US culture derails girl math whizzes

Oct 10, 2008

A culture of neglect and, at some age levels, outright social ostracism, is derailing a generation of students, especially girls, deemed the very best in mathematics, according to a new study.

In a report published today (Oct. 10) in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, a comprehensive analysis of decades of data on students identified as having profound ability in math describes a culturally constricted pipeline that puts American leadership in the mathematical sciences and related fields at risk.

According to the report, many girls with extremely high aptitude for math exist, but they are rarely identified in the U.S. because they veer from a career trajectory in the mathematical sciences due to the low respect American culture places on math, systemic flaws in the U.S. public school education system, and a lack of role models.

"The U.S. culture that is discouraging girls is also discouraging boys," says Janet Mertz, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of oncology and the senior author of the study. "The situation is becoming urgent. The data show that a majority of the top young mathematicians in this country were not born here."

Joseph A. Gallian, a co-author of the report, a professor of mathematics at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and current president of the Mathematical Association of America, says, "Just as there is concern about the U.S. relying on foreign countries for our oil and manufactured goods, we should also be concerned about relying on others to fill our needs for mathematicians, engineers and scientists."

Mertz and Gallian conducted the analysis with Jonathan Kane, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater involved with math competitions, and Titu Andreescu, a professor of mathematics education at the University of Texas at Dallas. Andreescu is a former leader of the U.S. International Mathematical Olympiad team and director of AwesomeMath, a summer program for mathematically gifted children.

The new study draws on decades of data from extremely difficult mathematics competitions aimed at the most elite student math performers, including the collegiate William Lowell Putnam Mathematics Competition and the pre-collegiate International and U.S.A. Mathematical Olympiads.

Mining the data, Mertz and her colleagues found:

Contrary to the myth that females lack the intrinsic aptitude needed to excel in mathematics at the highest level, an idea proffered most famously by former Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, many girls exist with truly exceptional talent for mathematics.

Girls as well as boys with such talent are frequently identified and nurtured in some countries where this ability is highly valued; in the U.S., such talent is routinely overlooked or ignored, with many American boys and girls feeling they are actively discouraged from excelling in math.

American children of immigrants from countries where math talent is highly valued — notably Eastern Europeans and Asians — are much more likely to be identified as possessing extraordinary mathematical ability.

The pipeline for nurturing top math talent in the U.S. is badly broken beginning at the middle school level. Eighty percent of female and 60 percent of male faculty hired in recent years by the very top U.S. research university mathematics departments were born in other countries.

"We show," the group reports, "that many girls exist who possess extremely high aptitude for mathematical problem solving. The frequency with which they are identified is due, at least in part, to a variety of socio-cultural, educational or other environmental factors that differ significantly among countries and ethnic groups and can change over time."

When raised in some environments, girls were found to be 11-24 percent of the children identified as having profound mathematical ability; when raised in others, girls, including U.S.-born white ones, were 30-fold or more underrepresented. Andreescu believes that, "Innate math aptitude is probably fairly evenly distributed throughout the world, regardless of race or gender. The huge differences observed in achievement levels are most likely due to socio-cultural attributes specific to each country."

"We are wasting this valuable resource," says Mertz. "Girls can excel in math at the very highest level. There are some truly phenomenal women mathematicians out there."

In elementary school, girls do as well as or better in math than boys. In middle school, Mertz and her colleagues suggest, girls with an inclination for math begin to lose interest and fall behind, mostly due to peer pressure and societal expectations. Throughout middle and high school, social stigma and lack of appropriately challenging educational opportunities for the mathematically precocious becomes a hard reality in most American schools. Consequently, gifted girls, even more so than boys, often camouflage their mathematical talent to fit in well with their peers.

In the future "flat world," the U.S. may no longer be able to depend upon hiring foreign workers to fill its jobs in the mathematical sciences and related fields. The report suggests that the economic well-being of the U.S. is at risk, and that it is crucial that steps be taken now to correct this problem. A good start, say Mertz and her colleagues, would include implementing the recommendations of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel and fully funding the America COMPETES, "10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds" and Sowing the Seeds through Science and Engineering Research Acts already passed by the U.S. Congress.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Doug_Huffman
5 / 5 (4) Oct 10, 2008
Injected self-esteem dilutes beneficial social processes.
itistoday
3.8 / 5 (4) Oct 10, 2008
I don't know why this article is being rated low, this is very true and important for the United States to see and address if it wants to remain technologically and scientifically competitive.
GrayMouser
2.5 / 5 (4) Oct 10, 2008
I don't know why this article is being rated low, this is very true and important for the United States to see and address if it wants to remain technologically and scientifically competitive.


