ERIC Identifier: ED321977
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: Blosser, Patricia E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental
Education Columbus OH.
Procedures To Increase the Entry of Women in Science-Related
Careers. ERIC/SMEAC Science Education Digest No. 1.
Girls and boys start off equal in mathematics and science performance
and interest in school. They appear to do equally well in both subjects
in elementary school. Once courses become optional in secondary school,
the down hill spiral in enrollment of female students in mathematics and
physical science begins, accompanied by decreases in achievement and interest.
This means that women are inadequately prepared for most college majors
as well as those in technical fields.
Technology is becoming an increasingly important factor in the nation's
economy, and participation and achievement in science is also becoming
increasingly important. As a result of the decline in the birthrate since
1964, the size and composition of the population entering the workforce
has changed. Women will represent 47 percent of the total workforce and
half of those pursuing professional careers. Estimates from the U.S. Department
of Labor indicate that women, minorities, and immigrants will make up 80
percent of the net additions to the labor force between 1987 and 2000 (Oakes,
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY?
"Lost Talent," recent publication written by Jeannie Oakes (1990), contains
a review of current research on the relationship between educational practices
and policies and low rates of participation of women, minorities, and disabled
persons in science-related careers. Oakes has two central messages for
her readers: (1) there is much we do not understand about the low participation
rates of these groups, and (2) what we do know suggests that there are
alterable features of schools that appear to constrain participation. Attainment
in scientific fields is governed by three factors: (1) opportunities to
learn science (and mathematics), (2) achievement in science (and mathematics),
and (3) students' decisions to pursue science (or mathematics-related)
careers. Unfortunately, there is little theoretical research on how these
factors work together or the relative contribution of each factor to participation
WHERE ARE WOMEN LOST?
Gender differences do not appear at the elementary level in science.
In middle school, girls hold more negative attitudes about science than
do boys, and they report having fewer science experiences than boys. Students
in grades 7 and 11 were asked, as part of the National Assessment of Educational
Progress (NAEP), how often they had tried to fix something electrical,
fix something mechanical, or figure out what was wrong with an unhealthy
plant or animal. Female students in grade 7 were three times more likely
than males to report that they had never fixed something electrical or
mechanical; in grade 11, the differences were even greater. Ninty-three
percent of 11th grade males but only 66 percent of 11th grade females reported
having tried to "fix something electrical" at least once. Sex differences
were reversed for the unhealthy plant or animal question, with female students
significantly more likely than males to have tried to determine what was
wrong with an unhealthy plant (Weiss, 1989: Attitude Graph 11). Experiences
students have had are closely linked to their interests.
In senior high school, relatively equal numbers of boys and girls enroll
in academic and nonacademic curricula; therefore, similar science courses
are available to them. However, girls choose to take these courses at lower
rates than boys (Oakes, 1990:18). Armstrong found that motivation to enroll
differed among males and females. For males, parental expectations for
scientific and technical careers for their sons are the motivating forces
while, for females, their own education aspirations provided the drive
to enroll. So, women have to be more self-motivated to choose these courses
(Armstrong in Tsuji and Ziegler, 1990:l).
Studies of junior high school students have shown that both sexes are
unaware of career options and the educational requirements involved. If
male students take courses due to parental pressure, they have still made
the "right" choices. Female students, who need intrinsic reasons, would
be less likely to have adequate information to guide their course-taking.
Therefore, educators need to stress the relevance of mathematics to students'
career goals. If this is not done, high school girls tend to avoid taking
the advanced mathematics necessary for careers in science and engineering
(Tsuji and Ziegler, 1990:1).
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO IMPROVE THE SITUATION?
Intervention programs are needed. Intervention strategies vary. They
may be designed to appeal to students at one or more levels: cognitive,
affective, and ability or achievement. Those at the cognitive level are
designed to provide information, to increase awareness; while interventions
at the affective level may be focused on increasing self-confidence or
relieving anxiety. Those at the ability or achievement level are designed
to result in increased ability, leading to improved achievement. Interventions
aimed at affective or achievement levels appear to have more impact on
behavior than do those aimed at the cognitive level (Tsuji and Ziegler,
When interventions are attempted, a range of possibilities for careers
should be included. Careers in medicine, science, and engineering should
be discussed, but so should careers in skilled trades and technological
WHAT KINDS OF INTERVENTIONS ARE POSSIBLE?
Several kinds of intervention programs exist. These programs, as well
as methods for evaluating their effectiveness, are discussed by Davis and
Humphreys in their book, "Evaluating Intervention Programs, Applications
from Women's Programs in Math and Science" (1985). Davis and Humphreys
group intervention programs into five types: short-term, audiovisual and
printed products, experiential learning, long-term, and teacher education.
Short-term programs serve to raise awareness and change attitudes. They
may consist of a speakers series, one-day conferences, or workshops.
Audiovisual and printed products are used as interventions to raise
awareness, change attitudes, or increase knowledge. Films, filmstrips,
videotapes, books, puzzles, exhibits, videodiscs, and career posters may
be used to provide information about science careers in a concise manner.
Experiential learning is used to give participants a hands-on experience
in science or a science-related field.
Long term interventions consist of courses and curricula. They are designed
to increase learning as well as to change attitudes.
