According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, boys and girls perform similarly at ages five and six; however, as children grow older, the achievement gap in science, mathematics, and reading widens. For instance—statistically—girls outperform boys in reading, while boys outperform girls in subjects like mathematics and science (www.nber.org).
Some believe that the gap is due to varied cognitive functions between men and women, while others believe that teacher-student interactions regarding gender may be a part of the cause. Research attributes the gap to both of these factors.
In fact, the National Bureau of Economic Research reports that teacher gender is related to student performance. In a study by Thomas Dee, it was concluded that “Assignment to a teacher of the opposite sex lowers student achievement by about 0.04 standard deviations” (NBER Working Paper No. 11660).
But as the gender gap for female students has decreased over time, the achievement gap for male students in subjects like reading has continued to grow.
What about virtual education?
In a recent blog post regarding favoritism in the classroom, I maintained that favoritism occurs less in the online classroom due to a variety of factors. Gender too can play a role in teacher favoritism and teacher biases. Teachers and students alike will generally interact differently with individuals of the opposite gender. Because face-to-face interactions do not occur in the virtual classroom and are mostly delivered in a synchronous way—like instant messaging or virtual classroom software—or are delivered asynchronously via e-mail, the potential for gender biases to affect student performance decreases.
Closing the gap
While gender relations may be part of the gender achievement gap conversation, the cause of the gender achievement gap cannot be reduced to gender biases alone, as this does not address the contributing factor of cognitive functions and the differences of such functions between men and women. While men and women may be capable of learning the same material, there are differences in how that material is processed.
Because of these differences, we as teachers must examine how our students learn. Though this may be something that we are doing already, we may need to take a closer look at performance in our individual classrooms. In addition, we should strive to present content in varied ways to be sure that we are reaching multiple learning competencies.