How Elementary School Teachers’ Biases Can Discourage Girls From Math and Science

This article written by Claire Cain Miller on the unconscious biases of elementary level teachers tackles a question almost everyone thinks of and no one asks – why are there no girls in the sciences? The author, Erik Lesser, explains that it because early education affects later development. Since there is already a bias against women in stem fields, the unconscious discouragement most young girls get in elementary school can affect their future career paths. For this reason, change should be made at elementary school level. The author also looks at the shockingly low statistics of girls in math and sciences courses in high schools and colleges, and attempts to explain how teachers tend to overestimate boys in those situations and underestimate girls.

Read an excerpt of the article written by CLAIRE CAIN MILLER:

We know that women are underrepresented in math and science jobs. What we don’t know is why it happens. There are various theories, and many of them focus on childhood. Parents and toy-makers discourage girls from studying math and science. So do their teachers. Girls lack role models in those fields, and grow up believing they wouldn’t do well in them. All these factors surely play some role. A new study points to the influence of teachers’ unconscious biases, but it also highlights how powerful a little encouragement can be. Early educational experiences have a quantifiable effect on the math  and science courses the students choose later, and eventually the jobs they get and the wages they earn. The effect is larger for children from families in which the father is more educated than the mother and for girls from lower-income families, according to the study, published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The pipeline for women to enter math and science occupations narrows at many points between kindergarten and a career choice, but elementary school seems to be a critical juncture. Reversing bias among teachers could increase the number of women who enter fields like computer science and engineering, which are some of the fastest growing and highest paying. “It goes a long way to showing it’s not the students or the home, but the classroom teacher’s behavior that explains part of the differences over time between boys and girls,” said Victor Lavy, an economist at University of Warwick in England and a co-author of the paper. Previous studies have found that college professors and employers discriminate against female scientists. But it is not surprising that it begins even earlier. In computer science in the United States, for instance, just 18.5 percent of the high school students who take the Advanced Placement exam are girls. In college, women earn only 12 percent of computer science degrees. That is one reason that tech companies say they have hired so few women. more