Are Girls Victims of Gender Bias in Our Nation's Schools?

By Owens, Sherry Lynn; Smothers, Bobbie C. et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Are Girls Victims of Gender Bias in Our Nation's Schools?


Owens, Sherry Lynn, Smothers, Bobbie C., Love, Fannye E., Journal of Instructional Psychology


This article examines gender bias in our nation' s schools. Studies reveal that in the early years of their education, girls are equal to or ahead of their male counterparts on standardized and psychological assessments. However, research has shown that upon graduation from high school, girls have often fallen behind their male counterparts. In addition, this article suggests some practical solutions that can be used to expand and enhance commitments to gender equality.

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This article examines gender bias in our schools. Studies reveal that in the early years of their education, girls are equal to or ahead of their male counterparts on standardized and psychological assessments. However, upon graduation from high school, girls have often fallen behind their male counterparts. This occurs in all subject areas. The greatest deficiencies and variances, though, have been identified in the areas of math and science. This article focuses on three aspects of gender bias in American schools: (a) the historical struggle fought by women to gain participation in America's schools, (b) how our schools encourage gender inequalities, and (c) practical solutions to help bring gender differences to an end in American schools.

Historical Struggle

Sadker and Sadker (1994) reported a startling fact that few people realize. Today's girls continue a three-hundred year-old struggle for full participation in America's educational system. During colonial times school doors were closed for young women seeking knowledge, and the home was considered the learning place for young women. The home, serving as the girls' classroom, was where young girls learned the practical domestic skills for their inevitable role as wife and mother. However, in 1767 a school in Providence, Rhode Island, began advertising it would teach reading and writing to girls. At the bottom of the advertisement, in small print, was noted the inconvenient hours of instruction. The girls were being taught either before or after the boys' regular instructional time. At this time the teachers of the boys needed additional income and opted to teach girls before and after school for an awesome fee. Thus, the idea of educating girls was formulated (Sadker & Sadker, 1994).

During the early nineteenth century, many cities began establishing separate high schools for girls. Most communities built one high school, but designated separate entrances for the sexes. The classes were on separate floors in single-sex areas where girls were taught by women and boys by men. Single-sex schools were now born! Following a considerable amount of frustration from attempting to receive an education at male-dominated colleges, men and women created a bold alternative--colleges for women.

Finally, in 1972, a historic victory was achieved. Congress enacted Title IX as part of the Education Amendments. The preamble (Valentin, 1997) to Title IX states: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational programs or activity receiving federal assistance" (p. 1). Miraculously, a federal law made sex discriminations in schools illegal. Under Title IX, sex bias was outlawed in school athletics, career counseling, medical services, financial aid, admission practices, and the treatment of students. From elementary school through the university, Title IX violators were threatened with the loss of federal funds (Sadker & Sadker, 1994).

Title IX legislation changed the mode of operation in our schools. Better athletic programs for girls were instituted. Teachers began to carefully analyze books and resource materials for bias. As the 1970s came to an end, high hopes for Title IX ending gender bias mounted. However, many schools simply did not take this law seriously. In many schools vocational programs remained segregated with cosmetology and secretarial courses only for women and electrical and automotive courses only for men.

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Are Girls Victims of Gender Bias in Our Nation's Schools?
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