As of 2010, women take only 18.4 percent of computer science degrees.

As America searches for the root cause of technology’s disturbing gender gap, a new report shows that it can eliminate one possible culprit: high school math. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the so-called “national report card”, was released today with fresh statistics on how America’s youth are doing on math and reading.

In fundamental mathematics, boys and and girls are nearly identical, with 52 percent and 48 percent taking the AP calculus test. But girls represent only 19 percent of AP computer science test-takers.


The NAEP finds that on nearly every measure of importance (interest in math, highest level taken, and proficiency), boys and girls are nearly identical (figures calculated from data from the Department of Education here)

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With this data, it’s difficult to make the case that the reason girls are underrepresented in computer science is because they just don’t have the same logical prowess as boys. But there’s nothing fundamentally different between statistics, calculus, and computer science.

The culprit, then, is likely cultural. We don’t have the same expectation that girls will join their male peers as they truck off to computer science. Indeed, Berkeley University, which first saw women outnumber men in its intro computer science course, attributes its rebalancing to a concerted campus effort.

This is good news, because its seems like a solvable problem. If the nation devotes more resources for encouraging girls to take computer science, we could solve one of the underlying issues with gender imbalance in the tech industry.

Other fun facts from the report: There’s not been any significant change in math stats over the last four years. We’re no better but no worse at getting girls interested in math.

However, the discrepancy between races is extraordinary. Nearly half of Asian/Pacific Islander students tested as proficient in math, compared to 33 percent of white students, 26 percent of multiracial students, 12 percent of Hispanic and Native American students, and seven percent of African American students.

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