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

Report examines research on the gender gap in reading and student engagement

The Brown Center on Education Policy in the US has released a new report that asks How Well Are American Students Learning? The report describes the results of three educational research studies.

The first study examines the gender gap in reading. Historically, boys in the US score lower than girls on standardised reading tests and the gap widens in middle and high school. This trend is seen around the world, even in countries that scored high on the PISA reading subtests. The authors debunk several popular explanations for the gap, most notably the theory that females are biologically better at reading. The authors also note that the reading gap disappears in adulthood and that after age 35, men score significantly higher on reading measures than women. The authors comment that the effects of life cycle experiences on reading proficiency need to be examined.

The second study looks at the effects of intrinsic motivation on maths in 15-year-olds. Surprisingly, results showed a negative correlation between engagement level and maths achievement (higher engagement levels yielded lower test scores). Fifteen-year-olds in the US scored at average engagement levels. Countries who scored higher in PISA scores (Japan, Finland, South Korea) reported lower engagement levels for mathematics.

The third study discusses the early effects of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) – a set of standards that details what children age 5 to 18 should know in maths and literacy. The findings showed small, non-significant effects in fourth grade (Year 5) reading and eighth grade (Year 9) maths in states with strong CCSS implementation.

Source: How Well Are American Students Learning? (2015), Brown Centre on Education Policy

Gender stereotypes follow primary school kids into adulthood

The National Bureau of Economic Research has published a paper that suggests teacher biases in favour of boys in primary school can have a positive effect on boys and a negative effect on girls and that these effects continue through middle and high school.

The study measured teachers’ gender bias in Tel Aviv, Israel, by comparing test scores marked by teachers in the classroom against scores from blind assessment by external markers. The results suggested an over-assessment of boys, which produced a significant positive effect on male academic achievement and had a significant negative effect on girls.

According to the study, the effects of such gender biases continue into middle and high school and affect subject choice – such as whether to enrol for advanced mathematics and science courses – that may have long-term implications for occupation choice and earnings.

The largest impact was on children from families where the father was more educated than the mother and on girls from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Source: On the Origins of Gender Human Capital Gaps: Short and Long Term Consequences of Teachers’ Stereotypical Biases (2015), National Bureau of Economic Research

Boys and girls learning together and apart

A recent study of school and classroom gender mixes in Seoul, South Korea, found variation in achievement for male pupils depending on whether they attended single-sex schools, single-sex classes in mixed-gender (co-educational) schools, or mixed-gender classes. Boys in single-sex classes in mixed schools performed slightly less well (effect size 0.10) than boys in mixed-gender classrooms. Boys in single-sex schools out-performed those in mixed schools by a wider but still small margin (effect size 0.15). However, girls performed the same in classes of all different compositions.

Source: All or Nothing? The Impact of School and Classroom Gender Composition on Effort and Academic Achievement (2015), NBER Working Paper No. 20722

Boosting the life chances of non-white boys

A new report from MDRC looks at what is known about the economic and social disadvantage of non-white young men in the US and the evidence behind initiatives that may help to tackle this problem.

The paper reviews the results from a number of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and highlights promising interventions. Interventions are divided into two broad categories: (a) Proactive Approaches: preventive interventions aimed at young men who are still connected to positive systems (like schools or community colleges) that seek to enhance their success in moving through those systems and on to productive careers, and (b) Reconnection Approaches: interventions targeting those who have disconnected from positive systems. The report also lists ongoing research with results expected soon.

The authors note that well-targeted and well-implemented programmes can make a difference, but to make a lasting difference, successful interventions must be taken to scale — that is, replicated and expanded successfully in new places and settings.

As well as identifying proven and promising programmes, the authors outline four additional (evidence-based) approaches that could have wider implications for supporting young people from underperforming groups. These are:

  • Encouraging young people to apply for the best higher education establishment they are capable of attending, not “undermatching”;
  • Specialised support within higher education for students from underperforming groups;
  • Embedding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy within employment schemes for those within the justice system; and
  • New approaches to summer jobs and internships to help give work experience to help build work-readiness, a CV, and gain references.

Source: Boosting the Life Chances of Young Men of Color: Evidence from Promising Programs (2014), MDRC