The Surprising Factor That Could Change the Game for Girls' Performance in School

The Surprising Factor That Could Change the Game for Girls' Performance in School
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Female students today experience a dual reality of unprecedented achievement and persistent discrimination. Women are more likely than men to earn degrees, perform better in classes and take on more advanced degrees, yet they still experience physical objectification, funding disparities and even assault at school. But a new study conducted by two Texas A&M University economists may have unveiled how young women can thrive in the classroom.

The key? Women teachers. "Female students outperform male students by roughly a third of a school year more when taught by female teachers than when taught by male teachers," study co-author Jonathan Meer told Quartz.

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Equality in the classroom: The co-authors concluded this after studying the test scores of middle school girls in South Korea, where students are randomly assigned to teachers, as opposed to the United States, where female teachers are often assigned to teach weaker students. When taught by a woman, Quartz reported, girls' test scores were an average of almost 10% of a standard deviation higher than boys. The study authors wrote this was due to female students who said female teachers created an environment where they felt equally encouraged to participate and engage in creative expression.

Others have previously observed that young women are likely to hold themselves back on these very fronts. Compared with men, women "predict they'll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities," Katty Kay and Claire Shipman wrote in a 2014 Atlantic cover story titled "The Confidence Gap." Although men's and women's performances don't actually differ in quality, this discouraged confidence results in men overestimating their performance and women underestimating theirs, Kay and Shipman reported.

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While some may see some advances in women's academic achievements and declare they signal the "end of men," this new study illustrates the systemic gender-based inequality that persists for young women and girls. For example, even though women outpace men in school, they still may be paid less for the same work their male counterparts do after they graduate — a reality that suggests test scores alone won't provide the foundation for equality.

Perhaps interrogating this specific gender dynamic, therefore, will offer insight into how all teachers, regardless of gender, can best serve their students, and address the lasting effects of sexism that hold us all back.

h/t Quartz