People don't go in to the sciences because the money isn't there. Engineering and science (including computer science) has not kept up, in constant dollars.
itistoday
4 / 5 (4) Oct 10, 2008
People don't go in to the sciences because the money isn't there. Engineering and science (including computer science) has not kept up, in constant dollars.


Perhaps, but I also agree with the results of the research above, since I've seen with my own eyes the social stigma attached to "being smart". Truly ridiculous it is.

It appears Ars Technica is also covering this:
http://arstechnic...ral.html

Actually (it's not mentioned here, but in the link above), it appears that the cultural influence may be even more important here than economics:

Money and a large starting pool of talent also seem to have little impact. Bulgaria and Romania consistently did well, despite their small populations and economies.
D666
4 / 5 (6) Oct 10, 2008

People don't go in to the sciences because the money isn't there. Engineering and science (including computer science) has not kept up, in constant dollars.


Amen!

I'm always surprised though, when some author proclaims in a surprised mode that "some girls are good at math". Geez. Like most other things, it's a bell curve. It *may* be that the top of the bell curve for math has a high proportion of males, and it *may* be that the top of the bell curve for language has a high proportion of females, but even if so, you're still going to get female math whizzes and male Great Communicators.
NeilFarbstein
2.4 / 5 (5) Oct 10, 2008
Foriegn people think enegineerring and science are sources of money, why dont americans? People dont wnat job where they have to think, for all the money in the world.
h1ghj3sus
3.8 / 5 (6) Oct 10, 2008
I recently left a public school system that was a joke... graduated in 2003. I am very good at math. I always had teachers who want me to solve a problem their way. My experience in public school showed me that many teacher's abilities do not surpass the student(s). Luckily, we are in the computer age and any self-motivated individual can learn anything.

I think that advanced students should have online teachers. This is the most efficient way to provide all gifted students with the best instructors.
brant
3 / 5 (5) Oct 10, 2008
TV..................
vanderMerwe
3 / 5 (5) Oct 11, 2008
There are three reasons why US maths performance sucks.

The first one is that K-12 education emphasises "education" coursework rather than knowledge of specialty area (like math or science).

The second is that university departments of education set extremely low requirements for entrance into their course programmes. The third and last is that we've let the profession tilt to women for whom feminism is their chief "intellectual" achievement to the point where K-12 in the States has become extremely y-chromosome hostile.

I got my youngest, a son, finished with high school four years back. The only way that I kept him sane was to make sure that well over half of his course load, in high school, was taken at the local state university or the community college. There's no mistake why girls outperform boys in K-12. The odds are stacked against boys.
deatopmg
3.5 / 5 (4) Oct 11, 2008
Not only has the US education pendulum shifted, in my lifetime (HS grad in 1960), from male to female centric but the female cliques that naturally form ostracize other females that do not share their interests. And no matter how destructive these cliques are the so called educators turn a blind eye. So no wonder girls lose interest in math, science, and other societally important subjects. They are preyed upon by the other socially popular, mindless, air-headed, fluff oriented girls that contribute little to society over their lifetimes other than babies and consumerism.

Read; "The Female Brain" by Brizendine
__o
5 / 5 (1) Oct 12, 2008
when i was in 3rd grade the teacher lined the girls up on one side of the room and the boys on the other and had us compete against each other. i was the only girl left standing and eventually beat all of the boys. many of the boys surrounded me and encircled me at recess, shouting, whooping, and dancing. i always threw the contests after that.

those air-headed, fluff oriented boys perhaps went on to contribute little over their lifetimes other than babies and consumerism.

no matter what you read, sexism is stupid.

DGBEACH
3 / 5 (2) Oct 12, 2008
Long-live the American dream...100" TVs, F-150 pickups, George Bush, "I'm not as smart as a fifth grader"...see a pattern here...the US concentrates on stupidity and stupid people, and allows THEM to succeed while the intelligent ones leave the country. They will have to become much less myopic if they are to continue to play any important roles on the world scene.

It used to be that nuclear (not nucular Mr Bush) science was beyond the capabilities of most countries. Now countries like Iran and North Korea have the knowhow and the technology to build reactors and bombs, and it didn't come from the US.

Have I veered from the topic? .....well I'm sure those countries have female scientists developing some of their technologies. :)

deatopmg
1 / 5 (2) Oct 12, 2008
when i was in 3rd grade the teacher lined the girls up on one side of the room and the boys on the other and had us compete against each other. i was the only girl left standing and eventually beat all of the boys. many of the boys surrounded me and encircled me at recess, shouting, whooping, and dancing. i always threw the contests after that.

those air-headed, fluff oriented boys perhaps went on to contribute little over their lifetimes other than babies and consumerism.

no matter what you read, sexism is stupid.


