater development in some areas of the right hemisphere, which is thought to control spatial abilities (such as mechanical design, map reading, etc.). Most widely publicized brain difference studies have not been replicated with larger data samples, and brain density and activation have not been linked directly to performance. Findings related to gender and brain processing are mixed.

Some evidence indicates that sex hormones, like testosterone, affect brain development. Females with higher levels of testosterone develop better spatial abilities than females with lower levels, and conversely, males with lower testosterone levels tend to have better verbal ability than males with high levels. Testosterone has also been linked to aggression and violent behavior in males, as well as to muscular strength.

This chapter discusses key issues, questions, and controversies involved in gender differences in schooling. You will learn how teachers and parents may unconsciously communicate gender differences to children. Although most of the research summarized here is based on Western cultures (the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia), a few global issues concerning gender inequalities are also highlighted, such as access to education. Limited access to education is an example of gender bias against girls in some developing countries. Other examples include curriculum materials, the culture of school, and test items that advantage one gender over another due to the background knowledge necessary to interpret the item (such as story problems in mathematics). Notions about gender and sex roles are changing, and educators can be influential in either perpetuating or counteracting gender bias in classrooms. We discuss practices to promote gender equity, and provide resources and references for additional reading.

Gender and Motivation

Boys and girls show different motives and interests for participating in school and academic activities. Gender differences in academic motivation appear not only in students’ general attitudes toward school, but also toward specific academic domains. Gender influence on motivation can be considered in terms of students’ perceptions of their academic competency and values and interests in academic tasks. There are many problems with making general statements about motivational differences because these are undoubtedly influenced by multiple contextual factors, including culture, home, and developmental age. General conclusions comparing male students to female students ignore important differences that occur within each group. Although the trends presented below are intended to show patterns of gender differences that occur in the United States, these trends are not intended to account for the multitude of factors that shape student motivation, nor are they representative of gender differences that occur in other cultural contexts.

Competency Beliefs and Confidence

Feeling competent in school and believing that one can perform well on academic tasks in critical to student motivation. In general, students’ competency beliefs change throughout school and often decline as they age. However, changes in competency beliefs may be different for boys and girls and influenced by academic domain and age.

One way to measure competency beliefs is to ask students to judge their confidence in doing well in a subject area (e.g., I am good at math) or doing well on a specific task (I can perform X math problem correctly). When students are asked to judge global or task-specific confidence, boys tend to be more confident than girls, even in elementary school, yet both report more confidence that their performance actually warrants. In fact, when asked to judge confidence after performing a task, girls tend to be better at judging when they did and did not perform well, as compared to boys, who are generally overconfident even when their answers are incorrect. Thus, while males display higher confidence levels overall, females may be better at discriminating when they do and do not know something.

Competency beliefs vary by academic domain. Boys tend to report feeling more competent in math, science, and technology while girls tend to feel more competent in language arts and music. Across the elementary school years, boys’ feelings of competency in language arts decline, creating a gender gap between boys’ and girls’ competency beliefs for language arts throughout the middle and high school years. Likewise, females’ feelings of competency in mathematics decline, with gender differences in beliefs about mathematics competency persisting throughout postsecondary schooling.

Gender differences in motivation and achievement are less pronounced when looking across cultural groups as compared to within cultural groups. For instance, Asian boys and girls, especially Chinese students, appear to have more accurate confidence judgments compared to American and Middle Eastern students, despite the influence of gender on confidence. Even within a particular country, such as the United States, different ethnic groups display diverse patterns of motivation of boys and girls. While ethnic minority students are sometimes cited as less engaged in academic tasks, this appears to occur more frequently for African American and Latino boys than for their female counterparts. African American and Latino girls may place higher value on academic tasks and put forth more effort to be successful compared to boys. Yet, gender socialization of these two groups of female students may also influence the how they participate in class. African American females are generally taught to be assertive and vocal, whereas Latino females are taught to be obedient and responsible. Teachers can create learning environments that reinforce or disrupt stereotypical cultural behaviors.

Values and Interests

Values and interests affect student motivation. While competency beliefs may affect how students perform on academic tasks, value beliefs instead affect whether or not students choose to participate in the first place. Students may be competent in academic domains, but not motivated to participate because they perceive the content as uninteresting or not useful.

