Teacher Bias: Are we discouraging girls from math and science?

Sara gets help on her math homework at the TYO center Have you noticed that women are often underrepresented in math and science jobs? Have you ever wondered why? A new study shows that early childhood experience make a substantial impact on higher education choices youth make. More specifically, "elementary school seems to be a critical juncture" for children and teacher bias. And while it may be unconscious, it plays a huge role in a child's future.

As a part of the study, researchers monitored school students over a period of seven years, from sixth grade until the end of high school. In the process, students took a series of various exams. One exam was graded by people who did not know the children's identities and the other exam was graded by teachers who knew their names. Findings proved that the girls outperformed the boys in the math exam when it was graded anonymously, but when the teachers knew the students' names, the boys outscored the girls. They found that this was unique to the math and science subjects and not the case for other subjects, including English.

By the end of the study, "researchers concluded that in math and science, the teachers overestimated the boys’ abilities and underestimated the girls’, and this had long-term effects on students’ attitudes toward the subjects." Furthermore, the study points out that when the same students reached junior high and high school, their performance on the national exams were analyzed and "the boys who had been encouraged when they were younger, performed significantly better." The researchers also tracked the students' interest in enrolling in advanced science and math courses in high school. While controlling for other factors that may have swayed their decision-making, they concluded that "the girls who had been discouraged by their elementary school teachers were much less likely than the boys to take advanced courses" in these subjects


While these may be alarming findings, it's important for teachers and parents to continue giving their children - girls and boys - encouragement when tackling these subjects. As a community, TYO's teachers, interns, volunteers and staff try to better promote science and math skills in the classroom. We believe that every child has the potential for greatness.