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Study: Elementary School Teachers' Biases Encourage Young Women to Avoid STEM

Study: Elementary School Teachers' Biases Encourage Young Women to Avoid STEM

A new study conducted by The National Bureau of Economic Research looks at teachers' unconscious biases and highlights how powerful encouragement can be in a young student's life.

When it comes to young women and STEM, parents, toy makers, and even their teachers discourage them from studying math and science, according to reporter Claire Cain Miller in an article on NYTimes.com. Miller said that girls "lack role models in these fields, and grow up believing they wouldn't do well in them."

"Early educational experiences have a quantifiable effect on the math and science courses the students choose later, and eventually the jobs they get and the wages they earn," Miller wrote. "The effect is larger for children from families in which the father is more educated than the mother and for girls from lower-income families, according to the study, published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research."

According to the article, "the pipeline for women to enter math and science occupations narrows at many points between kindergarten and a career choice, but elementary school seems to be a critical juncture. Reversing bias among teachers could increase the number of women who enter fields like computer science and engineering, which are some of the fastest growing and highest paying."

“It goes a long way to showing it’s not the students or the home, but the classroom teacher’s behavior that explains part of the differences over time between boys and girls,” said Victor Lavy, an economist at University of Warwick in England and a co-author of the paper in the article.

Miller wrote that "in computer science in the United States, for instance, just 18.5 percent of the high school students who take the Advanced Placement exam are girls. In college, women earn only 12 percent of computer science degrees.That is one reason that tech companies say they have hired so few women. Last year, Google, Apple and Facebook, among others, revealed that fewer than a fifth of technical employees are women."

“The most surprising and I think important finding in the paper is that a biasing teacher affects the work choices students make and whether to study math and science years later,” Lavy said in the article.

Read the full story and comment below. 

Article by Kassondra Granata, Education World Contributor

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