Are Female Teachers Squashing Little Girls’ Interest in Math?

Flickr/ <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/4005631298/in/photostream/">woodleywonderworks</a> (Creative Commons)

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


Arithmetic-phobic female teachers may be schooling your young daughter to think she is not as good at math as her male classmates, according to research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. The study examines levels of math anxiety in a very small sample size of fewer than 20 first-and second-grade teachers in a large, urban, Midwestern school district. It found that in classes taught by math-anxious female instructors—teachers who had mastered mathematical concepts in class but still performed poorly on exams—girls had lower levels of math achievement than boys.

The University of Chicago researchers who authored the study hypothesize that girls are more affected by math-anxious female teachers than boys because girls see their teachers’ behaviors as typical of the female gender and model them accordingly. So does a study of so few teachers say anything about trends among the country’s hundreds of thousands of public school educators? Maybe not. After all, the ‘math is hard, lets go shopping’ idea has been floating around for a long time—teachers are not the only ones signaling to little girls that they are not supposed to be good at math. Barbie does, er, did.

But if a simialr study with a larger, statistically significant sample size turned up the same results, it might warrant some concern. The math requirements to pursue a degree in elementary education stop at a candidate’s mastery of algebra and geometry, so the field can attract teaching hopefuls who think they can’t cut it in the higher level math courses required to teach middle or high school. And according to this study, that math apathy is trickling down to students who are so young, they can’t yet spell algebra. At a time when the country needs a boost in its STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) job force, it can’t afford for even a small number of little girls to leave their math ambitions in primary school.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate