How Our Education System Undermines Gender Equity

from Brookings

There are well-documented achievement and opportunity gaps by income and race/ethnicity. K-12 accountability policies often have a stated goal of reducing or eliminating those gaps, though with questionable effectiveness. Those same accountability policies require reporting academic proficiency by gender, but there are no explicit goals of reducing gender gaps and no “hard accountability” sanctions tied to gender-subgroup performance. We could ask, “Should gender be included more strongly in accountability policies?”

In this post, I’ll explain why I don’t think accountability policy interventions would produce real gender equity in the current system—a system that largely relies on existing state standardized tests of math and English language arts to gauge equity. I’ll argue that although much of the recent research on gender equity from kindergarten through postgraduate education uses math or STEM parity as a measure of equity, the overall picture related to gender equity is of an education system that devalues young women’s contributions and underestimates young women’s intellectual abilities more broadly.

More here.

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11 Responses to How Our Education System Undermines Gender Equity

  1. Jessica Williams May 3, 2018 at 1:01 pm #

    This was a very interesting read,and I agree with the author in the sense that we as a society need to dismantle this way of thinking, not only with gender, but with race as well. The author states that young girls believe that they are less than their male peers, which affects test scores as they get older. Part of this is because of the stereotypes that teachers impose on girls as well, as the teacher who provided the test scores for the author also displayed this way of thinking, as she stated: ” The girls can do just as well as the boys if they work hard enough,” which insinuates that girls are less academically talented as boys, especially in STEM-related subjects.

    While the author expresses the importance of dismantling the racial and gender-based stereotypes that hold back people of color and women in particular, he does not go into much detail regarding how that could be done. One way that this could be achieved is by acknowledging the systematic aspects of their oppression and actively maintaining focus on the positive attributes an individual has, rather than the negative, especially after teachers get to know an individual student.

    From previous research, I discovered an academic source that proves that the acknowledgment of positive attributes, or the celebration of differences helps with the upbringing of marginalized groups in society. The article entitled “Color Blind Ideology: Theory, Training, and Measurement Implications in Psychology,” by Helen Neville discusses a similar issue regarding race. The author details a study conducted on school children who were exposed to different teachings, and how they responded to racism as a result: “Apfelbaum. . . exposed elementary school children to one of two narratives—one promoting racial equality through a color-blind approach (‘We are all the same’) and the other endorsing a value-diversity approach (‘We appreciate and celebrate our differences’). Children who listened to the color-blind story were less likely to identify and report overt acts of racial discrimination,” (Neville). Although this is in regards to racial discrimination, this type of thinking can also assist in the dismantling of gender discrimination in school environments, as the acknowledgment of the existence of negative stereotypes can help with identifying the outward expression of said stereotypes. This would then help identify the positive aspects of an individual instead of focusing on the negatives. Because girls and women generally have more negative stereotypes imposed on them as compared to boys and men, similarly to the issue with blacks and whites, actively refusing to promote these stereotypes through action and careful consideration and thinking would train the minds of teachers and other authority figures to highlight the positive traits associated with individuals as opposed to the negative.

  2. Grace May 4, 2018 at 5:42 pm #

    The education system has the responsibility to promote learning and equal education for students of every ethnic group, socioeconomic status, and gender throughout the United States. I personally found the article to be very interesting as it demonstrated how boys and girls are treated differently in regards to their education. In addition, the article spoke upon the difference in what is expected between girls and boys in school and how teachers believe that girls can test as well as boys on their standardized tests if they try more. One teacher who is quoted in the article initially questioned why the authors were studying gender equity in schools until she said, “’These are my student’ standardized test scores, and there are absolutely no gender differences. See, the girls can do just as well as the boys if they work hard enough.’ She gasped and continued, ‘Oh my gosh, I just did exactly what you said teachers are doing’, which is attributing girls’ success in math to hard work while attributing boys; success to innate ability”. Furthermore, the quote captures the essence of the article that little boys from a young age are instilled that they are smart, while girls do not have the same expectations. Additionally, when girls do test as well as boys their age it is assumed that they studied and earned the grade rather than their intelligence.
    As the article stated, this is a common and cultural problem throughout the educational system. I am relate to this because I have a twin brother, which made everything I did comparable with a boy my own age. From the time, we were in kindergarten I was looked at differently by our parents in an academic sense. Although my mom thought I was naturally more intelligent than my brother, when I did poorly on my entrance test for kindergarten, she put me in an all-day class, while my brother went into a half a day class at the same school. As we became older and both had our own academic strengths, I was always told that I was lazy and did not work hard enough in the fields I was not strong in. My brother leaned towards math and science classes, while I preferred English and History classes. Moreover, my brother was never told that he did not work hard enough in the classes that I excelled in and that he was average at. However, I would argue that the culture around me did not discourage girls in STEM, like the article mentions, because I a number of my friends from my high school are pursuing science careers. I personally never preferred classes evolving STEM, but I never received lower than a B-. In addition, my mom spent an equal amount of time developing both of our math skills when we were younger. I believe that the town and environment one grows up in can have a larger influence on whether girls in the STEM program are supported. For instance, I grew up in an affluent town were girls and boys were seen as academically equivalent

