The Gender Gap in Advanced Math and Science Course Taking: Does Same-Sex Education Make A Difference?

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A large representative sample (N = 20,816) of Israeli Jewish high school students served to explore differences between coeducational and same-sex schools in advanced math and science courses. Data were obtained from the Israeli population census of 1995 and from the Israeli Ministry of Education. Results from logistic regressions suggest that girls at all-female state religious schools did not differ from girls at coeducational state schools in placement in advanced math, physics and biology courses. But girls at all-female religious schools took advanced computer science courses at a much higher rate than girls at coeducational schools. This finding is attributed to a different curricular policy and not directly to the all- female environment. The analysis showed that girls who attended same-sex schools did not dramatically differ from girls who attended coeducational schools in placement in advanced math and science courses. The only subject in which girls in same-sex schools differed from girls in coeducational schools was advanced computer science. This finding seems to be related to different curricular policy and not to more favorable attitudes to computers.

The Israeli setting is unique in respect to same-sex education because it is part of public education. As such it shares similar curricula, in most subjects, with coeduca- tional schools and is probably less selective than private or independent same-sex education in other countries. Never- theless, religious education in Israel also involves elements of pre-selection. It draws its students mainly from religious families, and coeducational schools differ considerably from same-sex schools in this sector. Another limitation of the present study is that its dataset does not include information on previous achievement. Yet the fact that similar patterns were found in all school types in most of the analyses implies that pre-selection was not a major problem when control for the family background was employed As previous research has suggested, curricular policy is associated with inequality in educational opportunities. A policy that matches advanced computer science with the highest level of math and with other “masculine” scientific courses is especially harmful for girls who refrain from choosing these subjects. The religious all-girl school policy of allowing their students to take advanced computer science courses without requiring them also to take the highest level of math and an additional scientific course most probably encouraged more girls to take computer science. This interpretation implies that even without changing gender stereotypes in high school subjects, school administrators can influence gender gaps in math and science course taking and increase the number of girls who choose to specialize in scientific subjects. It might be easier to implement a curriculum which helps girls overcome gender stereotypes in same-sex schools, but it is also possible to implement such a curriculum in coeducational schools. 

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