At Whitefish Bay High School, in a village north of Milwaukee on the shore of Lake Michigan, all four officers of the student council are female. So is the editor of the school newspaper, the Tower Times. And the two news editors.
Each spring at graduation, the school, which has about 900 students, honors the 10 seniors with the highest grade point averages. Last year, nine were girls. Whitefish Bay had nine semifinalists for the prestigious National Merit Scholarships, based on college-board scores; eight were girls.
The senior class president is female, the senior class vice president is female, the junior class president is female, and so is the junior class vice president. Freshman class officers? Girl, girl, girl. Only the sophomores are led by someone with a Y chromosome.
"This jock got it," explains Jon Schweitzer, a member of the Whitefish Bay Class of '03. "He's a nice guy, kind of smart. Everybody likes him. Then, with the vice president, everybody got serious and chose a girl who knows what she's doing. When I want to talk to somebody about stuff, I talk to the vice president."
As the bumper stickers say, girls rule.
Less than a decade ago, educators, researchers, and policy makers set off alarm bells in schoolhouses across the country, warning that America's educational system was shortchanging girls. They worried that girls sat ignored in class while boys called out; that female students were lagging in science and math; that young women suffered withering self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders. Take Our Daughters to Work Day was born, along with a federal law in 1994 that categorized girls as an "underserved population."
Now, the roles are being reversed, with a new round of research raising troubling questions about boys' achievements, extracurricular activities, and attitudes toward education. A spate of school shootings over the last several years spawned a discipline crackdown that largely targets young men. As enrollment in the nation's colleges and universities has flip-flopped--56 percent of today's students are female--the latest skirmish in the educational gender wars casts boys as the underdogs.
"The idea that schools and society grind girls down has given rise to an array of laws and policies intended to curtail the advantage boys have and to redress the harm done to girls," Christina Hoff Sommers, a philosopher, writes in her recent book, The War Against Boys. "That girls are treated as the second sex in school and consequently suffer, that boys are accorded privileges and consequently benefit--these are things everyone is presumed to know. But they are not true."
Indeed, a Department of Education report released last spring shows that girls are less likely to repeat a grade than boys, less likely to be classified as having a learning disability, and less likely to have teachers call home reporting problems with schoolwork or behavior. Girls get better grades, and their parents are more likely to describe them as being near the top of their class.
Girls have outperformed boys on standardized tests in reading and writing for decades, and, in recent years, they have been catching up on math and science exams, the report shows. In 1998, female high school graduates were just as likely as their male peers to have taken upper-level math like trigonometry and calculus, and more likely to have enrolled in biology and chemistry; in higher education, 56 percent of graduate students in 1996 were women, compared with 39 percent in 1970. A separate survey of college freshmen in 1999, by researchers at UCLA, shows that young women spent more time than young men doing volunteer work and participating in student clubs.
"The large gaps in educational attainment that once existed between men and women have significantly decreased or been eliminated altogether," the Department of Education report says. "Females are now doing as well or better than males."
WHERE ARE THE GUYS?
This new gender gap yawns even wider in poor, minority communities. Sixty-three percent of African-American college students are female; five times as many black women pursue master's degrees as do black men. At Frederick Douglass Academy, a public school in New York City where 80 percent of the students are black and 19 percent are Hispanic, enrollment is 60 percent female--except in advanced placement classes, where it is more like 80 percent.
"When you go to a graduation ceremony, you don't see too many males," says the school's principal, Gregory Hodge. "When you go to Rikers Island [a city jail], that's where they are."
Thus a new era of affirmative action has begun: Invited to send a student to Capitol Hill as a congressional page, Hodge started going down the honor roll, then considered everyone with an 85 average, but says, "We had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to get a boy candidate." Some private colleges have begun sending out extra mailings to recruit young men, and others are even giving admissions preference to marginal male applicants.
"I think generally the guys have the same potential, but the girls work harder," says Katie Panciera, 17, a senior from Berea, Kentucky. "The guys think they can get it without working, and the girls know they have to work."