I agree, in fact driven by testosterone they probably will contribute a negative amount to society, but read the book. it is written by a woman physician primarily for women.
Gozar
3 / 5 (2) Oct 12, 2008
Considering that half of Americans think the world is 6,000 years old and that Jesus is going to come swoop them up on a spaceship I'd say both boys and girls need a Manhattan project size response to crisis of ignorance in America.
Mikael
2 / 5 (1) Oct 13, 2008
I think most of "Western" Europe is in the same boat. Besides, math in school is thaught in a very uncreative way..
ArtflDgr
5 / 5 (1) Oct 13, 2008
more feminist advocacy crapola. they dont realize that we are now losing to the other states that think being number one and winning is more important than demoralizing everyone by forcing them to live a pretend reality.

the data on the differences is WELL established, which is why all this is always NEWS, its amazing that they have once again discovered some odd angle that proves their point, yet never does.

the jewish population (azkenazi) are smarter than everyone, and the chinese are too... period... thats how the tests always bear, out, and thats why the top group dominates nobel prizes, math awards, literature awards, and other such capacity related industries.

i dont belong to eitehr of those groups, and unlike the feminist/communist women, i have no envy against them for i share in the fruits of their efforts. unlike feminists i need not destroy them to feel better, i can be happy with how nature makes us. but thats not how totalitarians see it, they think their ideas are right, and they dont care who they have to kill to prove it.
ArtflDgr
2.5 / 5 (4) Oct 13, 2008
I don't know why this article is being rated low, this is very true and important for the United States to see and address if it wants to remain technologically and scientifically competitive.


the article is not true, and promoting people to diversify the top slots on conditions that are contradictory, will not reclaim the top places.

the left says race doesnt exist, but yet they select giving special consideration by the condition that doesnt exist. there is no difference between men and women, and we believe that math discriminates!

the problem is that these last areas of sciecne have nto been poisoned by communist type ideology.
"Feminism, Socialism, and Communism are one in the same, and Socialist/Communist government is the goal of feminism." - Catharine A. MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (First Harvard University Press, 1989), p.10

they are doing to western sciecne what lysenko did to soviet genetics. its just that it was easier to use meade and kinsey to destroy the social sciences to the point that they only give out ideologically confirming science (while the better stuff is relegated to teh dust bin)...

they havent been able to poison the other sciences, and so math still confounds their social control since math and methods confound their ability to skew statistics.

the useful idiots and fellow travelers will win out, and like the soviet union they will drive like thelma and loise off the cliff taking us with them since their methodology is NOT MERIT BASED... the people with the top scores lose out to race selection...

in the US if too many chinese test out on top, they want to skew the results so that its more divirse... well, we are competing against the chinese who can stack their groups with the best selected out of say 4 billion people, and pay no adherence to any such garbage. they get 100% winners on their team, we get 100% diversification, while the winners get to become kazinskies, rather than participate in life.

why should they if the choice is arbitrarily against them while the system pretends to beg for the results that come from a meritocracy, whiel living the rules of a comminist idiocracy.
raron
5 / 5 (1) Oct 13, 2008
I'm from Norway, and while I don't know what "K-12" education is as "vanderMerwe" writes about, it sounds pretty much the same as the education here. Maybe it's a western thing? I find it very odd.

And it's not just limited to girls, sciences is pretty much not a priority. Norwegian school system is built on the surreal ideal of "equality" (everybody is equal, and if not they better be!), and while this have a, shall I say, a nice impact on the "not so teorethically inclined", the other end suffers, and in the end society, of course. In my opinion its based on not "equality", but jealousy, or what we norwegians call "Janteloven" (Jante's Law). In short, if you are good at something , you better not show it. Or else!

Not many people with skills are disciplined enough to teach themselves stuff, especially in basic school. Maybe some can, most cannot I guess. They are in effect held back, and left to themself. Chances are they become either a troublemaker or just apathetic. Or both.

Unless, of course, you are good at athletics. Now there something else; m o n e y !
Modernmystic
not rated yet Oct 13, 2008
There's also another reason that the vast majority of foregin countries look better than we do on paper...by and large they either don't allow special needs students to go to school, or they don't include them in the statistics.
seversky
4 / 5 (1) Oct 13, 2008
I don't think this article is really about girls and math. Its title and content are slanted in that direction to catch your eyes, but strike out a couple of sentences and you have an article about the cultural suppression of math talent in our country.

