High school math teachers may not make the grade when it comes to gender bias

Mar 22, 2012

Do some high school teachers think math is harder for girls than boys? The authors of a new study say yes.

Researchers looked at student grades, and how teachers rated their students' abilities. They found that while on average teachers rate lower than their white male counterparts, these differences disappear once grades are taken into account. (Those findings are consistent with decades of research on the minority gap in .) The new research, however, found bias against white girls that can't be explained by their .

"This speaks to the presence of a subtle yet omnipresent in high : That math, comparatively speaking, is just easier for white males than it is for white females," says Catherine Riegle-Crumb, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study "Exploring Bias in Math Teachers' Perception of Students' Ability by Gender and Race/Ethnicity." The paper will appear in the April issue of Gender & Society.

Riegle-Crumb and her co-author Melissa Humphries say they aren't dismissing the possibility that bias against minority students exists in high school math classrooms, but the patterns they found indicate a consistent bias in teacher ratings for white girls versus white boys. "Even with the same grades and the same test scores, the teachers are still ranking the girls as less good at math than the boys," says Riegle-Crumb.

One reason for this may be that gender bias is so socially ingrained teachers may find it "hard to grasp and, therefore, hard to resist." Riegle-Crumb says the misconception that white girls can't handle math persists "because the idea that men and women are different in this regard is considered natural, and not discriminatory." At the same time, teachers may be more aware of race and ethnicity – and the problems of racial discrimination – than they are when it comes to gender.

"It is very likely that teachers are unaware of holding any kind of gender bias, and they are not consciously thinking about gender when assigning student ratings," says Riegle-Crumb, who is working on a multi-year National Science Foundation grant studying how academic preparation in high school predicts students' entry into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). "Yet the implicit nature of this bias suggests that it may be insidious and difficult to confront."

The research was drawn from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (National Center of Education Statistics), which followed 15,000 U.S. students from their sophomore year of high school, into college and the work force. Earlier research on math bias has been very limited, with only a few elementary schools studied; it left virtually untouched the question of bias at the high school level – a time when students often make decisions about their future fields of study.

Bias against girls likely has ripple effects well beyond . "If we continue to send young women the message that they aren't as good at math it's unlikely we'll be able to increase the number of women working in STEM fields," says Riegle-Crumb.

Explore further: Local education politics 'far from dead'

Provided by Sociologists for Women in Society

1 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Keep boys and girls together, research suggests

Apr 11, 2008

Boys and girls may learn differently, but American parents should think twice before moving their children to sex-segregated schools. A new Tel Aviv University study has found that girls improve boys’ grades markedly at ...

Teacher influence persists in early grades

Jul 27, 2011

Having consistently good teachers in elementary school appears to be as important for student achievement as small class sizes, according to new research by a Michigan State University education scholar.

Recommended for you

Local education politics 'far from dead'

4 hours ago

Teach for America, known for recruiting teachers, is also setting its sights on capturing school board seats across the nation. Surprisingly, however, political candidates from the program aren't just pushing ...

First grade reading suffers in segregated schools

4 hours ago

A groundbreaking study from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) has found that African-American students in first grade experience smaller gains in reading when they attend segregated schools—but the ...

Why aren't consumers buying remanufactured products?

7 hours ago

Firms looking to increase market share of remanufactured consumer products will have to overcome a big barrier to do so, according to a recent study from the Penn State Smeal College of Business. Findings from faculty members ...

Expecting to teach enhances learning, recall

7 hours ago

People learn better and recall more when given the impression that they will soon have to teach newly acquired material to someone else, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

Understanding the economics of human trafficking

Jul 28, 2014

Although Europe is one of the strictest regions in the world when it comes to guaranteeing the respect of human rights, the number of people trafficked to or within the EU still amounts to several hundred ...

User comments : 0