BEYOND GIRLS VS. BOYS
The publication of Sommers's book, and other writings highlighting boys' problems, are, in part, a backlash against the feminist focus on girls' experiences that dominated the discussion in the early 1990s. Many researchers are trying to redefine the debate not as a battle of the sexes, pitting girls' interests against boys', but as an exploration of gender in the classroom that could benefit both sexes. All children suffer from stereotyping, they say, and teachers should employ a variety of methods to accommodate various learning styles.
"The only way to really understand girls is to understand boys," says William S. Pollack, director of the Center for Men and Young Men in Belmont, Massachussetts. "And the only way to understand boys is to understand girls."
Experts say both sexes continue to have separate struggles. Boys are more likely to be shunted into special education, and feared as violent outcasts rather than nurtured. Yet girls attempt suicide more often. Girls have better grades overall, but boys continue to have the edge in calculus, physics, and computers, not to mention sports, where male athletes tend to command more attention and respect (see "Leveling the Playing Field,"). Outside of school, men continue to earn more than women for similar work, yet men are slipping in every category of higher education. "Gender and issues of gender equity are not a matter of either-or, or a zero sum game, girls against the boys, boys against the girls," says Barrie Thorne, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley. "There are as many differences among girls and among boys as there are between them."
BATTLES OF THE SEXES
As these generals try to push beyond the gender wars, the soldiers--male and female students--see the battles taking shape in their own schools.
Lauren Westbrook, 16, a sophomore at John Burroughs High School in St. Louis, Missouri, says girls skip classes as often as guys, but are less likely to get caught. At the same time, she says, boys openly defy the closed-campus policy by carrying Burger King bags nonchalantly down the hallway, while girls sneak in the back door.
At Stafford High in Fredericksburg, Virginia, senior Zaahira Wyne, 15 (she skipped two grades), is in a special program called Commonwealth Governor's School, which includes advanced courses in English, math, science, and social studies. Of the 19 pupils in her class, 6 are boys.
THE FEMALE WORK ETHIC
Matt McKinstry, 18, a senior at Greenon High in Springfield, Ohio, notices it after school, in the pool. There are more girls than guys on the swim team, he says. And they're better. "They're more dedicated to the sport," he says. "The girls who are really dedicated are some of the best swimmers I've seen, boys or girls."
That work ethic shows up in class, too.
"On homework, for instance, you don't get the right answers and a lot of guys will blow it off, saying, `Well, I'll just understand it later,'" Matt says. "If girls don't get the right answers for the homework, they constantly plug away."
In Scarsdale, New York, a wealthy suburb of New York City known for its stellar schools, teachers and administrators established a gender-equity committee in the early 1990s. After years of workshops focused on the problems girls face, a social studies teacher, David Greene, checked his grade book and found girls outperforming boys on tests and papers. He compared notes with others, and discovered a half-grade gender gap, with girls in the lead.
Students have examined this and other issues in a course called Sexual Politics, where they deconstruct their favorite children's books using a gender lens, and conduct surveys on issues like sexual harassment (43 percent of female students said they had been harassed, compared with 35 percent of males).
"I really didn't understand all these roles. I thought it was just everyday life, until we started discussing it in class," says Matt Capone, 18, a senior who is captain of Scarsdale's football team. "A lot of times men are treated unfairly, and a lot of times women are treated unfairly, it really depends on the places you are with the different teachers.
"My eyes have really been opened."
FOCUS: Girls, Once Seen as Disadvantaged, Are Surpassing Boys in School
To help students critically evaluate a question that touches their lives every day--how the two sexes fare in school. They should understand the strides girls are making in the classroom, and why some experts now fear that girls' success comes at the expense of boys.
* Do you believe that schools treat boys and girls equally?
* Are new programs needed to help more boys achieve excellence in school? If so, what programs should they be?
* Are you aware of school-safety initiatives that focus on male students?
