The Teaching Force Is Mostly Female. Is That Bad for Boys?

By Sarah Schwartz — July 25, 2018 3 min read
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The overrepresentation of women in the teaching workforce is likely not negatively affecting boys’ achievement, argues a new brief from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy.

The brief is part of a series examining teacher diversity in the United States, with a specific focus on underrepresentation of teachers of color.

Research has long demonstrated that the lack of racial diversity in the teaching force hurts students of color. The brief’s authors, Michael Hansen and Diana Quintero, pose the question: If a mostly white teaching corps disadvantages students of color, does a mostly female teaching corps have similar effects on male students?

Most teachers in the U.S. are women. It’s possible, the brief’s authors write, that female teachers are more likely to use teaching strategies and enforce classroom behavioral norms that may be appropriate for girls, but not for boys, who hit certain developmental milestones at different times. Some have argued that these norms, like expectations that students will sit still and work independently, can disadvantage boys.

For the most part, though, existing data on student achievement don’t support the claim that a majority-female teaching force is having a negative effect on boys’ outcomes, the authors write.

Though more women are graduating from college than men, that greater educational attainment doesn’t necessarily translate to higher—or even equal—earning power later in life: “The gender pay and wealth gaps that arise after graduating college still overwhelmingly favor men,” the authors write.

The brief also uses scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card, as another key metric. Boys do slightly better than girls in math in both 4th and 8th grades, while girls score higher in reading. But performance gaps between boys and girls in reading have shrunk since the 1990s, even as the percentage of women teachers in the country has increased.

Black Boys Face “Clear Gender-Based Disadvantage”

Other data also suggest that teacher gender may not be the deciding factor when it comes to boys’ achievement.

A recent study from Stanford University and the Learning Policy Institute comparing gender gaps across 10,000 districts found large gaps separating boys and girls in reading. But these gaps broke down differently by district: In wealthier school systems, gaps favoring boys were more common, while in poorer districts, more gaps favored girls.

The Stanford study also found that in districts with a higher proportion of black students, girls were more likely to do better in reading and math than boys. The Brookings brief also notes that gender achievement gaps break down differently by race: Black boys from low-income households face “a clear gender-based disadvantage,” the authors write.

“Targeting male teachers of color is the only place where there could be strong enough rationale to warrant recruiting more males into the profession,” the brief states.

Nationally, black men make up only about 2 percent of all public school teachers. In attempts to attract and retain more black men to the profession, some school systems and teacher-preparation institutions have set up programs to support black male candidates.

Research has shown that having teachers who look like them is beneficial for students of color: Black students are more likely to graduate if they have one black teacher.

Black teachers also can serve as “role models and cultural bridges for students of color, even contributing to a sense of belonging in the academic sphere,” the brief’s authors write.

Image: Getty

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.