Gender stereotypes about intelligence begin early

Girls as young as six years old associate high-level academic ability with men more than women, according to a report published in the journal Science. The study also found that although girls aged five to seven were more likely than boys to associate their own gender with good grades, they did not link these achievements to innate abilities of “brilliance”.

Lin Bian and colleagues carried out a number of tests with children, half of whom were girls, to test the influence of gender stereotypes on children’s ideas of intellectual ability. In the first test, boys and girls aged five, six, and seven were read a story about a highly intelligent person and then asked to guess the person’s gender. Next, they were shown pictures of pairs of adults, some same-sex, some opposite sex, and asked to pick which they thought were highly intelligent. Finally, the children were asked to match objects and traits, such as “being smart”, to pictures of men and women.

The results revealed that at age five, girls are just as likely as boys to associate intelligence with their own gender. However, by ages six and seven, girls were less likely than boys to make this association, with girls identifying their own gender as “really, really smart” 48% of the time compared to 65% of the time for boys.

Source: Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests (January 2017), Science Vol. 335 (6323) pp.389-391

Does background influence pupils’ subject choice?

A Centre for Longitudinal Studies working paper examined the roles of social class, parental education, income, gender  and ethnicity on pupils’ subject choice at GCSE.

Morag Henderson and colleagues examined information from more than 11,700 young people taking part in Next Steps (formerly the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE)), who were born in 1989-90 and attended state schools in England. They found that pupils from lower socio-economic backgrounds were less likely than their peers from higher socio-economic backgrounds to choose GCSE subjects that would enable them to go on to college – regardless of whether or not they were academically able.

Pupils whose parents only had GCSE-level education were also less likely than those with more-educated parents to study three or more “facilitating” subjects from the Russell Group’s Informed Choices guide. They were also less likely to take three or more academically “selective”’ subjects, such as German and maths and statistics, and more likely to choose applied GCSEs, such as leisure and tourism or applied manufacturing and engineering. As the highest level of parental education decreases, the odds of the students studying applied GCSEs increases.

For pupils from lower-income backgrounds, the findings were similar. Poorer pupils were less likely to choose selective and facilitating subjects and more likely to take applied GCSEs than their wealthier peers. Additionally, girls were more likely than boys to study applied GCSEs, as were those with special education needs.

Source:  Social class, gender and ethnic differences in subjects taken at age 14 (2016), Centre for Longitudinal Studies Working paper 2016/6

Have gender gaps in maths closed?

A study, published in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, explored the early development of gender gaps in mathematics achievement, including when gaps first appear, where in the distribution they develop, and whether these gaps have changed over the years.

Cimpian and colleagues compared two cohorts in the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: the kindergarten (Year 1) classes of 1998-1999 (N = 21,399) and 2010-2011 (N = 18,170). They observed that the gender gap at the top of the distribution (among the highest achievers in maths) begins in early elementary school (Year 2) and continues to get worse, and has not improved over the last decade. In both the 1998-1999 and 2010-2011 cohorts, girls represented less than one-third of students above the 99th percentile as early as the spring of kindergarten. By Grade 3 (Year 4) for the 1998-1999 cohort and Grade 2 (Year 3) for the 2010-2011 cohort, girls made up only one-fifth of those above the 99th percentile.

In addition to maths achievement, students’ learning behaviours and teacher expectations were examined, as these could be two potential contributors to the gender gaps. When boys and girls behaved and performed similarly, teachers in both cohorts underrated the maths skills of girls as early as Grade 1 (Year 2). In other words, in mathematics, for teachers to rate girls equally with boys, girls must work harder and behave better than the boys.

Source: Have gender gaps in math closed? Achievement, teacher perceptions, and learning behaviors across two ECLS-K cohorts (2016), AERA Open

Single-sex schools make little difference in Korea


Students in Korea who attended single-sex, as opposed to co-educational, secondary schools showed little difference in their achievement scores.

The Office of Education in Korea allocates placements in general high school randomly. In the capital, Seoul, there is a mix of co-educational and single-sex schools. Similarly, teachers are not allowed to choose which school they work at. If they live in a particular school district (there are 10 in Seoul) they will be allocated to one of the schools in that district.

Using this information, a paper in the Economics of Education Review examines the impact of single-sex schools on student achievement. Over seven years, the author found that any positive effects of single-sex schooling were small. The effect was relatively greater for students in the middle of the distribution of test scores. For students at the very top and very bottom, the impact was trivial. There were also no differences in the students’ choices for further study or in their test-taking behaviour.

Source: Mean and distributional impact of single-sex high schools on students’ cognitive achievement, major choice, and test-taking behavior: Evidence from a random assignment policy in Seoul, Korea, Economics of Education Review (2016).

Bias and teacher perceptions

Research has shown that teacher expectations frequently influence student outcomes. American University, The Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany, and Johns Hopkins University recently collaborated on a study to determine if teachers’ perceptions of their students’ future educational attainment could be correlated with their ethnicity or gender. In other words, would teachers predict brighter futures for students who shared their race or gender than for students of other races and genders?

Researchers examined data from the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS) of 2002, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, which followed 16,810 US tenth graders (age 15-16). The ELS contained predictions from each student’s maths and English teacher about how far they expected them to go in school.

No correlations were found for factors such as their grades in ninth grade, socio-economic status, or mother’s education. However, non-African-American teachers had lower expectations than did African-American teachers for African-American students, with larger effects for male students and maths teachers.

By conducting this study, researchers hoped to encourage teacher training and professional development to include discussions about expectations and bias, to provide evidence that a more diverse teaching force is needed, and to inform other researchers who look at teacher predictions.

Source: Who believes in me? The effect of student–teacher demographic match on teacher expectations (2016), Economics of Education Review.

Playworks at the playground

Research has shown that children who engage in at least moderate physical activity during breaks demonstrate both health and academic benefits. Studies also note that boys engage in higher physical activities during breaks than girls.

A study by Mathematica Policy Research (MPR) examined the effects of introducing Playworks, a structured-play programme, on girls’ activity levels at breaks. The Playworks programme uses a coach to introduce games and equipment and organise activities during breaks and encourage girls to be less sedentary.

Twenty-nine schools in six US cities were randomly assigned to receive Playworks (n=17) or no intervention (n=12) during the 2010-11 or 2011-2012 school years. Schools were randomly assigned within blocks matched by size, grade levels, ethnicity, and free-lunch count. A total of 1,573 fourth and fifth grade (Years 5 and 6) students participated, 823 girls and 750 boys. After one year of each treatment group’s exposure to Playworks, all experimental and control students wore accelerometers to measure physical activity levels for 10 minutes each break during a one-week period in each school.

Results yielded significant increases for the Playworks groups in girls’ activity levels as compared to the control group, but no significant increases for boys. The authors discuss that modifying the programme to increase boys’ activity would be beneficial.

An earlier randomised study of Playworks by MPR showed positive effects of the programme in reducing bullying, increasing social climate and feelings of school safety, and students’ readiness to learn.

Source: The impact of Playworks on boys’ and girls’ physical activity during recess (2015), Mathematica Policy Research