  3. Mark Marino May 5, 2018 at 9:37 pm #

    Gender equity has been a topic of discussion for quite some time. When many think about gender equity, they think in the work force and job wages. But, this article puts a whole new spin on this equity and that is in the educational system. Although not explored much, gender equity does have its basis in the school system. When children are young, they are thrown into a building with boys and girls and are taught letters and numbers. Sounds like a great idea until research is done to see if the school system is rigged for males to succeed over females.

    Standardized tests level out the playing field for every high school student. This is done so colleges are able to decide between students with the same or close to the same grade point average. In some ways, standardized tests are unfair to the students. You have one shot to get into the college of your choice, using exams which are written to trick students into getting the wrong answer. These tests are what deciphers a student’s future. Taking 4 hours to complete and to say the least, years to study for. Unfortunately, that is the way the system is configured. These tests also level out the playing field for students to have fairground based on school district. So, if a student lives in a less fortunate school district, they get the same opportunity to a child who lived in a very good district.

    In the article, it mentions that a group of students were given a math exam, both male and female with near identical results. Then, the teachers were asked which student they thought would outperform the rest and most of the time, they would select male students. The mathematical gap is of decent size that is in the test field. The writer says that if teachers go into the exam not putting down the females before the test, the teachers would have more care and more faith into their female student to do well on the exam. This makes sense in many ways as going into something positive will have a positive result.

  4. Christopher Karant May 7, 2018 at 4:32 pm #

    As it turns out, the gender gap in this country is not exclusive to just wages. Females face discrimination starting from elementary school and this continues into the workforce. The journalist, Joseph Cimpian, discovered that girls are underestimated as soon as school begins. Studies show that the growth in the gap between black and white math test scores was identical to that of the gender gap. Teachers tend to think boys are more mathematically able than girls who score the same test scores. This leads to his main argument that the problem does not fall within policy but it is systematic.
    Test scores show that women can perform equally, if not better than men, but are continuously underestimated. This continues through higher education. Women are less likely to enter fields that are a “boys club.” Even after a women accomplishes the same level of work as man they can be discriminated based on appearance. In these fields, women are more likely to be given service work and are given less credit than deserved for their accomplishments. The author summarizes his main argument by demanding societal change not just policy implementations. It is the job of educators to stop undermining women from a young age and view them as equal in ability to that of a young man.

  5. Steve Gravlin May 18, 2018 at 9:58 pm #

    The fact that our education system undermines gender equality is a huge problem. Through simple research you can find that men are no smarter in math than women. However, when it is constantly drilled into girls’ heads that they must work harder than men to achieve the same result because men are naturally gifted this leads to an acceptance of lesser results from the girls in the math section. Teachers are some of the first role models and authority figures for children and when the teacher in the article said “the girls can do just as well as the boys if they work hard enough,” that shows that naturally she thinks less of the girls in her class and did not even realize it until it was said out loud. When some of the most influential people, teachers, are setting that example and expecting less out of the girls in math class this leads to a gender inequality for no reason because women should be scoring equal to men.
    The real problem lies when it comes time to select a career though. These women while being just as good at math as men are being pushed away from careers like engineering due to the discrimination they will find in these fields. The less women that choose these fields the more men think they are the divine sex and that they are above women because engineering is “too hard” for women when in reality a girl that could be a great engineer is pushed away from the career path due to the obstacles she will face that have been instilled in everyone since the day they stepped foot in kindergarten. This lack of gender equality in certain careers causes less qualified people to be in the workforce. If we stopped underestimating and discriminating against women their entire life, they could achieve just as much as men, if not more, in male dominant fields and this would cause the whole field’s production to increase.

