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Teachers Think Math Is Easier for White Male Students

Update Date: Apr 17, 2012 01:27 AM EDT

Math teachers are biased toward their white male students, according to a new study. 

It was found based on the study of data of 15,000 students with teacher surveys that math teachers have favorable perceptions of the abilities of their white male students than those of their white female counterparts.

"This speaks to the presence of a perhaps subtle yet omnipresent stereotype in high school classrooms: Math, comparatively speaking, is just easier for white males than it is for white females," stated the researchers.

Catherine Riegle-Crumb and Melissa Humphries analyzed data collected by the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) that consisted of a nationally representative group of about 15,000 students. Their data also included teacher surveys in which math teachers were asked to give their personal assessment of individual students, indicating whether they felt that the course was too easy for the student, the appropriate level, or too difficult. The team compared these assessments with other data about the students such as their math GPA and their score on a standardized math test in order to determine if the teachers' perceptions of their students' abilities matched up with the students' actual scores.

The authors found disparities between teachers' favorable perceptions of the abilities of their white male students and these students' scores. On the contrary, white female students were perceived by teachers to be doing more poorly in their math classes than they actually were.

However, there wasn't the same disparities between white students and minority students. In fact, the team found math teachers think black female students were more successful in their math classes than they actually were.

The authors wrote, "Once we take into account that, on average, Black and Hispanic male and female students have lower grades and test scores than white males, teachers do not rate the math ability of minority students less favorably than students belonging to the traditionally advantaged category of white males."

The researchers gave some explanations for their findings. For instance, since few black females were enrolled in high-level math courses, teachers may have viewed the black female students in their advanced courses as overcoming more to be successful in mathematics, thus illustrating more perseverance and academic potential. In addition, they explained that teachers may be more sensitive to their own tendencies towards racial bias than gender bias as gender bias may be so socially ingrained.

The authors wrote, "The occurrence of bias in high school classrooms indicates that cultural expectations likely function to shape interactions and re-create inequality throughout the math pipeline that leads to high-status occupations in related fields of science and technology."

The study was published in the April 2012 issue of Gender & Society (GENDSOC), the official journal of the Sociologists for Women in Society, published by SAGE. 

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