The room is full of thirty exuberant, chatty Junior-Schoolers. Fifteen are girls, and fifteen are boys. Some heatedly debate over the answer to the problem, while others sit quietly, concentrating mightily on the numbers in front of them. All are hyper from the cookies they have eaten moments before.
This is the beauty and chaos of Junior School MathCounts, Hopkins’ after-school math club for seventh- and eighth-graders.
In the context of the current workforce, the gender ratio of this meeting is especially notable. According to the Census Bureau, women make up half the workforce but only 26% work in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM), significant in an age when the availability of STEM jobs is rapidly increasing.
Though the gender disparity is most thoroughly recognized in college, the workforce, and beyond, it is just as important to take note of it in the high school environment. According to a study by the American Association of University Women, women are much less likely than men to say in their first year in college that they intend to major in STEM; the environment and choices in the pre-college environment are essential to the eventual path of the student.
We are an institution founded to prepare students “for the public service of the country in future times,” and with an expected 2.8 million unfilled STEM jobs in 2018, the sciences and math will certainly be a crucial aspect of the future of our country. Do Hopkins’ math and science classes reflect the current gender disparity in our society? Or are we a school that is increasing the number of women that will be in STEM in the future?
The numbers suggest a little of both. In the Hop math course sequence, Algebra II and beyond runs three tracks for students: regular, enriched, and accelerated. In the 2004-2005 school year, most of the regular and enriched levels had roughly the same levels of enrollment for girls and boys. In contrast, in accelerated Algebra II, 30% of the enrollees were girls.
Since 2004, the numbers have shown some improved gender balance. A noticeable trend prevails: in the years of 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2015, every regular Geometry, Algebra II, and Precalculus class had more girls than boys, while every accelerated version of those classes had more boys than girls. Sometimes the ratio of boys to girls was close to even, while other times one gender outnumbered the other by 20%. The one exception to the data was last year’s Math 58 class, which numbered about three boys for every one girl.
The statistics in science over the years express a more complicated story. In 2004, boys outnumbered girls nearly 5:1 in AP Physics C, while girls slightly outnumbered boys in AP Biology. Though the numbers have changed since then, they still reflect imbalance in both directions. The ratio of girls to boys in AP Biology has steadily increased, with last year’s enrollment reflecting 100% more girls than boys. Girls made up 32% of AP Physics C last year instead of the 20% in 2008 and before. In AP Physics I, formerly known as Physics Accelerated, the ratio has improved; while girls made up 20% of the enrollment in 2008, they now compose around 40% instead.
Girls are qualified to succeed in both physical and natural sciences, yet a significant difference in enrollments among the two departments exists. It is interesting to note that national statistics mirror this trend: while the number of bachelor degrees women have received in the biological and psychological sciences has risen since 1991, the number in engineering and computer sciences, both related to physics, has fallen.
Even though the gender ratio in math and science classes has improved since 2004, the patterns show these gaps necessitate reflection.