kitchen table math, the sequel: Glenn Ellison on schools and the gender gap in math

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Glenn Ellison on schools and the gender gap in math

I had read this research in Choke -- didn't know the author of the study was also the author of Hard Math for Middle School.
This paper uses a new data source, American Mathematics Competitions, to examine the gender gap among high school students at very high achievement levels. The data bring out several new facts. There is a large gender gap that widens dramatically at percentiles above those that can be examined using standard data sources. An analysis of unobserved heterogeneity indicates that there is only moderate variation in the gender gap across schools. The highest achieving girls in the U.S. are concentrated in a very small set of elite schools, suggesting that almost all girls with the ability to reach high math achievement levels are not doing so.


[T]he highest-scoring boys and the highest-scoring girls appear to be drawn from very di fferent pools. Whereas the boys come from a variety of backgrounds, the top-scoring girls are almost exclusively drawn from a remarkably small set of super-elite schools: as many girls come from the top 20 AMC schools as from all other high schools in the U.S. combined. This suggests that almost all girls with extreme mathematical ability are not developing their talent to the degree necessary to do very well on the Olympiad contests.


The nonrepresentativeness of the schools these girls come from is startling: the median CGMO [China Girls' Math Olympiad] team member comes from a school at the 99.3rd percentile among AMC participating schools, i.e. from one of the top 20 or so schools in the country. Only three come from schools that are not in the 99th percentile in most measures. And even those three are from schools that had at least one other student qualify for the 2008 USAMO and are at least in the 93rd percentile in terms of the number of high-scorers on the AMC 12. The male IMO team members, in contrast, come from a much broader set of schools. Some are from super-elite schools and most come from schools that do very well on the AMC 12, but the median student is just from a 93rd percentile school. The majority of the IMO team members had no schoolmates qualify to take the USAMO, whereas all CGMO team members had at least one schoolmate qualify and most had at least four.


It may also be worth noting that almost all of the CGMO team members are Asian-American, which suggests that even within the super-elite schools the U.S. educational system may be missing the opportunity to bring many talented girls up to the highest level.
The Gender Gap in Secondary School Mathematics at High Achievement Levels: Evidence from the American Mathematics Competitions
Glenn Ellison MIT and NBER and Ashley Swanson MIT

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