* Given that all individuals differ, do you believe the experts quoted in the article place too much emphasis on gender?
Discussion: Students should address the following issues:
* Why do some people believe that schools have traditionally shortchanged girls?
* Have students heard that science and math are "boy" subjects, while literature and the arts are "girl" subjects? Is this tree?
* What accounts for the rise in girls' school performance? Do programs like Take Your Daughter to Work Day build the self-esteem that breeds success?
Research: You might have students test some of the theories offered in this article. Ask other teachers and/or the school administration to share this information with one or two student researchers: (1) the gender breakdown in Advanced Placement (AP) science and math classes and literature and language classes. (2) any noticeable change in these gender balances over the last 5 to 10 years. Students can use the data to construct a graph illustrating the differences. (If yours is an all-boys or all-girls school, students may explore instead the school's rationale for single-sex status, and whether it has changed over the years.)
Cooperative Learning: Direct students to page 13 and Scarsdale High School's Sexual Politics course. Assign students to write a syllabus for such a course. What activities or information would teach students about sex discrimination and understanding and respecting the differences between the sexes?
Web Watch: For news and background on women's and girls' rights, log onto the National Organization for Women Web site at www.now.org
The Real World & Leveling the Playing Field
FOCUS: Legal Gains Fail to Bring Full Equality in the Working World and Sports
To help students understand the paucity of women in the top ranks of government and business, and why Title IX, the federal law meant to bring gender equality to school sports, has yet to finish the job.
* Suppose you are a school superintendent. A principal in your district complains that there is not enough money in the budget to fund sports programs for both boys and girls. What would you tell the principal to do to comply with Title IX?
* Should companies strive to have a certain percentage of women in their executive ranks? Or should they ignore gender and just hire the best people?
Critical Thinking: Some critics say data on women's pay and executive jobs do not demonstrate discrimination, but merely reflect the fact that qualified women have come to high-level government and business jobs relatively recently. How would students support and rebut this argument?
The article says that many school districts are in disagreement about their compliance with Title IX. Ask students what criteria they believe school officials should employ in trying to determine whether or not a school is complying with Title IX.
Sports Survey: Students can interview coaches and others who are knowledgeable about sports in their school. Have them design a graph similar to that on page TE 5, in which they present data on sports participation in their school. How many boys and girls play sports? What percent of the total do girls represent? Have the numbers of male and female athletes risen or fallen over the last 5 or 10 years?
Tough Choice: Suppose a wealthy alumnus bequeaths $5,000 to your school with the stipulation that the money be used to buy football uniforms. Should the school (a) reject the bequest; (b) accept it; (c) try to get the estate to comply with Title IX rules; (d) raise an equal amount to fund girls' sports; (e) put girls on the football team?
Web Watch: For background on Title IX, complaints, lawsuits, and reports on gender equity in sports, log onto http:// bailiwick.lib.uiowa.edu/ge/See also the Women's Sports Foundation at www. WomensSportsFoundation.org
RELATED ARTICLE: The Real World
Girls may be excelling in high school and college, but after graduation, for the most part, men still rule. Women continue to make less money than men--even for similar jobs--and the number of women in leadership positions remains a tiny fraction of their numbers in the U.S. population.
FEMALE U.S. Senators: 13; MALE: 87
FEMALE U.S. Representatives: 59; MALE: 376
MEN'S median weekly earning: $618
WOMEN'S median weekly earning: $473
Executives at Fortune 500 companies who are WOMEN: 12.5%
RELATED ARTICLE: Leveling the Playing Field
EQUAL ATHLETIC OPPORTUNITIES FOR GIRLS? IT'S THE LAW.
After a hard day of practice, the boys on the Goblins football team at Harrison High School in Arkansas unwind in a large locker room with a whirlpool, weight-lifting equipment, soda machine, ice cooler. TV, and VCR.
The Lady Goblins, in contrast, retire to a sparse locker room consisting of three bathroom stalls, a wooden bench, and lockers.
