New Research Shows Boys Learn More From Men, Girls Learn More From Women Teachers

Tuesday, August 29, 2006
STANFORD--A teacher’s gender has large effects on student test performance, and students’ engagement with academic material, reports a new study published in the fall issue of Education Next.
 
“Learning from a teacher of the opposite gender has a detrimental effect on students’ academic progress. My best estimate is that it lowers test scores for both boys and girls by approximately 4 percent of a standard deviation and has even larger effects on various measures of student engagement,” said the study’s author, Thomas S. Dee, an economist at Swarthmore College
 
For example, in science, social studies, and English, Dee found that the overall effect of having a female teacher instead of a male raises the achievement of girls by 4 percent of a standard deviation and lowers the achievement of boys by roughly the same amount. 
 
The adverse gender effects have an impact on both boys and girls but fall more heavily on boys in middle school simply because most middle-school teachers are female.   According to a U.S. Department of Education survey, more than 90 percent of middle-school reading teachers are female, as are more than 70 percent of the math teachers and nearly 70 percent of the science teachers.
 
If half of the English teachers insixth, seventh, andeighth grades were male and their effects on learning were additive, said Dee, the gender achievement gap in reading between boys and girls would fall by approximately a third by the end of middle school. 
 
For his research, Dee used the National Education Longitudinal Survey (NELS), which contains data on a nationally representative sample of nearly 25,000eighth graders from 1988. In addition to examining the effect of teacher gender on students’ test score performance, Dee examined teacher perceptions of a student’s performance and student perceptions of the subject taught by a particular teacher. Dee utilized questionnaires that the NELS administered to teachers from two academic subjects for each sample student, which solicited a variety of information about teachers’ background, including gender, and included several questions about how teachers viewed the behavior and performance of the specific students in the study.
 
When a class is headed by a woman teacher, Dee found that boys are more likely to be seen as disruptive, whereas girls are less likely to be seen as either disruptive or inattentive. When taught by a man, girls were more likely to report that they did not look forward to a subject, that it was not useful for their future, or that they were afraid to ask questions. Notably, he found this dynamic is strongest in science, where student reports indicate that women science teachers are far more effective in promoting girls’ engagement with the subject. 
 
“Simply put, girls have better educational outcomes when taught by women and boys are better off when taught by men,” said Dee.
 
Read “The Why Chromosome: How a Teacher’s Gender Affects Boys and Girls” in the fall issue of Education Next. To request a pre-release copy of the article, contact Caleb Offley at offley [at] hoover.stanford.edu.
 
Thomas S. Dee is an associate professor in the Department of Economics at Swarthmore College and a faculty research fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
 
Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to looking at hard facts about school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.