Teacher education intervention programs may consist of summer institutes
or inservice programs. Their purpose is to modify teachers' behaviors and
improve their skills so that, ultimately, the learning and attitudes of
their students are improved (Davis and Humphreys, 1985: 115-121).
HOW DO INTERVENTION PROGRAMS FIT INTO THE EDUCATIONAL REFORM MOVEMENT
IN SCIENCE EDUCATION?
Persons interested in reforming science education are advocating measures
that Oakes considers beneficial to all students - therefore, such moves
should help increase the number of women considering science-related careers.
Reformers advocate the abolition of tracking because track placements in
curriculum tend to be fixed and long-term. Although tracking may be done
to accommodate differences in student ability, it exacerbates differences
among students by limiting opportunities to learn. Lower-track science
courses may actually limit students' opportunities to learn the subject
because of restricted content and diminished outcomes. Reformers are urging
that science curricula focus on personal needs, create career awareness,
and include the study of science-technology-society in terms of problems
and issues found in the community or discussed through the media. Reformers
also advocate that more hands-on activities be used in science, preferably
in a cooperative learning situation. Girls benefit from such instructional
tactics. If, as some research data imply, current teaching strategies have
led to early gender differences in attitudes, which then lead to differences
in participation, changing teaching methods as well as revising the curriculum
should help to decrease this trend.
Klein (1990) has identified 10 "common ground science process goals"
addressed in current science education reform reports: enabling all to
experience success in science; making the total science curriculum more
unified and flexible; establishing requirements and procedures so that
students will take more mathematics, science and technology courses; making
science curricula personally meaningful; ensuring that tests and assessment
procedures are unbiased and supportive of meaningful science instruction;
using heterogeneous and cooperative groups to promote a high level of participation
for all students; arranging for meaningful science role models; supporting
enriching science education opportunities rather than ineffective remedial
science education programs; increasing cultural sensitivity in instructional
materials and classroom interactions; and increasing support for science
achievement from parents, peers and the community (1990:5-11). Such goals,
Klein believes, will work toward equity as well as educational reform.
WHAT ARE SOME RESOURCES FOR THE IDENTIFICATION OF INTERVENTION PROGRAMS?
"Equity and Excellence: Compatible Goals" (Malcolm, 1984) contains a
listing of over 300 intervention programs. Rather than attempting to single
out several of these programs for inclusion here, it is preferable that
ERIC users decide for themselves what best suits their needs.
Most professional science and engineering societies have career brochures.
Many are targeted at women and minorities. A listing of such brochures
may be obtained by writing the Office of Opportunities in Science, AAAS,
1333 H Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005.
Also there are several national networks of women in science and engineering.
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Education and Human Resources
1333 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
Telephone: (202) 326-6670
Association for Women in Science
2401 Virginia Avenue, NW, Suite 303
Washington, DC 20037
Telephone: (202) 833-1998
National Association of Biology Teachers
Section on the Role and Status of Women in Biology Education
Dept. of Biological Sciences
University of Northern Colorado
Greeley, CO 80631
Telephone: (303) 351-2644
Society of Women Engineers
United Engineering Center
345 East 47th Street
New York, NY 10017
Telephone: (212) 705-7855
Davis, Barbara Gross and Sheila Humphreys. Evaluating Intervention Programs.
Teachers College Press, New York, 1985.
Klein, Susan S., Ed. Handbook for Achieving Sex Equity through Education,
Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 1985.
Klein, Susan S. The Role of Research in Identifying the "Common Ground"
Goals To Promote Sex Equity in Science and Technology Education. Draft,
February 18, 1990. (Based on a Paper Presented at the annual meeting of
the American Educational Research Association, Special Interest Group:
Research on Women and Education, San Diego, CA, 1989).
Malcom, Shirley M. et al. Equity and Excellence: Compatible Goals. American
Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC, 1984. ED 257
Oakes, Jeannie. Lost Talent - The Underparticipation of Women, Minorities,
and Disabled Persons in Science. Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, 1990.
SE 051 394.
Secada, Walter G., Editor. Equity in Education. The Falmer Press, New
York, NY, 1989.
Skolnick, Joan, Carol Langbort, and Lucille Day. How To Encourage Girls
in Math & Science. Prentice Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1982.
SE 043 795.
Stage, Elizabeth et al. "Increasing the Participation and Achievement
of Girls and Women in Mathematics, Science, and Engineering," Chapter 13
in Part IV, "Sex Equity Strategies in the Content Areas," in Handbook for
Achieving Sex Equity through Education, Susan S. Klein, Ed. John Hopkins
Press, Baltimore, MD, 1985. ED 290 810.
Task Force on Women, Minorities, and the Handicapped in Science and
Technology. Changing America: The New Face of Science and Engineering,
Final Report, Washington, DC, December, 1989.
Tsuji, Gerry and Suzanne Ziegler, "What Research Says About Increasing
the Numbers of Female Students Taking Math and Science in Secondary School,"
SCOPE 4(4): 1-4. February, 1990.
Weiss, Iris R. Science and Mathematics Education Briefing Book. Horizon
Research Inc., Chapel Hill, NC, 1989.
Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering. National Science Foundation,
Washington, DC, January, 1988.