Gender difference and funding issue in America

Gender Differences Today, 32 out of 132 superintendents in Alabama are female, and 18 legislators are female out of a total of 140 legislators in the state. Women now have an established presence in an arena traditionally dominated by men. Many believe that women will focus their time and efforts on policy development issues that are more important to women as a group, which will change the way these issues are conceptualized, debated and legislated to produce substantive policy outcomes that serve women better than similar outcomes designed by men (Thomas, 1994). Numerous studies of women legislators find that they focus on issues that follow from their status as women and their socialization as part of this distinct group. 

Sanbonmatsu (2002) found that female legislators have defined distinct positions nationally as they relate to reproductive rights. Tolbert and Steuernagel (2001) noted that female legislators have shaped national policy on health care issues as they relate to all women and children. Both studies validate that the overarching allegiance to and support of the effects of policy development occur with all women, in general, rather than a party allegiance to Democrats or Republicans. Other issues that women have successfully influenced involve their traditional social roles as mothers and caregivers, such as, policies about child protection, or those related  to these traditional social roles, such as education and health care (Thomas, 1994). Women try to change policies in these areas primarily through agenda-setting activities in the legislature, where they have the most leeway to be policy leaders in their areas of interest (Tamerius, 1995). Women introduce, sponsor, and cosponsor more legislation in these areas. Women legislators may have similar policy priorities and interests to each other and different policy priorities from men, but the specific alternatives to solving these policy problems may not be the same. Instead, the policy alternatives women favor are often “filtered through their own differences as a female” (Carroll, 2002). Female legislators see themselves as representatives of women (Mansbridge, 1999). Mansbridge (1999) identifies this type of representation as “surrogate representation” in that women are able to act on behalf of women as a constituency beyond district or political boundaries, particularly because of the marginalized place of their social group in the political past. The biggest differences in men and women’s political opinions tends to focus on policy priorities, 

in that women are more interested in policies dealing with families, children, and women’s rights as well as policies related to other areas, such as education, health care, and welfare. They tend to be more supportive of government activism and regulation, more compassionate toward low-income and minority groups, less supportive of the use of force and in some cases, more socially conservative than men (Thomas, 1994).

Group Affiliation and Choice Shift Understanding the attitudes and opinions of a specific gender or an individual legislator is only part of the puzzle. One must realize the influence of group dynamics and how they are intertwined in fostering opinion change. Friedkin (1999) stated that the study of choice shift and group polarization is a prominent line of work for social psychologists. It examines the effect of group memberships on individual attitudes

. A choice shift is said to occur when, after a group’s interaction on an issue, the mean final opinion of group members differs from the members’ initial opinion. Group polarization is said to occur when the choice shift is in the same direction as the mean initial opinion (e.g., if on some issue, the initial attitude of the average member is positive, then the subsequent attitude of the average member will be more positive). Choice shifts can arise simply from inequalities in the relative influence of persons in a group interaction. A choice shift is the product of a group’s social structure in which certain members have more influence than others during the opinion formation process (Berger, Fisek, Hamit, Robert, & Zelditch, 1977). An examination of these dynamics and the other factors reviewed from the literature are key to understanding how an individual is influenced by his or her affiliation with multiple  groups. These groups include, but are not limited to, party affiliation, caucus membership, regional and demographic affiliation, 

and constituent obligations. Understanding group dynamics provides a better theoretical understanding of those groups in which social structures affect individual and group outcomes. The knowledge gained from this review informed the construction of the data collection instrument used in this study.

Data and Method This study utilized an ex post facto research design to analyze perceptual differences between two groups (superintendents and legislators). The dependent variables included opinions relative to school funding in four categories: equity and adequacy, personal values, political ideology, and social influence. These constructs were evaluated within several demographic independent variables: gender, ethnicity, education level, population of representative districts, and average household income of the districts. 

The participants consisted of two groups: 140 elected members of the State of Alabama legislature (comprising 105 members of the House of Representatives and 35 members of the Alabama State Senate) and 132 local school superintendents (39 of whom served as elected superintendents and 93 having been appointed by their respective boards). All were included to maximize the sample size. Because of the uniqueness of this study, the researcher developed the data collection instrument—a self-administered, Likert-type scale questionnaire, School Funding Factors Survey (available upon request). Specific items targeted perceptual beliefs relative to the four constructs: equity and adequacy, personal values, political ideology, and social influence. Five demographic variables were also assessed on each participant: gender, ethnicity, education level, population of representative districts, and average household income of the districts represented by the two groups.

 Cronbach’s alpha internal consistency reliability coefficients were computed on the survey and all subscales. Content validity of the instrument was established through a two-stage process. First, survey items were extracted from the existing literature on the subject and a thorough review was conducted by experts in the field of higher education. Second, the instrument was reviewed for content validity by a panel of experts consisting of three legislators, and three superintendents. After receiving input from these experts, final edits to the instrument were completed and it was approved for use by the university Institutional Review Board. The survey instrument was sent to each legislator and superintendent in the State of Alabama. 

