A new report from the American Institute of Physics shows that girls are severely underrepresented in Advanced Placement Physics courses.
Only 32% of the students in Physics C – the Advanced Placement course that uses calculus – are girls. The corresponding percentage in Physics B – the algebra-based version – is 41%.
Including all high school physics courses, including non-AP quantitative courses and conceptual courses, girls make up 47% of students.
The authors of the report, Susan White and Casey Langer Tesfaye, argue that the underrepresentation of girls in AP Physics is not a math issue. Forty-eight percent of the students enrolled in AP Calculus AB are girls, while girls account for 41% of the AP Calculus BC students.
In their conclusion, White and Tesfaye say,
The reasons for lower female participation in advanced high school physics remain unclear. In many US high schools, physics is often taken in the final years of study. As we have documented, proportionally fewer female students choose AP Physics than choose less advanced physics classes. To examine why, we would need to look at factors which impacted these students before their final years of high school. Did something in the earlier science curriculum discourage girls from more advanced physics? Or was it the general belief, widely embraced in our culture, that girls just don’t “do” hard sciences?