|Back to Oct. Ed Reporter|
|NUMBER 237||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||OCTOBER 2005|
|College 'Gender Gaps': Why Worry?|
|Differences Between Sexes Are To Be Expected|
Three kinds of gender gaps currently claim the attention of higher education officials: the trend of substantially higher enrollment of women in college relative to men; the "underrepresentation" of women in the ranks of upper-tier math and science faculty; and the lesser number of women interested in playing sports, which poses problems for colleges under the federal government's interpretation of Title IX.
In the reigning ideology of academe, differences in numerical representation of men and women are considered a pathology, something that cries out to be corrected. Yet there is no reason to think any of these three gender gaps represents a genuine social problem.
78 men per 100 women
Some observers have blamed the declining male-female ratio on an anti-male culture on campuses, cuts in men's sports due to Title IX pressures (more on that later), and the predominantly female leadership of elementary and high schools. Boys are four times as likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and there is a well-documented gender gap in reading. (See Education Reporter, Apr. 2005.)
Male enrollment hasn't dropped
The male-female disparity is especially pronounced among low-income students. Some 68% of college enrollees from low-income families are female, according to Jacqueline King, author of the study Gender Equity in Higher Education: Are Male Students at a Disadvantage? She explains that male students with a high school diploma can make a decent living doing manual labor, for example in the thriving construction industry.
The gender gap in reading is not new, although it has increased in recent years. Evidence of such a gap dates back to the 19th century and is a transnational phenomenon. British education professor Stephen Gorard examined reading scores for 22 countries and discovered gender gaps in every one. (Washington Post, 3-15-05)
College not for everyone
As a Colorado commentator notes, "many college graduates of all races earn less than people who rewire their houses or weld heavy equipment." (rockymountainnews.com, 8-28-05)
In short, the current gender disparity in college enrollment is not evidence of a problem except for college women seeking dates. And dates are still easy to find in engineering schools, where men outnumber women about 4 to 1 despite affirmative action for female engineers. That brings us to the second issue - the underrepresentation of women in math and science faculty.
Flaying of Larry Summers
Not only did he abjectly apologize, he committed $50 million over the next decade to improve the climate for women on the Harvard campus. New diversity administrators and more affirmative action for women and minority faculty appear to be the chief solutions to the non-problem of women's underrepresentation on the Harvard faculty.
7:1 ratio for SAT math 800
The 2005 ACT test results show three times as many boys as girls in the 33-36 range for math (36 is the top score), and twice as many boys as girls in that high range for science. (Confirming the reading gender gap mentioned earlier, girls easily outnumbered boys in English and reading scores in the 33-36 range.)
Boys have long outperformed girls on average on math tests, but the difference at the high end is much more striking. The pool from which Harvard math and physics professors is drawn is probably a high subset of SAT 800s and ACT 36s.
Many more boys in AP math
So there is nothing surprising about the fact that fewer women than men are deemed qualified to teach math, science or engineering at Harvard, and Summers' $50 million diversity initiative is money down the drain. It is about as futile as efforts to interest as many women as men in playing college sports.
Title IX futility
All over the country, colleges failed to find enough women athletes and were forced to terminate men's teams. Such high-demand, successful programs as the men's swimming and diving teams at UCLA (which produced 22 Olympic medalists) and men's baseball at historically black Howard University bit the dust. Wrestling was a particular casualty of this policy, with 171 colleges dropping their wrestling teams despite wrestling's low cost relative to other sports.
In June the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a decision holding that the Department of Education's Title IX rules were not directly to blame for cuts to men's teams in various sports, chiefly wrestling, at colleges since the 1980s. The appeals court for the District of Columbia circuit ruled that the coaches should take up their complaints with the colleges, not with the federal agency. The plaintiff organization vows to continue its fight. (National Wrestling Coaches Association v. Department of Education)
Even women's teams aren't safe
The Bush administration last spring relaxed the Title IX rules slightly by permitting e-mail surveys of student interest in sports to establish compliance. (See Education Reporter, June 2005.) This is a start, but does not address the fundamental error of assuming that men and women should be equally represented in all human endeavors.