Thursday, June 18, 2009

Only A Woman Can Teach A Woman?

A recent National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper on gender and academic achievement at the U.S. Air Force Academy, however, finds that the importance of female mentors may be even more powerful than previously thought. The study, by University of California-Davis economists Scott Carrell and Marianne Page and their colleague James West at the 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...

The authors found that women on average obtain scores that are 0.15 grade points lower (half the difference between an A and an A-) than their male classmates, even after accounting for students' SAT scores. The gap in performance was widest for women taught by men. When a female instructor was put at the front of the classroom, nearly two-thirds of the grade point gender gap evaporated. (It was also the case that men performed better when taught by other men, but the difference was far less substantial.) The authors persuasively demonstrate that the overall male-female performance difference is due in large part to the fact that men dominate the Air Force Academy science faculty (as is the case in most schools), with only 23 percent of courses taught by women.

It would be interesting to learn how valid the study is. This part is interesting as well:

Yet the authors found that, while female students perform better on average in classes taught by female professors, there are some male professors under whom there's no achievement gap between male and female students (and also some female professors for whom the gender gap is as big as that of some of their male colleagues). So some men are very good at mentoring women, just not nearly enough of them.

Interesting article, but seemingly inconclusive as to the "solution". I got a little concerned, though, upon reading about "making men into more women-friendly bosses and teachers". Why is this always a one-way street? Let's go from math and science a moment to the entire university campus and student body, where women significantly outnumber men in admissions and degrees earned. Why do we not hear of making universities more men-friendly? Again, why the one-way street?


Mrs. C said...

I agree, Darren. I've also noticed a very "female" culture in the elementary school. Girls used to snicker and whisper about my son. He'd go up to the ringleader and go, "I'm not afraid of you, fat girl!"

Guess who got into trouble? Guess which sex the teacher was?

Wouldn't surprise me that there are classes in which men or women feel uncomfortable, and this would show up on the tests. :]

Ellen K said...

By the same token that means that only blind teachers should teach blind students, only deaf teachers should teach deaf students (which incidentally IS the culture right now in the deaf community) and only males should teach males. This seems to argue in favor of same sex schools, which gets us back to the idea of separate but equal which I thought had been ruled out in Plessy v. Ferguson. I do think that the culture in many schools are too female. For example, when my son was in fourth grade, he read Mark Twain, Kipling and other adventure type novels. So I know the kid could read. But his teacher, very much a "girly" girl, insisted on building the reading units around fairy tales and fiction with no variety. When asked about this, she ignored the fact that boys were more in danger of losing their reading skills and insisted that even though the stories were vapid, that they should read fairy tales over things like "To Build A Fire." This kind of thing goes on all the time in schools and as a parent of both boys and girls, it offends me that my sons' needs were dismissed. This is a similar issue I have with group projects, an idea pushed as a better learning style for girls, but ignores the hardwiring of boys to compete. Frankly, I would rather teach boys given the choice.

Anonymous said...

"Love it" when my male students ask for a bandaid for a small scratch, or are afraid to get their shoes dirty, or don't want to get sweaty. They also call each other B$%^h . . . it's a mad world we live in.


Darren said...

Minor correction: Plessy v. Ferguson established the legality of "separate but equal"; it was Brown v. Board of Education that reversed the policy.