Gender Bias Essay, Research Paper
The topic of my research has been differences in math learning and aptitude
between boys and girls. This topic was suggested to me by my mentor, Mike
Millo, as it is of particular interest to him. Mr. Millo is an Algebra teacher at Ball
High. Much has been made of gender differences in math by the popular media
and Mr. Millo felt that it would be interesting to examine this topic and explore the
findings of educational researchers. I also found this topic personally intriguing
as I am currently reading the book, Failing At Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat
Girls, by Myra and David Sadker (1994), which explores gender bias in all area of
In researching this topic I found many related research articles and extensive
articles where relevant variables had been measured. I tried to focus on highly
relevant articles, which examined specifically the different abilities of males and
females in math or sought explanations for those differences.
With one exception, the studies I reviewed supported that there are differences in
math related achievement between males and females. Two of thr articles I
reviewed focus on the differences in teacher interaction with male and female
students in math class rooms.
The Structure of Abilities in Math-Precocious Young Children: Gender
Berninger, and Julie Busse (1996), the following research questions were
1. Can young children who are advanced in mathematical reasoning be located
efficiently by soliciting parent nominations?
2. Do measures of these children’s cognitive abilities in other domains also show
advancement and, if so, to what degree?
3. How do measures in verbal and visual-spatial domains relate to mathematical
skills for subgroups divided by grade and gender?
4. What, if any, cognitive gender differences emerge within this group of young
My interest was focused on the last question, which relates to gender differences.
The study showed gender differences apparent in every analysis. However, the
study does not propose reasons for these differences. One of the possible
implications of this study, that gender related differences in math ability are
apparent from such a young age conflicts with information presented some of the
other papers I reviewed.
In three studies, there is a great emphasis on gender related abilities in math which
are related to adolescence. In Gender Roles in Marriage: What do They Mean
for Girls’ and Boys’ School Achievement, by Kimberly A. Updegraff, Susan M.
McHale and Ann C. Crouter (1996), the researchers evaluate differences in family
dynamics to determine what implications these might have for gender related math
ability. This article was very interesting, although the research question was biting
off more than it could chew. What this article finds is that girls from families who
have a more egalitarian family structure are less likely to suffer a decline in math
ability at adolescence. This article also suggests that it is not the girls “hard
wiring” which causes math ability differences. I interpret this article as implying
that the root of the problem could be in gender role stereo types.
In Single Sex Math Classes: What and For Whom? One School’s Experiences,
Richard Durost (1996) reports that when administrators talked to many of the girls
in his school, the girls stated that they felt mentally intimidated by the boys.
Teachers noted that boys asked questions, talked and competed, while girls tended
to reflect, listen, and cooperate. In an attempt to deal with gender related
performance issues, Mr. Durost’s school implemented a all female section Algebra
I. The females who participated in the pilot program did show an increase in their
math scores. This paper suggests that the differences in math ability are not “hard
wired”. That it may not be a difference in a girl’s ability to “do” math or learn
math, but perhaps a difficulty in a girls ability to interact in a co-educational math
related settings which determines her math success. In other words, there might
not be a math problem in and of itself but perhaps math differences were one
manifestation of differences in inter-gender communication and interaction styles.
In Gender Based Education: Why it Works at the Middle School Level, William
C, Perry (1996), the principal of a middle school cites studies from the American
Association of University Women (1991, 1992), supporting the theory that gender
related math ability differences don’t become manifest until middle school. Mr.
Perry was very concerned about reports he had read or heard presented showing
that there is bias against girls in the classrooms. In response to the researchers
concerns, a study was done in which participating students were assigned to same
sex classes. The study reports increased grade point averages for both boys and
girls participating in the study. I would have liked to see the standardized test
scores for both groups of students. While grades are one indicator of
performance, it seems that if there is bias in teaching styles, there could be bias in
grading. Standardized scores could give a better vantage point for analyzing
actual differences in math comprehension. This study ties in with the following
two studies which point to an institutionalized problem
In G. Leder’s research, Teacher Student Interactions in the Mathematics
Classroom: A Different Perspective, the researcher video tapes classes to
determine types and frequency of interactions with students. this was correlated
with test scores, perception reports from teachers as well as self reports of math
perceived math ability of the students. In this study, males and females were
relatively equal in ability n the lower grade levels, but males tended to do better in
the 10th grade level. This becomes very intriguing when it is noted that self report
and teacher reports of perceived ability consistently rated the males higher. The
qualitative aspects of this study examined content and frequency of teacher
comments. There was no significant difference between males and females.