Our culture has a malignant cancer that is eating away at our education, from the top down AND from the bottom up. I believe that one of the worst things a (well-intentioned) American parent can do to their child is put them through the public school system.
ArtflDgr
4 / 5 (1) Oct 13, 2008
seversky... you hit the anvil on the top...

the malignant cancer is communism/socialism/feminism... as mcKinon above informs you they are all teh same and what the leaders of women are workgin towards (though the women dont beleive that... )

social justice is procrustean... you cant make the dumb smart, but you sure can make the smart dumb... and people who dont think can accept bad arguments, which make them appear like blank slates... which if you think about it is a very contemptious view to have...
D666
5 / 5 (1) Oct 14, 2008
no matter what you read, sexism is stupid.


I agree, in fact driven by testosterone they probably will contribute a negative amount to society,


Translation: Sexism is stupid, except when *I* do it, then it's ok. OR: Sexism is stupid when directed against women, but OK when directed against men.

In order for a professed moral stance to have any credibility, you have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. You failed.


__o
not rated yet Nov 04, 2008
D666 you are right, i failed to communicate since i attempted using sarcasm against the previous author when i replaced "fluff minded girls" with boys. Deatopmg wrote:

"They are preyed upon by the other socially popular, mindless, air-headed, fluff oriented girls that contribute little to society over their lifetimes other than babies and consumerism. "

well, sexism IS stupid not from a moral stance though.. it just is. whether directed against hermaphrodites or the rest of us. see Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
D666
not rated yet Nov 06, 2008

well, sexism IS stupid not from a moral stance though.. it just is.


I'd have to disagree with that. Morality/ethics are what lead us to believe that actions and attitudes that are not completely self-serving are still worthy. After all, sexism is really just self-interest writ large. But we decide on a moral basis that everyone must have equal opportunity, equal respect, equal time at the microphone, etc, even when it may disadvantage us personally. Without morality, we're just a bunch of wild predators sharing a territory.
Quantum_Conundrum
not rated yet Nov 06, 2008
Might this all simply be a resistence effect?

I think there are two issues here:

1) Higher math (calculus and even some of trig) is useless for anyone other than a NASA engineer or a handful of other engineers.

2) For most, It is easier and more reliable to just pull out the computer or calculator.

Calculators and computers have largely replaced the need for people who can multiply 4x4 digits in their head.

I have an i.q. of 144 and can multiply up to 8 digits by 8 digits in my head, 4x4 with hardly thinking about it, and there is no use for it whatsoever, since a computer can do it more quickly and more reliably.

Algebra, trigonometry, even calculus?

Computer can do that better. Once a problem has been solved, you do not spend decades trying to solve the problem that has already been solved.

Computers solve the problem of mathematics and even memorization. We don't generally need to memorize everything any more, because we have gadgets that correct our spelling and remind us of things we might have forgotten, etc.


Basicly, there is no practical "day to day" need for anything beyond 3rd -4th grade math(square root and exponentiation and modulus), unless you work for NASA or a handful of engineering fields.

Trust me, you don't need calculus to raise cattle or crops, or work in a mine or 99% of plant jobs. You don't need calculus to work at a fast food store or warehouse or be an entertainer or a police officer or a lawyer or a judge or mayor, such maths have absolutely nothing to do with the vast majority of fields of employment.

You don't need calculus to work in 99.9% of financial market jobs or even the vast majority of computer programming jobs (unless its for NASA or a handful of engineering firms).

In fact, computer programming and even web programming have less to do with math, and more about LANGUAGE, memorization, and flow charts.

The vast majority of the "math" in computer programing consists of add one, or subtract one, and "pre-algebra" = ~7th - 8th grade level.

So there is not much motivation for an average person to bother learning higher math. It does not increase a person's salary, and the vast majority of the time, has absolutely nothing to do with anything they will ever do in their lifetime.
D666
not rated yet Nov 07, 2008
Might this all simply be a resistence effect?


I have two problems and a nit with your theory:

1) Your theory doesn't explain gender differences, and that's at least partly what this article is about.

2) The stated problem has been around longer than PCs. What're you, under 30? I can remember when we didn't have these newfangled gadgets, and we had to do calculations manually. Uphill. Both ways. In 6 feet of snow.

Nit: Funny, but I use math a lot more than you imply that I should, not only in my job (computers) but also in my personal life. And I do a lot of it in my head, which frankly is more convenient than pulling out my laptop and firing up Mathematica.