  6. Jacob McDougall May 26, 2018 at 2:16 pm #

    I found this article to be extremely interesting and unfortunately, it was not a surprise to me. I strongly believe that within our school system, we subconsciously treat the two genders differently- affecting the quality of education that they receive. Furthermore, when the genders are encouraged to take on certain attributes, they may have different career goals and mindsets. This is why we see a heavy skewing of gender inequality in certain career fields, with male dominance being extremely prevalent in engineering, science, and mathematics.

    I agree with the author that there must be some societal change that takes place in order to combat the education system’s gender inequality issue, however I do think that the only way to promote societal change like this in the United States is to start with implementing new policy. Policy sets the tone for every institution and if policy demonstrates a more inclusive environment, employees will soon just adapt easily and incorporate the new policy without thinking twice about it.

    I think educators should be required to complete gender-sensitivity and equality training before being able to enter the classroom. This would heavily reduce the amount of subliminal messages relayed to our children in our schools. It is important to not make girls feel inferior to boys in any manner (i.e. strength, ability, etc.) even if it does not seem very offensive in the moment. The elimination of social biases and stereotypes at an early age will promote children to receive a more uniform education and they will not be influenced to choose one career field over another based on preconceived notions from their superiors, whether that be their educators, parents, or siblings.

    Another issue that gets raised with issues like this in our schools is that our educators are not being compensated enough to keep up with changing societal norms and tend to feel unmotivated to go above and beyond. I strongly believe that if we raised the salaries of our public educators across the United States that we would see stronger teacher-student relationships and I feel that teachers would be more willing to practice new policies. After all, our educators are what are fueling the population of the future, so I think it is only fair that they get the compensation that they deserve. Once gender inequality is tackled in our schools, we will see it spread across other institutional realms as well, not just in the world of academia. Judgments and preconceived notions are taught, no one is born inferior to another human being, and I think it is crucial that we begin reminding young children of that in order to promote a more inclusive, equal society for the future.

  7. Kelly L. June 12, 2018 at 7:59 pm #

    This article was absolutely brilliant in how it brought the attention to the problem and underlined it with examples and raw data. School systems are the leading indicator of a child’s future lately. There are always two stereotypes about children’s learning abilities that are meant to help them cope with not being seen as equivalent. The first is if they struggle with math or science they have to be more dominant in the left side of their brain while if they are creative and colorful they are more right brained. The second is that if they excel at a young age, they will continue to excel and do great things meanwhile if they start out with behavior issues or poor skills they will always struggle in schools. Although both have been able to be justified based on people they know or personal observations, the gender gap was the underlying factor in both.
    When I was in high school I had really been struggling in science courses while I watched the males in the class succeed and pass without even studying. I had to work twice as hard and ask many questions that it came to the point where my teacher said “it’s okay, a lot of girls are struggling”. That’s when it became clear as day that men were going to always be more successful than I could be in those fields. I was told again when I wanted to get into statistics as opposed to taking calculus that I would struggle and I should take the simpler math course called “math topics”. I pushed so hard to take statistics but still was denied without any real reasoning behind it. As I entered college I felt extremely discouraged from taking any math courses, so I picked a major that would be able to avoid it.
    This article written by Joseph Cimpian is something that should be brought to the attention of school administrators all over. He states that they found that students were impacted by how the teachers perceived their abilities, which is easily supported by my own stories. Educators need to enter their field with open minds and push those students who are deemed as less likely to achieve a goal. Having someone who is older and wiser believe in you fills the child with motivation because they now also believe in themselves and want to succeed. Moreover, if it takes as little as a thought to change and enhance the future generations success, it is a simple solution for an everlasting effect on the world.