Generally, the value for academic tasks become more subject specific for students over time. Young children express a general value for learning, but as they age, students value some academic tasks more than others. During the elementary school years, children’s value for reading declines, although this decline is stronger for boys. Similarly, students’ value for mathematics declines most during high school, particularly among girls. Although girls value science in elementary school, their interest declines beginning in middle school. Girls in middle school prefer to learn science in hands-on ways (doing experiments, etc.), yet they rarely do this in class. As students get older, their values and interests influence the courses they take and the careers they pursue. Having interest in the subject matter not only encourages students to participate, but also benefits student achievement and persistence.

One controversy in the 1980s was whether gender influences moral development. According to Carol Gilligan (1982), women value relationships and consider how ethical decisions will affect other people, in addition to weighting what is the principled or “right” action. Although her research challenged Lawrence Kohlberg’s (1981) stages of moral development, subsequent studies on moral development showed few gender differences across larger and international samples.

Gender Differences in Identity Development

How students see themselves, how they present themselves to others, and how others view them are all components of identity development. Children’s identities are constructed through interactions with others in everyday situations. Developing an identity that includes excelling in a specific area like science or in literacy is more challenging for some students than for others, depending on their culture and gender. The influence of gender and cultural stereotypes is moderated by children’s identity and identity is, in part, shaped by classroom contexts. Because girls and boys are not homogeneous groups, teachers and researchers need to examine how race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and communities influence identity development.

Research on identity development in the 1960s and 1970s suggested that men were primarily concerned with developing a career identity, while women were more concerned with establishing their identity in the family. But in the decades that followed, the roles of men and women at work and home became more comparable, especially as more women attended higher education and sought professional careers. Research in the 1980s and 1990s found similar identity development among women and men. Although dominant constructions of femininity differ, depending on ethnicity and socioeconomic status, in general, girls are becoming more career oriented than in past generations. However, while more women now see themselves on a career path, it is still difficult for many to develop their own identity within Stereotypie male fields.

About the same age adolescents develop sense of gender identity, they become aware of stereotypes, including negative stereotypes, such as women or African Americans not performing well in mathematics. Stereotype threat can depress the achievement performance for individuals belonging to a group with a negative stereotype, as Ryan and Ryan (2005) explain. Negative stereotypes can also create hostile school climates for gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered youth, who are more likely to experience isolation as well as verbal and physical harassment.

Media discussions of masculinity point to a reconfiguration of gender identities for males as well. One reason boys may lag behind girls in literacy is that reading a book is not seen as an active, male-type activity, as compared to playing an aggressive video game or engaging in football, as Francis and Skelton (2005) explain.

Gender and Achievement

Hyde and Linn’s (1986) results examining effects of gender on cognition and achievement show differences over time and provide evidence that achievement variations are probably due to sociocultural rather than innate cognitive differences between genders. Similarly, Allspach and Breining (2005) found most large gender gaps in achievement scores have decreased, although differences in mathematics and literacy have not disappeared.

Girls tend to achieve better grades than boys in elementary schools, but this gap narrows over time. Gender gaps on standardized tests depend on the subject area, the country, the racial or ethnic group, and the year in which the assessment was given. Differences among racial and ethnic groups within the United States are larger than differences between the genders.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)

Although girls achieve similar grades to boys, they tend to lose interest in the STEM disciplines, and generally do not choose to take advanced courses or pursue careers in these areas. As Lundeberg and Moch (1995) note, in looking for explanations of why women avoid STEM disciplines, researchers have changed the focus of their research from studying what is wrong with women to examining what is wrong with the STEM disciplines and what is wrong with the way STEM are taught. In the past decade, the National Research Council has produced several reports to transform the way the STEM disciplines are taught in elementary school to postsecondary education. The National Science Foundation has funded researchers trying to understand why underrepresented groups do not persist and whether reforms in institutions, curriculum and/or pedagogy alter this trend.

In mathematics the gender gap is context specific. In elementary school, the gap favors female students, who generally score better on basic computation. In advanced mathematics’ tests involving word problems, male students typically outperform females (except for African Americans). On the latest Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study comparing the performance of 15-year-old students in 43 countries, boys performed slightly better than girls in mathematics in most of the countries. Also, on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) male students continued to score slightly higher than females, although this gap has decreased recently. Because college entrance exams, such as the SAT, tend to predict male students’ university grades more accurately than female’s, some researchers argue that achievement tests are biased.

