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Gender Bias and Science

By Sean Cavanagh — February 17, 2009 1 min read

At a time when many educators are looking for ways to encourage more students, and more girls in particular, to take an interest in science, a new study suggests gender bias in male and female views of their high school teachers’ abilities could be setting back those efforts.

The study finds that male students rate their female science teachers significantly lower than their male teachers in biology, chemistry, and physics. Females students also rate women teachers negatively, though only in physics.

Those attitudes’ show up despite male and female teachers showing roughly the same level of effectiveness in preparing students for college-level science courses, as demonstrated by their grades in undergraduate science classes.

Students’ different attitudes toward male and female teachers also came through even when the authors accounted for different teaching styles, different levels of popularity among students, and other variations in classroom experiences, the study found. The overall picture indicates that students’ attitudes toward their science teachers are specifically linked to gender, say the authors, from Clemson University, the University of Virginia, and the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Their study was published in the journal Science Education.

The study was based on a large-scale survey of undergraduates called “Factors Influencing College Science Success.” Part of the survey asks students to rate their high school teachers on various points, from their subject-matter knowledge to their ability to keep the class on task.

You can find a link to the study here.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.