Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Gender Learning Bias in Schools

I must admit that this study raises some very interesting questions about teaching and learning.

He Taught, She Taught - Gender May Matter - Study: Kids Benefit From Same-Sex Teachers by BEN FELLER, Associated Press:

Dee's study is based on a nationally representative survey of nearly 25,000 eighth-graders that was conducted by the Education Department in 1988. Though dated, the survey is the most comprehensive look at students in middle school, when gender gaps emerge, Dee said.

He examined test scores as well as self-reported perceptions by teachers and students.

Dee found that having a female teacher instead of a male teacher raised the achievement of girls and lowered that of boys in science, social studies and English.

Looked at the other way, when a man led the class, boys did better and girls did worse.

The study found switching up teachers actually could narrow achievement gaps between boys and girls, but one gender would gain at the expense of the other.

Dee also contends that gender influences attitudes.

For example, with a female teacher, boys were more likely to be seen as disruptive. Girls were less likely to be considered inattentive or disorderly.

In a class taught by a man, girls were more likely to say the subject was not useful for their future. They were less likely to look forward to the class or to ask questions.

As you can see, female teachers finding boys disruptive may explain the increase in boys being labeled special education students given that 80% of the teaching profession is women. The study also adds fuel to the fires of one-upsmanship for grades and so on in highly competitive communities.

But what's puzzling about this article are the following assertions by Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association.

"Students benefit by having exposure to teachers who look like them, who can identify with their culture ... but this is just one variable among many," Weaver said.

Dee said his research raises valid questions. Should teachers get more training about the learning styles of boys and girls? Should they be taught to combat biases in what they expect of boys and girls?

In the nature-nurture debate, he said, teacher gender belongs.
I am not aware of any study that asserts teachers who look like their students improve educational outcomes. The article offers no basis for this claim.

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