Studies by the College Board provided evidence that some SAT and Advanced Placement test items were biased, such as items focusing on male-oriented content (wars in history) that may have advantaged boys. Even when concepts are identical, the context of the item creates differences in performance as well: for example, word problems about building model airplanes tend to favor boys, and cooking contexts tends to favor girls. Nonsexist language also influences achievement performance: Under-represented groups performed worse in test situations that used sexist rather than nonsexist language, even when they reported being unaware of the language used.

Course selection affects achievement. In the United States, girls are less likely to take advanced mathematics courses than high school boys, although this has improved recently, more male than female students pursue mathematics postsecondary degrees and choose careers involving higher-level mathematics. In Great Britain, girls were underachieving in science, compared to boys, until the late 1980s. The gains in their science and mathematics scores corresponded with changes in the National Curriculum in the United Kingdom (UK), which required girls and boys to take similar core subjects. Some researchers believe that changes in the curriculum, such as requiring girls to take higher-level mathematics and science courses, led to the increased scores for females in the UK. Such policy changes in the United States might encourage higher enrollment in STEM, because mathematics is the foundation. However, Hyde and Linn (1986) discovered course-taking patterns did not completely account for gender differences.

In the United States, girls’ interest and performance in science diminishes in middle school, and in high school, both interest, and achievement declines, especially in the physical sciences. Differences increase in postsecondary settings, as the pipeline for women entering and persisting in physical sciences and engineering becomes narrower with increased schooling.

This gender gap in science is dependent, however, on class differences, ethnicity, and classroom practices available for girls (such as opportunities to engage in experiences related to everyday science). Gender differences are greater for middle- and upper-class students and less apparent for working-class students, and vary by race. African American boys do not perform better than girls. Across the 43 countries involved in the PISA, girls and boys achieved at equal levels overall in most countries; females did better in three countries (Latvia, the Russian Federation, and New Zealand) and males did better in three countries (Korea, Austria, and Denmark).

The digital gender divide refers to girls’ underrepresentation in information technology as a field, and this gap is not decreasing. While both genders use computers as a communication tool equally well, girls are not participating equally in the computer revolution. According to Margolis and Fisher’s (2002) interviews with women who entered Carnegie Mellon in computer science, the computer world is seen as a boys’ club, and the culture of the field and curriculum is narrowly focused on males’ interests. As Cooper and Weaver (2003) note, men create most software and it generally appeals more to boys than to girls. About 70% of videogames include aggression and about 28% portray women as sex objects in stereotypical roles. Aggressive games tend to disinterest girls and engage boys. Social contexts of computing matter to girls and enhance both interest and engagement.

Language and Literacy

Most boys tend to develop language skills more slowly than girls, but “catch up” with girls by the end of high school. Gender differences in all levels of verbal assessments have decreased, with the exception of PISA. On the latest OECD PISA (2003) boys scored more poorly than girls on the combined reading scale, with an average difference of 32 points across countries. However, on the SAT, men’s verbal scores have increased and are higher than women’s scores: In 2004, men outscored women by 15 points. So in general, whatever difficulties in literacy that boys in the United States have in elementary school do not influence later performance, or careers, at least for men who take college achievement tests.

Do Differences Matter?

Problems in literacy may contribute to the high dropout rate of African American and Hispanic males. In typical high-poverty secondary schools, about half of the students read 2–3 years below grade level. Literacy influences achievement scores and students in the bottom quartile are 20 times more likely to leave school than those in the top quartile, according to Biancarosa & Snow (2006). Without a postsecondary degree, options for careers are limited.

When young children are asked to draw a “scientist,” most draw a male figure, and when asked to draw a “nurse,” draw a female. Title IX provided opportunities for males to enroll in sewing and for females to take vocational education courses, such as welding, that were previously restricted. In spite of attempts to allow equal opportunities for course enrollment, gender differences in occupational choices persist, with few men pursuing secretarial work, teaching, or nursing and relatively few women choosing to become welders, electricians, engineers, physicists, or computer scientists. The numbers of computer science degrees awarded to women has declined 25% since 1985 and the number of women entering information technology fields continues to decline in the United States (although some developing countries, such as India, have relatively equal numbers of computer science majors).

