• by Aurora Yáñez, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • May 2002 • 

Editor’s Note: IDRA assistant research associate Aurora Yáñez interviewed Ms. Eva Ross, who is a board member of the Association for Gender Equity Leadership in Education. The following is an excerpt of the interview.

In your opinion, what are emerging gender issues?

E.R.: The first gender issue is the need for the institutionalization of programs to address gender equity across the nation. Different school districts or groups have tried to make gender equity part of the very fiber of education, but there has been a lot of resistance.

Despite working on different gender equity issues – whether it is academic achievement of African American girls or sports opportunities or whether it is issues related to young boys – it is not in the fiber of educational institutions. We still have to work toward that goal.

The second issue is dropouts of all ethnicities and genders. These students are a big sign that we are not meeting their needs. Part of the alienation is a function, conscious or not, of gender issues for these young people.

Something that has also been developing in the gender equity community is a greater concern about the issues of young boys and a sense of empowerment for them. Some say that schools are female-oriented places and that boys need more attention. Thus, the needs of boys in the classroom and on the playground in terms of bullying and harassment and academic achievement are also emerging issues.

How equitable is the use and access of technology, math and science in school?

E.R.: There is more computer availability. There are standards regarding the full utilization of computers. But young girls typically are using computers in limited ways for e-mail and for communication.

Studies show that boys use technology much more for in-depth problem solving. They look at the computer as this incredible tool to make new things, to figure out big issues and to really chew on a problem. Girls just typically see it as a glorified typewriter.

There are studies about what is going on in computer labs and how this is a critical time for girls to plug in to the concept of computers as a very powerful tool. [A solution, suggested by colleagues in the field] is to implement and improve community-based projects around computer use for groups outside the school.

What are some emerging trends in economic power and self-sufficiency by gender?

E.R.: One of the things I was disturbed to learn was that the Bush administration is proposing to remove from the 2003 budget the regional Women’s Bureaus across the nation. The role of the Women’s Bureaus historically has been to focus attention on the status of women’s employment. I am concerned that without these few outlets that some important advocacy of improved economic power will go by the wayside.

Monies have been withdrawn for initiatives that serve young fathers and mothers and build awareness of non-traditional careers. This is significant because it is at the high school years and early college that very important career decision-making goes on. Young people get onto a track that does not lead to economic viability for their families.

Even women in managerial roles with high technology skills are hitting barricades or the equivalent of the glass ceiling concept. These are women with good educations and good technology skills, but they still encounter barriers.

Has there been a change in the incidents of harassment or harassment due to sexual orientation?

E.R.: Washington Safe Schools Coalition reports that we have had a raft of incidents of profound violence of student to student. These incidents reflect problems in students’ stereotypes and intolerance of any kind of difference whether it is external clothing or sexual orientation or different views.

The Office for Civil Rights has put out a huge Title IX guidance package and has addressed the issue of sexual orientation.

There are gender issues that affect different racial or ethnic populations. What issues do you see in this area?

E.R.: I would say dropout rates. The National Assessment of Educational Progress science scores show that the average gap between White and Black 12th graders is 31 points with only 3 percent of Black students achieving at the average level, compared to 23 percent of White students. The scores for the White students are not incredibly good, but the gap is significant.

Another issue is the concentration of minority boys in special education as well as the underrepresentation of girls in the much-enriched services. It is lopsided, and it always has been.

Minority teachers are 13.5 percent of the teaching force with a student population that is about 40 percent minority. There is a big difference [between the teaching force and the student population]. I feel that people of various ethnicities can work together, but there is a recruitment issue.

How prepared are schools to deal with these issues? What recommendations would you give schools or districts?

I think schools are paying attention to everything except gender equity. They are paying attention to assessment. The national leadership is saying “test these children.” Though, some of these tests are very alienating to kids.

To the schools I stress not to minimize the importance of students’ civil rights issues. You need central office people who are totally familiar with all these aspects of issues in the curricular area and the human resources area, which is where a lot of the complaints go, and the student discipline area where they also come up.

There are community leaders, like LULAC, NAACP and IDRA, that come to our schools and tell them that gender equity is an issue that we see and are very concerned about. Within school districts and state education agencies and all of the institutions that feed the educational system, there are concerned people who feel that the boys are crying out in the wilderness, very much ignored for a very long time.

That isolated, but completely concerned individual needs to be listened to quickly. I am talking about people like me who know the law and try to make some type of impact. There are people still concerned about these issues, but they are not given institutional support. So the problem exacerbates until it becomes some horrible fight in the community or it results in terrible outcomes for students.

How can technical assistance centers like the IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity help schools?

E.R.: What I want all the equity assistance centers to do is strive for obtaining state disaggregated data. It has always been a concern to me that the Texas system will not let you break out just the data on Hispanic girls in the 10th grade, for example. You can get the results by Hispanic students in general, and boys and girls together. That very simple design of the system obscured information that would have helped gender equity advocates. Anything the equity assistance centers can do to get state level policy to break out the data in complex ways is very important.

Another important issue is getting to pre-service teachers in college. Everything has been so caught up in the testing movement, gender equity is barely acknowledged as an educational issue in those places. Teachers coming into the field need a profound understanding of what happened to them as students, regardless of their gender, and find ways to address each of their students and their students’ needs based on gender. It takes a lot of thought and self-examination. Getting to the colleges as much as possible is important.

Gender Equity and Technology Resources

Knowledge Loom

An active online teaching and learning community. Includes resources and examples of effective use of technology in classrooms.

Minority Women in Science: Forging the Way

An innovative resource that can be used with all students – girls and boys – to help break down gender stereotypes about scientists. The set includes: profiles of seven minority women scientists who have surmounted barriers to forge the way for themselves and future scientists, science lessons for the classroom, and life skills lessons for the classroom. Developed by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Student Workbook $6.50; Teacher’s Guide $25.

The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Third International Mathematics and Science Study-Repeat (TIMSS-R)

Access initial findings about change in the mathematics and science achievement of students in different nations over the last four years. Also available are resources and information on related publications.

“What is Harassment? And What We Can Do To Stop It”

Article regarding middle school students and harassment.

Aurora Yáñez, M.A., is a research assistant in the IDRA Division of Evaluation Research. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2002, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2002 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]