  8. Lauren F September 28, 2018 at 10:46 pm #

    In this article the author claims that teachers show a bias towards boys, in believing that they are inherently smarter than girls. I don’t doubt that the research him and his colleague did is accurate and unbiased but I have a hard time believing that this is an issue that is widespread and still occurring. From my personal experience I never felt treated less than because I’m a female. My parents always wanted me to do my best and my teachers went out of their way to help me. I was never discouraged from doing something because I’m a female and I don’t know of anyone else who has either. I will admit my school experience is very different from the average person’s. Kindergarten through eighth grade we never had more than 22 students and there were always 2-3 times as many girls as boys. Most of the girls played sports, got good grades and were in accelerated programs. When I got to high school things changed. I had all honors classes with about the same 30-35 people. Even though the majority of those students were male, the females on average got higher grades. There were also more females in the top 20, on student council and in AP classes. I’m sure what the author said about teachers having lower expectations for girls and the negative effects are true but I don’t believe it’s as bad as it’s made out to be.

    I agree more with what he said later in the article about females being discouraged from pursuing a particular career because of social influence. I feel as though from a young age girls are more encouraged to do traditionally feminine things. They’re told to look pretty, play with dolls, wear dresses and act like a lady. There’s technically nothing wrong with that but it can put you in a box. Boys are given more freedom to wander around, get messy, be active and think on their feet. As you start to get a little older girls feel more of a pressure to look pretty or be like their favorite pop star. Everything that’s marketed towards girls around 5-12 years old is about fashion and makeup. While guys are given guitars, race cars and science kits. Girls grow up with a mindset that you need to be pretty and you need to like and have all these things to be accepted. You never see teen magazines talk about science or give career advice. I can’t really talk about the challenges women face with science or math related careers because I’m not familiar with them. I do believe that females are not given as much encouragement as males to get involved in math and science but I believe the problem lies with the way society treats girls, not necessarily the teachers.

  9. Melissa Joas October 5, 2018 at 6:45 pm #

    RE: How our education system undermines gender equity and why culture change – not policy – may be the solution.

    Earlier this week, I volunteered my time to help with the annual book fair at my son’s school. I can remember clearly the excitement that I felt during these book fairs growing up, and the thought of sharing that joy with his second-grade class brought me back to my own childhood. One of the primary responsibilities given to me was to determine how much money each of the kids had to spend and help them find books within their budgets. As would be expected of kids in this age group, they needed help adding the cost of each book together to determine whether they had met or exceeded their total allowances. About halfway through the event, I overheard a little girl adding up the total of multiple books confidently and quickly. I approached her to see if she needed help and quickly realized that not only had she been keeping a running tab on the books that she chose, she also knew exactly what she had left to spend and had multiple vouchers and cash which she correctly developed her budget from. I was very impressed and praised her math skills. It was at that moment that this article came to mind, and I knew then that I was interested in finding some statistics related to its content. In the article, Joseph Cimpian references studies indicating that there is no significant gender gap in math test scores at the beginning of kindergarten, but that boys begin to take the lead around the second or third grade. Because the little girl at the book fair had just begun her second-grade year, I wonder if she will be impacted by the same factors causing other girls to slip behind in math or if she will be the exception.

    Even though it was a long time ago, I remember clearly the difference in emphasis on mathematics between boys and girls when I was her age. In fact, it shaped who I am today in many ways. Growing up, I always felt the need to prove that I was “smarter than” the boys my age. Please keep in mind that right or wrong, those were the feelings of a child. Those feelings came from something I picked up from my teachers’ attitudes and were fed as the years progressed. In the article, the author recalls a conversation with a teacher in which she indicated that she thought that girls could do as well as boys in math if they tried harder. It is interesting that the teacher who made this statement was female. I did not have any male teachers until the fourth grade. In fact, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 87% of elementary school teachers in the United States in 2015 were female. If the author’s theory about the attitudes towards the ability of girls to do well in math shared by their teachers early in education is correct, then this would fall largely in the hands of female educators. If this is the case, then it would be necessary to examine why female teachers believe that girls must work harder than boys to do well in math. It is possible that the teachers are reflecting what they were taught at the same age without realizing it. The teacher mentioned in the article noted that there was no difference in the performance on standardized tests between the boys and the girls in the class, indicating that her attitude was based on social expectations rather than facts.

    The challenge is dealing with deeply engrained biases that educators might not realize that they have. It is very difficult for a person to make a change if he or she does not see the problem in the first place. Like the author, I do not believe that there is any policy or system of accountability that is going to make a difference because the issue is much deeper and of a psychological nature. A person can not be forced to change his or her beliefs. Additionally, the effects that educators’ beliefs are having on young girls can not easily be quantified. I think the best way to approach the matter is through educating the educators. Perhaps being faced with statistics regarding the regression of girls’ performance in math might be cause for discussion amongst teachers. Workshops in which teachers take self-assessments and learn how to reshape flawed thinking should be mandatory at the beginning of each academic year.