Although women and underrepresented groups are entering the fields of science and engineering in universities, a disproportionate number of this population change majors from science and engineering to other careers, according to Rising Above the Gathering Storm (Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century, 2007). At the undergraduate and graduate levels of schooling, fewer women persist in physical science, which leads to fewer careers in science and engineering, and this continues to be a national and international concern. This is an economic concern for the United States, as explained in several reports concerned about the nation’s ability to compete in a global marketplace. Finally, Margo-lis and Fisher (2002) argue the underrepresentation of women in STEM careers produces flawed products and inventions. When products are designed from a male perspective only, or research is conducted only on men, this can mask important differences between the sexes.

Careers that have higher percentages of men employed in them are better paid than careers that have high percentages of women, so this presents an economic disadvantage to women who choose Stereotypie female careers. Typically, in Stereotypie male fields, even when women are performing comparable jobs, women do not earn equal salaries to men, and experience a “glass ceiling” that prevents upward movement.


Boys are more physically aggressive than girls throughout the school years. They are more likely to bully peers, sometimes for no apparent reason. Some researchers have noted that females tend to be aggressive verbally rather than physically, such as spreading rumors about peers on the Internet (e.g., cyber bullying). Although verbal aggression can be harmful psychologically, physical aggression has led to more severe consequences, such as suspension from school or loss of lives. Some researchers have linked higher levels of testosterone with aggression, although both home and classroom environments influence aggressive behaviors as well. Parents may treat their children differently, reinforcing aggressive risk-taking behaviors and athletic accomplishments in sons, while expecting daughters to act like ladies and be nurturing. Daughters tend to be “protected” more by parents than sons. Classroom management policies that teach students to think first, rather than just react in outbursts, have been successful in curbing aggression and creating safe, nonthreatening classroom environments. Such programs typically ask students to reflect on misbehavior and construct new patterns of responses, instead of only punishing students.

Sexual Harassment

According to research conducted by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation (1993, 1998), far more girls are sexually harassed than boys and the classroom climate continues to be “hostile” toward females. Sexual harassment can range from subtle behaviors, such as sexual comments, gestures, jokes, or stares, to snapping girls’ bras, spreading sexual rumors about a student on the Internet to grabbing or touching someone in a sexual way, to forcing sexual behaviors such as kissing, fondling, or intercourse. Girls report being harassed primarily by other boys as well as by teachers. Sexual harassment implies a power relationship—someone who is dominant over another person—usually because of status (such as in the case of a teacher or student), and also because of physical dominance. The U.S. Department of Education has published policy guides on sexual harassment providing distinctions between various forms of harassment and guidelines for preventing harassment.

Teacher Interaction with Students

Because teaching and learning occur through interaction, educators have examined inequities existing in classroom discourse patterns that may contribute to gaps in achievement. Often, boys receive more attention and different kinds of attention than girls. Boys are more likely to misbehave than girls, and more likely to be disciplined and sent out of the classroom (to the principal’s office, referred for special education, or sent home for suspension from school). Differential attention and interaction is also given to students, depending on ethnicity: African American boys are more likely to be disciplined and removed from classrooms, and students who have limited English proficiency are not called on as frequently during class discussions as English proficient students.

Sadker and Sadker (2003) report that teachers interact differently with boys and girls, especially during whole-class discussions. Boys tend to participate more during this type of instruction, by raising their hands more often, calling out responses, and asking questions. In turn, teachers tend to call on boys more than girls, especially when questions are challenging. Teachers give boys more feedback and encouragement when they talk in class compared to girls. The kind of feedback varies as well: teachers tend to praise and challenge males more than females, wait longer for male responses before calling on someone else, and correct males’ responses more than females’ responses. In reading, however, teachers spend more individual time providing instruction and attention to female students.

According to Grossman and Grossman (1994), environments that foster competition and evaluation, such as classrooms that use primarily lecture and whole-group instruction, can be intimidating for girls. Boys tend to prefer competitive environments, enjoy taking risks, and are assertive in efforts to achieve their goals. Girls tend to be more affiliative and prefer cooperative groups to competitive situations. In general, they are more likely to want to compromise or avoid conflict than are boys. This tendency to want to avoid conflict may lead to gender differences in communication in the classroom that impact learning. Guzzetti and Williams (1996) found that refutational discussions in physics classrooms favored males. Females rarely spoke in whole-class refutational discussions, primarily because they felt intimidated.

