High school math teachers are biased against girls, rating their abilities lower than those of boys with the same test scores.
It's long been known that math teachers tend to rate girls and minority students lower than white boys. But while this tends to reflect actual grades and test scores in the case of the minority students, new research shows that the bias against white girls can't be explained by their academic performance.
"This speaks to the presence of a subtle yet omnipresent stereotype in high school classrooms: that math, comparatively speaking, is just easier for white males than it is for white females," says Catherine Riegle-Crumb, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
The team's data was drawn from the National Center of Education Statistics' Education Longitudinal Study of 2002, which followed 15,000 US students from their sophomore year of high school, into college and the work force.
The authors say they aren't dismissing the possibility that bias against minority students exists in high school math classrooms - just that it's showing up particularly consistently in the case of white girls versus white boys.
"Even with the same grades and the same test scores, the teachers are still ranking the girls as less good at math than the boys," says Riegle-Crumb.
One reason, they say, may be that gender bias is socially ingrained because the idea that men and women have diffferent math abilities is considered natural, not discriminatory.
And while teachers may make a conscious effort to avoid racial discrimination, they may be less aware of gender prejudice.
"It is very likely that teachers are unaware of holding any kind of gender bias, and they are not consciously thinking about gender when assigning student ratings," says Riegle-Crumb.
"Yet the implicit nature of this bias suggests that it may be insidious and difficult to confront. If we continue to send young women the message that they aren't as good at math it's unlikely we'll be able to increase the number of women working in STEM fields."