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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

precocious children?

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

variables fluctuate.

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:

Washington, DC

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.

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