Over at the New York Times' Upshot, there's a pretty interesting study that outlines just how much elementary school teachers' biases can influence girls' attitudes towards math and science. Some of findings aren't particularly surprising: girls from low-income homes are disproportionately affected and early discouragement has a long term impact on gender equity in STEM fields.
But the depths of "unconscious bias" the Israeli researchers found was pretty disheartening:
Beginning in 2002, the researchers studied three groups of Israeli students from sixth grade through the end of high school. The students were given two exams, one graded by outsiders who did not know their identities and another by teachers who knew their names.
In math, the girls outscored the boys in the exam graded anonymously, but the boys outscored the girls when graded by teachers who knew their names. The effect was not the same for tests on other subjects, like English and Hebrew. The researchers concluded that in math and science, the teachers overestimated the boys' abilities and underestimated the girls', and that this had long-term effects on students' attitudes toward the subjects.
For example, when the same students reached junior high and high school, the economists analyzed their performance on national exams. The boys who had been encouraged when they were younger performed significantly better.
"It goes a long way to showing it's not the students or the home," the study's co-author said, "but the classroom teacher's behavior that explains part of the differences over time between boys and girls."
Shorter study summary: Everyone still thinks girls are bad at math.
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