Message from NCSM President, Paul Gray

Women’s History Month


I’ve been thinking a lot about my maternal grandmother, Mary Frances Johnson, lately. She was born in rural South Texas in 1936. Her childhood, to say the least, was a struggle. When I was a small child, she was +/-40 years old (she was only 36 when I was born) and I spent a lot of time with her and my grandfather. She was big on  

numbers and patterns and often talked about how good she was in algebra, right up until shortly before she passed last fall. She never finished high school; she got married and started a family when she was a teenager. Throughout her adult life, she smiled when she told stories about her mathematics learning experiences. These were good memories, not the ones I’m used to hearing when I introduce myself to someone and they find out that I’m a mathematics teacher. She beamed with pride when I gave her a copy of a mathematics textbook I co-authored. We shared a love of mathematics and both saw ourselves as good at mathematics. In 1950, it wasn’t an option for a poor girl from rural Texas to pursue a career in STEM. But if it were, I sometimes wonder how her life might have been different.


Knowing about the past, it’s a legitimate question to ask what it’s like today for women who are interested in mathematics. I’m not a woman so I can’t answer that question from experience, but I can find some data to illuminate the current landscape of mathematics and mathematics education.  


Lyons, Mesghina, and Richland (2022) cite several studies showing that on what they call lower-stakes measures of mathematics achievement (e.g., grades and GPA), girls outperform boys while on higher-stakes standardized assessments, boys tend to outperform girls. They note that while in fact, girls do tend to earn higher grades than boys, teachers often rate girls’ mathematical proficiency lower than that of boys even when their documented achievement is the same. That alone speaks volumes about internalized biases that mathematics teachers of any gender have.


The American Association of University Women (AAUW) report the following data about the gender composition of different STEM fields in the workforce (link to data: 2013, 2020).

What can we do to improve these numbers? First of all, asset-based thinking matters. As educators, do we position girls as capable mathematics learners? As leaders, do we position women teachers as capable mathematics educators? To what extent do we center the work of women leaders and scholars rather than pushing them to the margins?


Second, representation matters. When we are teaching K-12 students, what opportunities do we provide for girls to see themselves in the mathematics? When we are leading our fellow educators, what opportunities do we provide for women to see themselves as leaders and scholars? President Obama asked some of the women who worked in his administration to tell the stories of their personal heroes across STEM Fields. The National Archives maintains a robust website with those stories. How might we use those when we construct professional learning for teachers and administrators? How might our teachers use these stories in their classrooms?


Let us be intentional in our recognition of the invaluable work that women contribute to our field. Show their photographs and say their names when citing their work with colleagues. Most of our teachers and half of our students are women who need to see themselves represented in the mathematics, in the scholarship, and in education leadership. What is a mirror for them becomes a window for others to see both rock star women and everyday heroines changing the world of mathematics and mathematics education leadership.


Y’all be careful. We’ll touch base again in April!



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