    It is not just females who are missing out – it is the entire world. Women who could have had a valuable contribution to mathematics and other STEM occupations might have been steered away from this path as children. This is not just an issue of boys and girls – it is an issue for all of mankind.

  10. Aaron R. October 5, 2018 at 10:32 pm #

    Having researched the idea that the way girls are raised undermines their ability to be successful, I am not surprised that the education system continues to add on to this gap. What is surprising though, is that lack of support and research in this area. I believe that the issue is more closely related to the ways boys and girls are raised in the household rather than that of the racial inequality in education. I have drawn this conclusion because boys are girls, for the most part, attend the same schools which establish an even playing ground with an equal opportunity such as being a part of the same family. What is present here and disrupting the equal opportunity, constructing the gap is the way that teachers, like parents, are treating their students. An interesting point that the article brings up is that teachers will often underrated female performance in STEM subjects unless they are seen as working harder than their male peers. So over the first few years of school girls will be rated worse because they are not outworking males even if they are working on par with them just because of the perception that girls are worse at STEM subjects. Girls then grow up living under this false assumption thinking that they are worse at these subjects discouraging them from further pursuit. The issue revolves around the attribution to hard work rather the innate ability as the article continues to explain.
    This issue even proves prevalent in the University level as we see that the lack of female representation in STEM-related fields. The connotations that surround specific professional fields are the next factor that increases the inequality for females in schools. The educational system pitches different fields to either males or females based on the presumptions of where they belong and what they are innately good at. Often time girls will be discouraged in their pursuit of various degrees because they feel they will be inferior to their male counterparts. This again relates to what we, as a society, are teaching girls in school from the earliest levels all the way through college. The hardest part about it all is that it’s become ingrained in the way we think as a society. Teachers are not purposely increasing the gap between girls and boys. Often we are not aware of our tonal differences and the pictures that we paint. As a result, the first and hardest step is making everyone in the educational system aware of the significance their assumptions have on the success of their students. Only then could we begin the close the inequality that has become intertwined with the educational system.

  11. Selena October 8, 2018 at 5:35 pm #

    Girls and women being in the education and working fields are relatively new. Until the 19th century, girls were not allowed to go to school and the primary focus of the schools was to prepare boys. Women did not begin entering the workforce until the 1960s after the feminist movement. Although this may seem like a long time ago, some aspects of our culture remain subtly engraved. The underestimation and devaluation of women is reflected in our school systems. Children’s teachers may be responsible for the continuity of the inclination that boys perform better than girls in school. To be viewed as more able as a boy, a girl must appear to work harder and perform just as well. One of the teachers in the article stated, “The girls can do just as well as the boys if they work hard enough,” which proves that there is an underlying belief that boys have an ingrained ability while girls must work harder.
    This may follow women in their upper level education because if fields are known for discriminating against women, it is easier to assume the majority of genders in that major. This teaches girls and women that they are less capable inherently and must work vigorously to achieve the same success. I have noticed throughout my experience in the education system that boys did seem more innately intellectually capable in math, this did not stop girls from succeeding or eventually choosing a STEM major in college.
    In the Ted Talk “Teach Girls Bravery, not Perfection” Reshma Saujani discusses how women go for careers that they will be good in. She says, “Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. We’re taught to smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to pay rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then just to jump off headfirst. And by the time they’re adults, whether they’re negotiating a raise or even asking someone out on a date, they’re habituated to take risk after risk. They’re rewarded for it.” The education system is partially to blame when it comes to teaching girls to be perfect and boys to be brave, “The bravery deficit is why women are underrepresented in STEM, in C-suites, in boardrooms, in Congress, and pretty much everywhere you look.” Girls are just as able as boys but women were not taught, like boys, how to approach a challenge in the same manner and be confident. She discusses in her Ted Talk a friend of hers is a professor of computer science. The boys that need help go in and say “There’s something wrong with my code.” But the girls say, “There’s something wrong with me.” We need to teach girls to not be afraid of failing but to be brave to try something new, even if they will not be perfect at it.

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