In J. Becker’s research, Differential Treatment of Females and Males in
Mathematics Classes, the researcher observed 10 classrooms for a total of 10
days. She collected both qualitative and quantitative data. The author concludes
that there is very clearly differences in the interactions between teachers and
students depending on the students gender. These differences consistently favor
the males. This study also reveals that both the classrooms and teachers
themselves reinforce gender stereotypes portraying math as a male realm. this
researcher asserts that the failure of females to excel in math is attributable to self
fulfilling prophecy: girls are not expected by themselves or their teachers to do
well, therefore, ultimately, they do not.
My last two articles examine gender differences at the university level. The first
of these two does not examine math ability, but rather attention to numerical
information in gender related contexts. The Numbers Game: Gender and
Attention to Numerical Information, by Jackson, Fleury, Girvin and Gerard
(1995), compared men’s and women’s abilities to recall numerical information
when it was presented in a gender related context. Not surprisingly, men were
better at recalling data in male settings than women were. However, of the three
context categories (male, female, neutral) both men and women did best in the
neutral categories and worst in the female categories. The author suggests that
this could reflect the tendency of the culture to view female related activities as
less important than male or gender-neutral activities.
The final article I reviewed was Gender and Mathematics Achievement Parity:
Evidence from Post-Secondary Education, by Amin M. Kianian (1995). This
study seemed flawed in several ways. The study examines the grades of all of the
students from one teacher’s university level math classes over a period of three
years and then compares them for gender differences. His findings are that there
are no significant differences between men’s and women’s math grades at the
university level. I believe this study could be better than it is, because it does not
show whether or not the men and women actually had a demonstratedly equal
math ability. Grades could be very subjective. Accepted at face value, however,
it could be suggested that this might imply that the gender related issues so
prominent in the eyes of some researchers when examining the adolescent
population, have disappeared by the time students go to college. I realize that this
would be stretching the relevance of the study to go this far, but there are
implications along these lines.
Overall, after reviewing the articles which were summarized, I find myself drawn
to the information showing that the gender differences in math ability seem to be
predominantly manifest during adolescence. As many of the studies suggest, this
is likely to be associated with interpersonal and self esteem issues. Many issues
come to mind for further research.
1.) Self esteem in adolescent girls and the correlation with math ability.
2.) Does participation in sports affect gender related math learning?
3.) What are the implications of single sex classrooms for later learning? Are
single sex class rooms creating a false environment, thus setting females up
for “gender shock” later in life or education?
4.) What are the implications of female math teachers in the classrooms for
gender related differences in math abilities.
5.) A cohort study of x population tracking them over and extended period of
time to see at what points math ability, self esteem, and other related
Some of these topics would be very suitable for immediate research. Others,
would be best left to highly funded groups or government agencies.
For my further research, I would like to explore the relationship between
assertiveness in adolescent girls and its relationship to their math success. More
specifically, I would like to devise a study that examines whether or not
assertiveness training in adolescent girls would impact their math success.
American Association of University Women. (1991). Shortchanging Girls,
Shortchanging America. American Association of University Women:
American Association of University Women. (1992). How Schools
Shortchange Girls. American Association of University Women: Washington, DC
Becker, J. (1981). differential treatment of females and males in
mathematics classes. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education. 12, 40-53.
Durost, R. (1996). Single sex math classes: What and for whom? One
school’s experiences. Bulletin, 80, 27-31.
Jackson, L., Fleury, R., Girvin, J., & Gerard. D. (1995). The numbers game:
Gender and attention to numerical information. Sex Roles: A Journal of
Research. 33, 559-569.
Kianian, A. (1995). Gender and mathematics achievement parity: Evidence
from post-secondary education. Education, 116, 586-592.
Leder, G. (1990). Teacher/student interactions in the mathematics classroom:
A different perspective. From Fenema, E. & Leder, G. (Eds.). Mathematics and
Gender: Influences on Teachers and Students. New York, Teachers College.
Orbinson, N., Abbott, R., Berninger, V., & Busse, J. (1996). The structure of
abilities in math precocious young children: Gender similarities and differences.
Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 341-352.
Perry, W. (1996). Gender based education: Why it works at the middle
school level. Bulletin, 80, 32-35.
Sadker, M & Sadker, D. (1994). Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat
Girls. New York: Touchstone.
Updergraff, K., McHale, S., & Crouter, A. (1996). Gender roles in marriage:
What do they mean for boys’ and girls’ school achievement?. Journal of Youth
and Adolescence, 25, 73-89.