April 20th, 2012

Race & Gender Bias in How Teachers Perceive Math Ability

This week’s Freakonomics blog says: “A disheartening new study by Catherine Riegle-Crumb and Melissa Humphries finds that teachers discount the math skills of white females, even when girls’ grades and test scores indicate a comparable level of skill.” The blog post is here, and the research paper, Exploring Bias in Math Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Ability by Gender and Race/Ethnicity, is here.

When I was 11 years old, in 7th grade, I learned Algebra in an advanced learning program in the NYC public schools. This was in 1976. No one in my family was a mathematician. In my working-single-parent household, a shade above the free-lunch line, I was in charge of doing my own homework.  But my math teacher, Mr. Barry Feldman, and family members never suggested to me that because I was a scrawny, blonde girl I couldn’t do advanced math.

I experienced math as a set of satisfying patterns and steps, the way a dancer experiences choreography. Math was solid and sensible in a chaotic world. Math was my anchor. When my friends and I started toying with drugs, I stopped the experiment, because I couldn’t do math in my head when I was high. I got a 100 on the statewide Algebra exam that year.

I am so sad to learn that, 35 years later in the US, we are still grappling with biased expectations of who can learn math. What can we do about this? What are the evidence-based solutions?

– Freedom

Freedom Baird
CPS parent, CALA coordinator

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