PISA: No U.S. gender gap in math, science

U.S. girls do as well as boys in math and science on the PISA exam, notes Liana Heitin on Ed Week‘s Curriculum Matters.

 In many other countries, the 2012 OECD report notes, “marked gender differences in mathematics performance—in favour of boys—are observed.”

Three years ago, American boys outperformed girls in math on PISA; their science scores were similar.

However, the STEM gender gap hasn’t vanished, reports Erik Robelen.

Take the AP program. In all 10 STEM subjects currently taught and tested, including chemistry, physics, calculus, and computer science, the average scores of females lagged behind males, according to data for the class of 2011.

U.S. girls aren’t as confident as their male classmates, the 2012 PISA report found.

[E]ven when girls perform as well as boys in mathematics, they tend to report less perseverance, less openness to problem-solving, less intrinsic and instrumental motivation to learn mathematics, less self-belief in their ability to learn mathematics and more anxiety about mathematics than boys, on average; they are also more likely than boys to attribute failure in mathematics to themselves rather than to external factors.

Young women are losing ground in computer science, according to Change the Equation: Women earned 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computing in 2012, down from 27 percent about a decade earlier. Of those earning a master’s degree in computer science, only 28 percent were female in 2012, compared with 33 percent in 2001.

Empowering bullies’ victims

To Stop School Bullying: Fix the Victims, argues Hans Villarica in The Atlantic. He cites a new study in Child Development led by University of Illinois Psychology Professor Karen D. Rudolph that looks at why second graders  “retaliate, ignore, or repair relationships after an attack.”

Half of the children reported being the object of taunts, gossip, or intimidation.

. . . kids who wanted to be popular and feel superior tended to retaliate impulsively. Those who wanted to appear cool by avoiding criticisms were more likely to pretend like nothing happened. And those who were genuinely interested in fostering friendships tended to react in healthful, positive ways. They asked their teacher for advice, sought emotional support, and found means to solve the tension with those who harassed them.

Victims who tried to improve their relationships suffered less from bullying.

A previous study on mistreated kids in middle school also found that responding to bullies violently, impulsively, or in over-the-top ways can make the abused less accepted and a more attractive target to aggressors.

In short, punching the bully may not be the best strategy. (I have to think sometimes it is.)

Children who believed friendships are fixed, succeeding or failing without their involvement, tended to be more enamored with popularity and may be more vengeful as a result. On the contrary, those who viewed their friendships as works in progress tended to appreciate their peers more and interact more responsibly. “If children believe that effort is worthwhile, they’ll feel less threatened or helpless when they hit bumps in their relationships,” she says, “and they’ll be more likely to try to resolve relationship problems.”

What works in elementary school, such as seeking help from teachers, may not work in middle or high school, Villarica points out.

Indeed, even though anti-bullying advocates are correct in saying ‘it gets better,’ it may also be important to note that it’s going to get a lot worse first.

This reminds me of psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on students’ “fixed” or “growth” mindsets. Students who think intelligence is fixed — you’re smart or you’re not — won’t work as hard or take as many challenges as students who believe they can improve. (Her book is Mindset.)

To encourage learning — and resilience — we need to encourage kids to believe their efforts make a difference.

How to spot a ‘good school’

Peg Tyre’s new book, The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve tells parents how to “look under the hood” of schools. Parents have choices these days, Tyre, an education journalist and mother, tells NPR. Parents should look for “a very well-thought out curriculum around reading, around math. . . . You want teachers who are experienced, and if not experienced then well-mentored during the school day so that they’re not learning to be teachers to the detriment of your child.” Children should “get downtime and free play as well as direct instruction.”

In an interview with The Browser, Tyre named five education books parents should read, in addition to her own.

Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf, a child development professor, explains the  major role parents play in their children’s language and reading development.

Neurocognitive scientists have built a consensus. They know that the way we naturally learn to read is the way reading was taught in the 1950s – sounding words out, understanding the sounds that letters make and how to blend those sounds through phonics. Phonics allies closely with how our brains learn to read. If your child is not getting phonics, it’s a problem.

About a third of kids learn to read spontaneously, a third need some phonics instruction, and another third need systematic instruction. What third your kid falls in is not necessarily an indication of whether they’re smart or not. It’s just that some kids need a certain kind of instruction and unfortunately a lot of kids do not get it.

The Number Sense, by mathematician-turned-neuropsychologist Stanislas Dehaene, argues that math teaching “must be better aligned with the way we naturally absorb arithmetic.”

E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy explains why phonics isn’t enough: Students need general knowledge to understand what they read.

A student who sees the word Everglades may be able to divide up that compound word into ever and glades but if they don’t know about the swamps in Florida no amount of sounding out will enable them to understand its meaning. They could read the word, but they couldn’t comprehend it.Cultural literacy is critical to the health of our democracy. ED Hirsch reminds us that we shouldn’t let schools teach our children to be mere accountants of information. He reminds us it is as important to know Greek mythology as PowerPoint. Content continues to matter, a lot.

Mindset by Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor,  “can help you learn how to raise motivated and compassionate children and help them become adults with grit, resilience and compassion.”

The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine warns about overparenting, “creating a generation of overpressured and overprivileged kids who don’t know how to thrive on their own.”