You know what would get more girls interested in STEM majors in college?
Why, more women science teachers in middle school and high school!
Oh, wait—we already have that!
More than three-fourths of all K-12 teachers in public school are female, and as for science teachers, 65 percent are female at the eighth-grade level, and 44 percent are female at the twelfth-grade level. That means that more than half of all science teachers from grades six through twelve belong to the role-model sex for aspiring women scientists, mathematicians, and engineers.
But nooo, according to two recent studies whose contents are reported in the Hechinger Report, that's not good enough. We need even more women science teachers:
The studies suggest that if there were more female math and science teachers in middle and high school, more girls would study these subjects in college, and that providing female role models earlier in life — before students get to college — might be one of the more effective ways to encourage more girls to pursue higher level math and science. (“Science” broadly refers to all the hard sciences from computer science and physics to chemistry and engineering).
“A lot of the talk has been about trying to promote more female faculty in college. Maybe that’s misdirected,” said Tim Sass, an author of one of the studies and an economist at Georgia State University. “Maybe there should be more emphasis in hiring qualified faculty in the middle and high school level.”
As if there wasn't plenty already.
Here's what the Study #1 showed:
The first study, “Growing the roots of STEM majors: Female math and science high school faculty and the participation of students in STEM” (referring to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), published Jan. 31, 2015 in the Economics of Education Review, looked at every student in North Carolina who graduated from a public high school in 2004 and continued on to a public college or university in the state. The University of North Carolina (U.N.C.) and Duke University researchers had access to a trove of data, from the students’ middle school grades and high school transcripts to family income and school characteristics.
The researchers found that girls who went to high schools where at least 72 percent of the math and science teachers were female were 19 percent more likely to graduate from college with a science or math major than similar students whose only difference was that they went to a high school where only 54 percent of the math and science teachers were female.
"Only" 54 percent!
And here's Study #2:
A second study looked at four years’ worth (or cohorts) of students in Florida from fifth grade through college graduation, and found that female math and science teachers as early as middle school make a difference in how many women pursue math and science in college. A still-unpublished working paper from this study, “Understanding the STEM Pipeline,” was delivered on Feb. 20, 2015, at a conference of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER), a research consortium of six universities.
This data analysis showed that girls who had higher proportions of female math and science teachers in middle and high school were more likely to take one or more science or math courses during their first year in college. The author, Professor Sass, found that the probability of a young woman taking a math or science course in her freshman year of college increased by 3.3 percentage points as the proportion of female middle and high school teachers went from zero to half.
Wow-3.3 whole percentage points!
So the idea seems to be that if you can boost the number of women science teachers in middle and high school, up to, say, 100 percent, you can boost the number of females sighing up for a single college course in math or science by umpty-dumpty percentage points. I'm impressed!
But what about boys in middle school and high school? How do they feel about having every darned class they take for seven solid years being taught by a woman? The article gives them the brush-off:
Boys, by contrast, were unaffected by the gender mix of their high school teachers.
Oh, really? Why do 72 percent of girls but only 65 percent of boys manage to graduate from high school?