The survey included a cover letter that provided the participant with an overview of the study; in addition to assuring anonymity, it contained information about who to contact with questions regarding their rights as participants. Each potential respondent was contacted by fax to inform them that they would be receiving a survey regarding state finance of education. A link to the online survey was subsequently emailed to each superintendent; a hard copy of the questionnaire was mailed to each legislator (along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope).

 The superintendent participants had the option to either link directly to the survey, submit their responses online or download a hard copy of the survey and fax or mail their responses. The legislative participants had the option to complete the hard copy and either mail or fax their responses to the researcher. To maximize response rates, differences in data collection procedures were implemented after consultation with legislative and state education staff. An array of descriptive statistics was computed on all variables. The analyses comparing the legislator and superintendent perspectives on school funding issues along the four constructs was conducted using two-tailed independent groups Student’s t tests. Comparison of the superintendent and legislator groups on demographics variables was conducted with a Pearson’s chi-square test of independence. All statistical analyses were conducted at the 0.05 level of statistical significance using the SPSS statistical software package 

Results Cronbach’s alpha internal consistency reliability coefficients for the School Funding Factors Survey and its subscales are provided in Table 1. These reliability coefficients were deemed acceptable for a user-designed instrument. Increasing the number of items per subscale, however, may have improved the reliability. Before analysis, the data were examined for overall accuracy. This included checks for missing data elements, duplication of records, sufficient frequency counts in each level of variable to support the chi-square test of independence (categories were collapsed where necessary), and deletion of unusable records. Generally, records were eliminated from the data for missing demographic data elements or duplication of the entire record. Furthermore, records were eliminated from analysis if small counts could cause spurious results in later analyses or potentially threaten the anonymity of the respondent; for example, the single informant who was self-reported as “Native American/Alaskan Indian.”

 Four subscale scores and a total score were generated from the survey items. First, the subscale score for equity and adequacy was formed by summing the first 15 items of the survey; this score could range from a low of 15 to a high of 75. Second, the subscale score for personal values was formed by summing items 16 through 20; this score could range from a low of 5 to a high of 25. Third, the subscale score for political ideology was formed by summing items 21 through 28; this score could range from a low of 8 to a high of 40. Fourth, the subscale score for social influence was formed by summing items 29 through 33; this score could range from a low of 5 to a high of 25. Finally, an overall scale score for funding factors was formed by summing all School Funding Factors Survey items; this score could range from a low of 33 to a high of 165.

The basic demographic analysis is displayed in Table 2. Among respondents approximately 40% were legislators, and 60% were school superintendents. Responses to highest education level were recoded into five hierarchical levels. A majority of respondents, 77.5%, fell into one of three categories with very nearly equal percentages. The largest percentage of respondents were at the level of “post-master’s (no doctorate)” at 26.5%, followed closely by those responding at the level of “doctorate” with 27.2%, and those claiming “master’s degree” following closely at 23.8% of the sample. Recoding the variable district population resulted in two categories with three times   more respondents identifying their district population as “less than 50,000.” The variable average income showed 45.0% of the respondents at the middle level of “US$30,000-US$60,000.” The difference in subscale and total scale means between legislators and superintendents are given in Table 3. In particular, the difference in means on the construct Equity and Adequacy was found to be statistically significant (p < .05). The data show a difference between legislators and superintendents on the factor of equity and adequacy on the order of 0.4 standard deviation, a moderate effect (Cohen, 1988), with legislators scoring, on average, 2.14 points higher than superintendents on this scale. This score indicates greater disagreement by the legislators than disagreement by the superintendents. All categorical variables were investigated for differences on the demographic variables using the chi-square test of independence. The results of these tests are found in Table 

4. Statistically significant differences (p < .05) between legislators and superintendents were found on education level, district population and average income with superintendents exhibiting higher educational attainment, representing smaller population bases, and bringing home smaller paychecks than legislators (see Table 2). Further analysis involved comparing legislator and superintendent mean responses to each survey item using a student’s independent samples t test. Because 33 simultaneous t tests were performed on the data, the Bonferroni correction was applied. To control for experiment-wise Type I error, the significance level required to ensure a true 0.05 level of significance was 0.05/33 = 0.0015. On 12 of the items, mean differences were found to be statistically significant (p < .05). Eight of these items (6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15) were used in generating the construct of equity and adequacy. Those 8 items represented 53.3% of the subscale’s score. Two additional items (19 and 20) were subsumed into the construct of personal values and contributed 40% of the subscale score. One item (23) was included in the construct of political ideology and contributed 12.5% of the subscale’s score. One final item (29) was a component in the construct of social influences and represented 20% of the subscales score. The means, standard deviations, differences between group means, by item, are reported in Table 5. Superintendents outscored legislators on items: 10, 12, 20, 23, and 29. Note that a larger scaled value indicates less agreement with the survey item statement. The complete text of the survey is available from the authors upon request

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