"We're like, OK, what's up with that?" says Chelsey Warmack, a 17-year-old starter for the girls' varsity volleyball team. "It's just like they think we're second class."
In high schools across the country, many female athletes feel the same way. Some school districts offer more sports to boys than to girls. Others provide male athletes with better resources--from newer equipment and prime practice hours to higher-paid coaches with more expertise.
And all of it is against the law.
A federal law called Title IX of the Education Act of 1972 makes it illegal for schools and other educational programs receiving federal money to discriminate based on sex.
Since Title IX became law, experts say, it has dramatically improved opportunities for women in athletics. But with many school districts still in disagreement over whether or not they meet Title IX requirements, officials say the quest for a level playing field is far from over.
"Attitudes still need to be changed," says Mary Ann Borysowicz, executive director for the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport. Women today may have their own National Basketball Association, or compete in the Olympics, she says, but outside the spotlight, girls are still made to feel that their sports endeavors are less important.
Title IX was enacted long before women regularly made it onto Wheaties boxes, or starred in Nike commercials. In the early 1970s, female athletic teams were uncommon. Fewer than 300,000 high school girls played competitive sports in the U.S., with fewer than 32,000 women going on to compete at the college level, according to the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C. Girls' sports teams were often forced to use old, handed-down equipment. And scholarships for young women in athletics just didn't exist.
Congress passed Title IX to change all that. Under the law, schools are required to offer male and female students equal opportunities to play sports, equal treatment, and their fair shares of athletic scholarship money.
The law's enforcement--mostly through lawsuits and complaints to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights--has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in the number of girls and women in sports. Today there are an estimated 2.65 million high school girls playing in competitive sports, with 135,110 women participating on the college level.
And as the number of female athletes has grown, so has the number of Title IX cases. In 1988, 27 complaints of Title IX violations on the high school level were reported. Ten years later, that number had more than quadrupled to 110 complaints, says Rodger Murphey, spokesman for the U.S. Education Department.
Still, Title IX disputes are not always easy battles. Many school systems accused of having inferior programs for girls are reluctant to change years of tradition. Others, like the Harrison School District, argue that their girls' teams are not suffering, pointing to female teams' winning records as evidence. The district, which recently settled a lawsuit filed by the parents of three female athletes, has agreed to provide the Lady Goblins with their own weight room, a new athletic director for girls' sports, and a new softball field, among other changes.
Many more such changes are needed, says Neenah Chaudhry, counsel for the National Women's Law Center. "We're getting there," she says. "But we still have a long way to go."
RELATED ARTICLE: Wham! Pow! Take That, Dudes! FEMALE MOVIE HEROES ARE SMARTER, TOUGHER, AND COOLER
Girls may be winning academic honors in high school, but in Hollywood's latest round of action movies, they are literally kicking the bad guys' lights out. As powerful, as quick, as smart, as indestructible as any Schwarzenegger hero, these girls take no guff and don't wait around for male heroes to rescue them.
From Charlie's Angels to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, women stars are decimating evildoers, whether male or female, with equal abandon. This summer, Anqelina Jolie, playing Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider movie, will smite villains with her tommy gun as she goes airborne on a motorcycle. TV heroines are getting in knocks, too (see "The Cult of Buffy,"). Even the animated Daria outclasses dullards with her brains rather than nun-chucks in her made-for-MTV movie last fall.
Fans of the new trend say Hollywood's mythmakincj machinery is catching up with changing attitudes about women. Critics, though, say this is no reel revolution: Women action stars are still eye candy for teenage boys. But, hey, something's different. Angelina Jolie may be sexy, but watch out-as Lara Croft, she'll break your jaw if you cross her.
JODI WILGOREN is a national education correspondent for The New York Times, based in New York. Additional reporting by CHRIS TAUBER.
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|Title Annotation:||girls outperform boys in high school and in college enrollment rates|
|Publication:||New York Times Upfront|
|Date:||Mar 5, 2001|
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