Thursday, May 04, 2006

Boys, Girls, and Teachers

The May NBER Digest is out, covering these topics:
  • Economic Progress of Immigrants
  • Unhappiness After Hurricane Katrina
  • Matching Incentives Raise Saving
  • Teachers and the Gender Gaps in Student Achievement
The last topic is particularly intriguing and provocative. Here is an excerpt:

In kindergarten, boys and girls do equally as well on tests of reading, general knowledge, and mathematics. By third grade, boys have slightly higher mathematics scores and slightly lower reading scores. As children grow older, these gaps widen....

[Researcher Thomas] Dee finds that gender interactions between teachers and students have significant effects on these important educational outcomes. Assignment to a teacher of the opposite sex lowers student achievement by about 0.04 standard deviations. Other results imply that just "one year with a male English teacher would eliminate nearly a third of the gender gap in reading performance among 13 year olds…and would do so by improving the performance of boys and simultaneously harming that of girls. Similarly, a year with a female teacher would close the gender gap in science achievement among 13 year olds by half and eliminate entirely the smaller achievement gap in mathematics."

Female science teachers appeared to reduce the probability that a girl would be seen as inattentive in science, though this had no discernable effect on girls' science achievement. However, female history teachers significantly raised girls' history achievement. And, boys were more likely to report that they did not look forward to a particular academic subject when it was taught by a female.

Overall, the data suggest that, "a large fraction of boys' dramatic underperformance in reading reflects the classroom dynamics associated with the fact that their reading teachers are overwhelmingly female."