The New Politics of Race and Gender: The 1992 Yearbook of the Politics of Education Association

By Catherine Marshall | Go to book overview

PART 3:

IS THERE A NEW POLITICS OF GENDER?

12

The underrepresentation of women in school leadership1

Colleen Bell and Susan Chase

Using national data on students, faculty, educational leaders and board members, Bell and Chase demonstrate how the us educational system, from elementary through postsecondary levels, is stratified by gender and by race and ethnicity. The authors examine women’s underrepresentation in the superintendency specifically and the persistence of that pattern since 1899. In 1992, 5.6 percent of the United States’ K-12 superintendents were women, the highest proportion to date. In their conclusion, Bell and Chase review explanations for the continuing underrepresentation of women and of people of color in school administration.

Any understanding of the significance of race and gender in the educational system in the United States needs to be based on information about where boys, girls, men and women of various racial and ethnic backgrounds are located in that system. In this chapter we begin by examining the numerical representation by gender and race of students, faculty, leaders and board members. We then take a closer look at the numbers of women in the public school superintendency. In the final section, we offer an overview of explanations for the continued and persistent underrepresentation of women in school leadership.

Let us acknowledge at the outset that by narrowing our focus to gender and racial stratification, we are not addressing differences in the kinds of experiences various groups have even when they occupy the same position within the educational system. For example, as students, boys and girls, men and women, are present in roughly even proportions across levels of the system. However, a number of studies have demonstrated that the sexes do not have similar educational experiences. As a recent AAUW (1992) report demonstrates, schools shortchange girls and women in multiple ways. Bernice Sandler (1987) and Yolanda Moses (1989) point out that higher education provides ‘a chilly climate’ for women, especially women of color. Hence, readers should remember that our close look at numbers ignores curriculum, pedagogy and other powerful contextual factors.


Gender and racial/ethnic stratification

The educational system in the United States consists of a hierarchy of levels of schooling: preschool, elementary, middle, high school, and higher education (including college and postgraduate study). For students, movement between these levels is marked by promotion from one grade to the next and by the earning of diplomas and degrees. For teachers and administrators, the hierarchical structure of these levels is marked by different certification requirements and by the greater prestige and salaries accorded to those at the higher levels.

Tables 12.1 and 12.2 present data that show how our educational system is strati-

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