Teachers think white females lag behind in math, study finds

April 5, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- High school math teachers tend to rate white female students’ math abilities lower than those of their white male peers, even when their grades and test scores are comparable, according to a University of Texas at Austin study.

Dr. Catherine Riegle-Crumb and sociology doctoral student Melissa Humphries conducted the study using nationally representative data from the Education Longitudinal Study (ELS) of 2002. The ELS followed a cohort of about 15,000 students from their sophomore year in high school through their post-secondary education and into the work force.

“If the bias against females is present in elementary school, which past research shows it is, and continues through high school and then college, then it’s much less likely that you will find women pursuing math-related high-status occupations in science and technology,” said Riegle-Crumb, an assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction and a faculty research associate at the Population Research Center in the College of Liberal Arts. “If you perceive the message ‘You’re just not quite as good at math as the boys are’ often enough, you may start to believe it.” 

Teachers’ perceptions of students’ math abilities was one portion of the data gathered by the ELS. The teachers were asked to rate students on whether the math class in which the students were enrolled fit their abilities, was too easy for them or was too difficult for them.

“The bias teachers revealed against white female students may very well be something they are not consciously aware of, and it’s usually subtle,” said Riegle-Crumb, “but it’s definitely present, per our research findings.”

Previous research documented that racial bias persists and is pervasive. But this study is the first to reveal, at the level, that white female students are deemed less capable in math when measured against white males whose academic performance is comparable. Riegle-Crumb said it’s particularly disturbing that these teacher perceptions manifest at a time when most students are making decisions about post-secondary education and careers.

According to Riegle-Crumb, the majority of teachers rated both male and female minorities’ lower when their test scores and grades were indeed low, which does not constitute “bias” because there is reasonable data to support that evaluation. This does not suggest that minorities are free from substantial negative stereotyping, which can affect their academic and career aspirations and achievement.

“It’s important to keep in mind that even though the math bias against females in any one classroom may be small, taken over a lifetime and with thousands of accumulated experiences, it can influence one’s identity as well as the perceptions of others,” said Riegle-Crumb.

The study findings will be published in the April 2012 issue of the journal Gender & Society.

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

Related Stories

Teacher influence persists in early grades

July 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.

Good handwriting and good grades: Researcher finds new link

January 18, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Who cares about handwriting, anyway? It’s the 21st century, after all. We have iPads and iPhones, computers that spell check and fonts that go from French script to Freestyle and back to Times New Roman.

Early math skills predict later academic success

April 28, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Continuing research by UC Irvine Distinguished Professor of education Greg Duncan has shed additional light on what constitutes school readiness and which K-5 skills and behaviors predict later academic success.

Recommended for you

Scientists see order in complex patterns of river deltas

October 19, 2017

River deltas, with their intricate networks of waterways, coastal barrier islands, wetlands and estuaries, often appear to have been formed by random processes, but scientists at the University of California, Irvine and other ...

Fatty bird gland preserved over 48 million years

October 18, 2017

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers from the U.S., Ireland, Germany and the U.K. has found evidence of preservation of a fatty oil gland from a 48-million-year-old fossilized bird. In their paper published in Proceedings of ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2012
I have seen this from a student's point of view. I relegate it to a fundamental deficiency in spatial conceptualization in many females. This leads to lack of abilities to grasp advanced math such as calculus. Not all females are so lacking, but the curve, I would say, normalizes almost a standard deviation behind the abilities of males in this area. In my calculus series while in engineering school, I saw this principle in what I would call tragic action as hopes for an engineering future held by these ladies were almost uniformly dashed. In truth it should be said that this kind of ability is really held by few; and those few are predominantly male or manish females. Less than five percent of attempters of the calculus series survive to see the differential equations course, and this includes both female AND male.
not rated yet Apr 08, 2012
Oh, Sirus. Citation needed. Your personal bias/experience is not that relevant. And "mannish females"? Really? Really?!
not rated yet Apr 08, 2012
IMO math ability of women and men doesn't differ significantly. In some extent even women perform better the calculus, when exact, patient and repetitive thinking routine is required. I could accept some minor difference in geometry, because of somewhat poorer sense of women for spatial orientation. But in what the women differ significantly from men is the motivation. For most women the top of their private carrier is the family and the effort invested into learning of math doesn't fit well with such motivation. The women are more social and the contemplative math is better occupation for introverts. In addition the women don't experience such a satisfaction from finding of optimal solution of problem, like the men. They don't enjoy the computer programming or construction of electronic stuffs just for pleasure. This all are the factors, which are leading to the premature lost of interest about math between women.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.