Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Interesting New Study on Math

From the Chicago Tribune, a story on University of Chicago research that shows that elementary school girls do poorly in math if their teacher is female (and has math issues). From the story:

"The findings are the product of a year-long study of 17 first- and second-grade teachers and 65 girls and 52 boys who were their students. The researchers found that boys' math performance was not related to their teacher's math anxiety while girls' math achievement was affected."

"At the beginning of the year, the students' achievement was unrelated to their teachers' level of math anxiety. By the end of the year, however, the more anxious their female teachers were about math, the more likely girls--but not boys--were to endorse the view that boys are better at math. Girls who bought into the stereotype scored six points lower in math achievement than other students."

Why is this?

"We are not sure whether it's something overt, whether it's non-verbal behavior or perhaps (teachers are) not spending much time on the subject," said Susan Levine, a psychology and human development professor and co-author of the study "Female Teachers' Math Anxiety Affects Girls' Math Achievement," published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this month."

"It's not just a teacher's knowledge of the subject, but there's something about their feeling about the discipline," Levine said."

4 comments:

Maureen said...

I don't know how meaningful this is: 117 kids, 17 teachers implies fewer than 7 kids per teacher? What does that mean? Were any of the teachers men? I can't tell if the study was bad or just the article. Skimming the actual article shows us that 117 of the teachers students "participated. I'm guessing that that was a biased subset--children of parents who are willing/able to sign them up for a study, about math. Maybe interesting in itself, maybe not. Maybe I will actually read the article (maybe I won't!).

Here is a different study with a similar-but positively worded result:
A Formula for Success.
Skip down to the third paragraph:

A recent National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper on gender and academic achievement at the U.S. Air Force Academy....finds that replacing a male instructor with a female one has such a strong effect on female achievement as to erase the gender gap entirely.

This study sounds like it was well done:
The trio of economists examined the undergraduate careers of 9,481 cadets taught by nearly 250 different science and math instructors at the USAFA during the years 2000-08.

(I can't link to this study because I don't belong to NBER.)

dan dempsey said...

I wonder how much of this can be linked to the instructional materials used?

Since it is Chicago, it was likely the students used Everyday Math.

That could well be the source of the girls' problem. Anxious female teacher + poor math materials = disaster.

Would this be the case with better instructional materials?

SPSMom said...

Is a one year study really enough to draw any conclusions?

wseadawg said...

Is a one year study really enough to draw any conclusions?

Yes. Absolutely. One week of backsliding in math is enough to be concerned about. One year is devastating.