An article about the small percentage of girls in NYC elite public schools. Many of these schools concentrate in science and math. Interestingly, according to the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, girls who attend single-sex high schools are 3 times more likely to major in engineering in college, than girls who attended co-ed high schools.
Students at Brooklyn Technical High School on Friday; it is one of the eight specialized schools where girls are in the minority.
By Al Baker
In the United States, girls have outshined boys in high school for years, amassing more A’s, earning more diplomas and gliding more readily into college, where they rack up more degrees — whether at the bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral levels.
But that has not been the trend when it comes to one of the highest accomplishments a New York City student can achieve: winning a seat in one of the specialized high schools.
At all eight of the schools that admit students based on an eighth-grade test, boys outnumber girls, sometimes emphatically.
Boys make up nearly 60 percent of the largest and most renowned schools, Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech, and as much as 67 percent at the High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at City College, according to city statistics.
While studies suggest that girls perform as well as boys in math and science classes in high school, their participation in those fields drops off in college and ultimately in careers, a phenomenon that the White House, with its Council on Women and Girls, and the National Science Foundation have tried to reverse.
The fact that girls are underrepresented in New York’s top high schools, which tend to be focused on math and science, and which have more than a dozen Nobel laureates among their alumni, worries some academics who see the schools as prime breeding grounds for future scientists and engineers.
“It is very suspect that you don’t have as many girls as boys in New York City’s specialized schools,” said Janet S. Hyde, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin who has published research on girls’ performance in math and science from elementary school through college. Individual girls might be losing opportunities, she said, “but it is also bad for society as a whole because in a global economy we need to identify the best scientists and mathematicians.”
The racial makeup of the schools has been a combustible issue for years — 5 percent of the students accepted this month into the elite schools were black, and 7 percent were Hispanic. Civil rights groups have argued that using a test as the sole basis of admission favors students with means to prepare for the test, and have pushed unsuccessfully to have the schools adopt additional criteria, like middle school grades, for admission.
The gender imbalance has not generated the same kind of protest. But several academics and analysts said the reliance on the test might also play a role in keeping girls out. While girls outperform boys on an array of academic benchmarks in high school and college, they still trail on standardized tests, like the SAT, according to federal Department of Education statistics.
This year, of those who took the Specialized High School Admissions Test, 51 percent were girls. But only 45 percent of those offered seats in the schools were girls.
To Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy group, the gap at the elite schools could be as elemental as their perception as havens for science, technology, engineering or math, making them a natural magnet for boys, just as girls might gravitate to schools known for humanities.
“I don’t think you’re looking at discrimination here,” said Mr. Finn, who, with Jessica A. Hockett, wrote the recent book, “Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools.” “I think you’re looking at habit, culture, perceptions, tradition and curricular emphasis.”
Still, he said, New York’s experience runs against a national trend, in which enrollment in highly competitive high schools is 55 percent female. “The big gender-related chasm in American education these days is how much worse boys are doing, than girls,” he said.
Even the specialized schools with a focus on the classics and humanities, Brooklyn Latin and the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, now have a majority of male students. It was not always that way: Girls outnumbered boys at both schools until recently. American Studies has used the specialized admissions test since it opened a decade ago.
But in the first few years at Brooklyn Latin, founded in 2006, it had a broader admission policy based on grades and exams. Once it was made one of the specialized test schools, its population swung toward males.
“Sometimes, we see boys who are very bright, and can do well on an admissions test,” said Jason K. Griffiths, the principal. “But then I think the skills that a student needs to succeed in a school may be a little bit different.”
A corollary, perhaps, of the masculine leanings of the eight schools is the makeup of some of the elite high schools that do not use the specialized admissions test for admission.
At Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, which admits students based on grades and auditions or portfolios of artwork, 73 percent of the students are girls. At Bard High School Early College, which has campuses in Manhattan and Queens, as well as at Millennium, Beacon and Townsend Harris High Schools, girls outnumber boys by at least 3 to 2.
Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer in the city’s Education Department, said the eight specialized-test schools represented just a portion of the city’s best schools, so there was a flaw in studying gender disparities solely in those eight schools. “These are not the best schools in the city,” he said of the eight specialized schools. “They are among the best schools in the city.”
He said that at the highest echelons of test-takers, girls scored as well as boys, but that overall, fewer of the strongest female students were taking the exam.
“And the question is why,” he said. Girls, he said, “are choosing some of these other options, over the specialized schools, because they think it is better or they prefer not to take this exam.” Or, he added, “Perhaps there are other reasons that further research could shed light on.”
Students at the schools — boys and girls alike — said that they were not bothered by the imbalance, though it was sometimes noticeable. At Stuyvesant, Caroline Phado, 16, recalled how the five girls in her freshman swimming class were tickled watching 20 boys pile out of the locker room to join them. Kathryn Rafailov, 16, a junior, said boys so dominated her square-dancing class that they had to pair off with one another.
Students and administrators said girls held their own in the classroom, even when they were outnumbered. Several students at the High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering, a 436-student school housed at City College, said that a girl was the top student in three of the four grades.
Outside Townsend Harris, in Queens, where girls make up 70 percent of the student body, several girls said they were attracted by its more holistic admission policy, as well as its focus.
“I feel like, all the other schools, they mainly specialize in math and science, and, I don’t know, that doesn’t sound appealing to me,” said Ritika Modi, 16, a junior. She said she did not even apply to any specialized schools. Also, as a resident of Queens Village, she said, her parents “weren’t O.K.” with her commuting as far as Brooklyn or the Bronx, an issue several other girls noted.
Dr. Michael A. Lerner, the principal at Bard, said he has worked to find ways to balance classes. This year, for the first time, the dry-marker board he keeps in his office reflects a 50-50 split between boys and girls in the current ninth grade.
Of the 3,060 students who applied to his school this year, 44 percent were boys. To help rank the candidates, he said, he simply adjusted the focus of student interviews to more effectively draw boys out in describing their own strengths. This year he offered seats to 136 boys and 134 girls.
“Are we worried about getting unqualified boys?” asked Dr. Lerner. “No not at all.”