Why am I so bothered and what does this have to do with CS?
This past week, I started recruiting for AP CS A. I utilize AP Potential which is accessed through the collegeboard. AP Potential uses PSAT data to determine a student's likelihood of passing an AP exam. I've used this process for many years, but this is the first time that I was so struck by the fact that out of the 158 students identified as having 70% potential of scoring a 3, 4 or 5 on the AP Computer Science A exam, only 60 of them were female. How am I supposed to build a class with a 50 / 50 ratio of girls to boys when my pool is only about 37 / 63? And what data are they using? Math and English scores. So this means that females are not only being left behind in the field of CS, but also potentially math and English. This is why I say, lack of females in CS is a symptom of a much larger problem.
So, I wonder, where does this start? I have 3 children, 2 boys and 1 girl. I will admit that teacher conferences are dreaded at our house. We don't want to hear again how our boys call out answers, and the long list of other behavioral grievances their teachers have, all nicely sandwiched together between glowing comments about how smart they both are. Our boys are both in the gifted program scoring very high marks on standardized tests in both math and language arts as well as science. Our older son is in both advance math and advanced language arts. These advanced classes have helped to keep them engaged in school so that the behavior is tolerable. As parents we are grateful. As an educator, I know that the odds that I had 2 gifted kids and 1 average kid is not likely.
Teacher conferences for our daughter have been very different. Pleasant actually. We had conferences about her in preschool and in kindergarten. We delight in the fact that she is so well liked by her peers and teachers. That she is helpful and sweet. She is dependable and often asked to help the teacher distribute papers or complete other tasks. She's a doll! We think so too, but she is also smart. She potty trained herself at 22 months old, and was speaking in full sentences while her peers grunted and learned sign language to communicate. She taught herself to tie shoes when she didn't even have any shoes of her own to tie. She is excellent at math. She is creative and tells the most detailed and elaborate stories. And lets not forget how she just creamed in 5 games of Moncala. But her brilliance is not recognized because in comparison to her brothers, she, like most girls, is compliant. Always has been.
Are our daughters missing out because they are too compliant? too nurturing? too mature? As an educator, we know that when students are bored, they get into trouble. To this end boys are offered extra challenges to occupy them when they have completed tasks early. Girls are asked to pass back papers. Could this be the root of a much bigger problem? Is the message we are sending one that communicates subconsciously to girls that they are not smart enough for these challenges?