Interaction in Small Groups

Females and certain ethnic groups, such as Hispanic and Native American students, tend to prefer cooperative over to competitive structures. However, cooperative groups are not necessarily the same as small-group learning. Small groups often do not help increase females’ participation in discussion unless they are grouped by gender, or teachers are explicit about the kinds of interactions they expect and design environments that foster cooperation within small-group settings.

Unless teachers intervene, girls and boys often replicate stereotypical behaviors during small group activities. Males are more likely to be assertive or aggressive in their interaction; whereas, females tend to be more interactive with other females, more willing to consider others’ opinions, more likely to question, more likely to consult authority to settle disagreements, and more concerned about agreement.

Global Issues

According to the PISA results, on literacy tasks women performed better than men in the 43 countries that participated in assessing adolescents in school. This stands in contrast to statistics on gender differences and fundamental literacy—that is, the ability to read and write at a minimal level deemed acceptable in a culture. Today, men are more likely to achieve literacy, with 100 men considered literate for every 88 women, and in some countries, such as Bangladesh, the difference is even greater. Educational opportunities need to be more accessible to females. According to the InterAcademy Council, the under-representation of women in science and engineering is a global concern.

Another global issue affecting education is the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. This infectious disease is limiting the number of teachers available, especially in rural areas (due to illness and death), as well as increasing poverty in families. Girls are often forced to work at early ages rather than attend school, because their parents are ill or deceased. Ironically, the disease that is limiting educational opportunities is a disease that could be prevented if more people were educated about the biology of the disease.

Gender Equity: Legal Requirements and Policy Recommendations

Title IX of the Educational Amendment Act of 1972 required schools that accept financial assistance from the federal government in the United States to ensure equitable treatment of females and males. This means that no one should be excluded from participation in any educational program receiving federal funds or be discriminated against on the basis of sex. As a result of this act, schools now offer girls more opportunities to participate in athletics, and the number of girls in sports has increased overall from 7% in 1972 to 42% 30 years later. However, in spite of this policy, schools tend to provide different athletic experiences based on gender, and these experiences vary by state.

Although female participation in college sports is about 42% (almost half) of all college athletes, large universities provide women athletes with fewer scholarships compared to male athletes, and less than one third of the total budget for operating and recruiting costs associated with women’s athletics. In high schools, practice times for girls’ teams are often determined by the practice schedule of the boys’ teams. Girls are still discouraged (but generally not prohibited) from participating in contact sports such as hockey, football, and rugby, and boys typically do not participate in activities such as dance, figure skating, or volleyball.

Title IX does not require institutions to allocate the same amount of money to men’s and women’s athletic programs or to have equal numbers of male and female athletes; however, it does require institutions to provide “equitable resources and opportunities in a non-discriminatory manner.” While gender equity in athletics has improved over the past 35 years, discrimination still persists, according to the 2007 report by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Practices to Promote Gender Equity

Gender equity is interpreted by some as “equal treatment” of males and females, who believe that each gender should have access to the same activities, resources, and courses. Others interpret equity in terms of fairness, and believe that students should be treated in accordance with their needs.

Some educators believe that single-sex education is beneficial for students, because it protects female students from being dominated by males and provides opportunities for women to develop self-confidence, particularly in traditionally male-dominated courses, such as mathematics and science. Other educators believe single-sex education is preferable for male students, because they will not be distracted by female students or required to sit quietly and conform to what some people label the “feminized” school. Critics of single-sex public schooling argue that it is against the law (Title IX) and “separate but equal” schools are not only unconstitutional but also reinforce stereotypes. The number of single-sex schools has declined since the 1960s in the United States, and the research on benefits of single-sex education in the United States is not consistent. Single-sex education has been discussed recently as a way to benefit boys in the United States; however, research conducted in the UK has shown that girls apparently performed better in single-sex educational settings than boys, whereas boys in mixed schools tend to perform better than they do in single-sex settings.

Francis and Skelton (2005) suggest that schools employ professional development programs that raise levels of awareness regarding gender so that educators consider the kinds of stereotypes students bring with them into school, the views of the local community, and the representations of gender produced by the school. Teachers might begin by considering whether they expect students to behave or achieve differently based on gender and whether they differentiate among children—that is, are they aware of girls who enjoy competition and boys who like to cooperate? Becoming aware of stereotypical behavior that educators communicate unintentionally, such as teacher interactions with students, is also important. Because gender differences in interaction are often subtle, and because we are used to patterns of male domination in much of the discourse around us, teachers may not be aware of gender bias unless they systematically study their classroom interaction patterns by tracking their responses to individual students or by videotaping themselves leading a discussion.

Students can become aware of and discuss gender patterns, such male dominance in interactions, as teachers explain why they are not calling on the first person who raises a hand (usually a male). Teachers might also develop random methods (such as using index cards with students’ names on them) for discussion. Teachers can discourage stereotypical language patterns by encouraging girls to express themselves directly and assertively, or assigning leadership roles to a girl in a mixed group. Teachers can encourage boys to listen carefully by assigning them the role of “listener,” or “explainer” or “gatekeeper” (making sure participation in a group is equal).

If students are given opportunities to estimate their confidence when they answer test questions or quizzes in small groups, this may develop boys’ ability to better assess their understanding, so they become less overconfident. For example, after answering each question on a test, students can indicate the level of confidence they feel that answer is correct or incorrect on a scale of 1 (pure guess) to 5 (very certain). On individual exams, students can then later examine the incorrect items that they felt confident were correct and were mistaken, as well as correct items that they were unsure of. If students take an exam individually, and then compare responses in a small group, the teacher can ask small groups of students to come to consensus on the correct response, taking into account students’ confidence. Some research on confidence has found that girls are less likely to take risks, especially on unfamiliar tasks. Teachers might encourage girls to take on challenging, unfamiliar tasks and try to disrupt this stereotype.

Teachers and administrators can ensure that they use nonsexist curriculum and instructional materials that expand traditional notions of gender. For example, they can promote software that is not competitive games, and promote nonsexist views of career occupations by setting up mentoring programs for students or inviting nontraditional guest speakers, such as women engineers. Teachers might also actively attempt to deconstruct stereotypes through literacy, with books such as feminist fairy tales (e.g., Prince Cinders; The Wresting Princess).

Conclusion and Future Directions

Environmental and social factors inherent in our society influence how boys and girls interact inside and outside school. Most researchers argue that gender differences are not the results of innate, biological characteristics, but rather a result of the way boys and girls are socialized. Males and females show different motivation for participating in school. In general, males tend to engage and do well in the areas of mathematics, science, and computers, while females tend to excel in language arts. The differences, however, are small, and when viewed in the context of culture, may disappear altogether.

Major concepts about gender and schooling include (1) sex differences, which are innate, biological differences between males and females as opposed to gender differences, which are differences between males and females due to socialization; (2) gender roles are cultural expectations and norms of how men and women should act and gender identity is how one positions herself or himself in relationship to those norms; (3) gender bias occurs when people favor one gender or hold different expectations for boys and girls, either consciously or unconsciously; and (4) gender equity is interpreted as fair treatment to both sexes by either allowing equal access to boys and girls or by meeting the individual needs of each student.

The U.S. government, as well as other governments around the world, has enacted policies to support gender equity in schools. Notably, the Title IX acts helped to ensure equal access for males and females in schools (both in academics and athletics). Although the National Science Foundation has provided funds for curricula to engage females in STEM disciplines, research on these programs does not often include gender as a variable. Scantlebury and Baker (2007) argue that fewer researchers focus on gender issues and women are at risk of becoming invisible in science education research.

Even with educational policies and funding to support gender equity, some controversial issues remain unresolved. Standardized assessments still favor males over females, predicting males’ college performance more accurately than the performance of females. While girls enroll in more advanced mathematics course in high school they still report less motivation and value for advanced mathematics compared to boys. While boys perform similar to or better than females on standardized assessments of verbal skills, they report lower motivation and value for reading after the elementary years. The bias toward males in schools, however, tends to be most pronounced for middle-class, European American males, rather than for African American or Latino males.

Long-term consequences of these trends appear in looking at the career choices of men and women. Women are still underrepresented in the fields of math and science, while men are underrepresented in elementary school teaching and nursing.

In terms of future directions, disaggregating data by race/ethnicity and gender, rather than by either race or gender, would enable researchers and policy makers to gain a more complex picture of challenges regarding gender equity in schools. Future teachers and parents need to notice gender, and to become aware of harmful stereotypes, so they can create equitable environments for all children.