Catherine Riegle-Crumb

Catherine Riegle-Crumb, education and sociology associate professor, received a nearly $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation in June to study racial, ethnic and gender inequalities in science, technology, engineering and math education, also referred to as STEM.

Riegle-Crumb said she wants to understand why women and minorities are underrepresented in these fields and will devote the next five years to learning what makes female, black and Hispanic students successful or unsuccessful in science and math as well as what influences these groups to decide on STEM careers. Riegle-Crumb said her data sets are representative of both Texas and the nation as a whole and will look at a variety of factors, including student achievement through tests and grade scores, as well as peer and teacher support.

Riegle-Crumb said she hopes that her research will help to make STEM fields more accessible to women and minorities. 

“We need to have students that are interested, that are committed and that have academic skills. We need to have that whole kind of package,” Riegle-Crumb said.

Identifying the issue as a “crisis,” the National Math and Science Initiative found only 44 percent of American high school graduates showing an ability to perform in college-level math and 36 percent in college-level science in 2013. The numbers are significantly lower for black and Hispanic populations. Also, according to National Math and Science Initiative data, women are underrepresented in STEM careers, making up only 23 percent of the STEM workforce.

“Women, if they want to be really successful, and if they want to do as well as their male counterparts, they need to be better than them. They need to be the very best and not just be okay enough to get through,” chemistry sophomore Elizabeth Gerzina said.

Riegle-Crumb said there are a number of factors including social, economic and biological considerations that influence career choice and educational success.

Jolene Jesse, a grant program director at the National Science Foundation, said the comprehensive nature of Riegle-Crumb’s research encouraged the foundation to give her the $985,224 grant.

Microbiology junior John Flores said he is supportive of Riegle-Crumb’s goals. Flores, who identifies as a Mexican-American, said his high school experience was one marked by racism and politics.

“I came from a small, rural town with a graduating class of 21 people,” Flores said. “The most they ever encouraged us to do was find a farming job. I wanted to go to UT and be a doctor and that was almost unheard of.”

Study results will be published periodically over the next five years.

 

With women outpacing their male counterparts in average GPAs in every college at UT, some faculty members say the reasons could range from gender socialization to the realities of the job market.

Across the University, women had an average GPA of 3.21 while men had an average GPA of 3.12 in fall 2013, according to data from the Office of Information Management and Analysis.

Differences ranged from the average cumulative GPA of women being 9.1 percent higher than men’s in the College of Education to 0.3 percent higher in the McCombs School of Business.  

According to Catherine Riegle-Crumb, sociology and education associate professor, these differences in GPAs may be a result of gender socialization occurring as early as middle school, despite men and women having the same cognitive capabilities. 

“Girls tend to work harder,” Riegle-Crumb said. “We have cultural expectations of girls to follow rules and do what is expected of them. They are more likely to be able to have the behavioral and social skills that will allow them to excel.”

According to Riegle-Crumb, the discrepancy between GPAs is not specific to UT. Riegle-Crumb said selective colleges such as UT admit students who are already making higher grades to begin with, which recently have been women. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the enrollment rate for degree-granting institutions in 2012 was 44.5 percent for women, compared to 37.6 percent for men.

“Kids who work really hard in high school are going to be the ones who work really hard in college, even though the content changes,” Riegle-Crumb said. 

According to sociology professor Chandra Muller, another reason the average GPA of women may be higher is because it is necessary for them to invest in their education. 

“Women without a college degree are seriously penalized in the labor market,” Muller said in an email. “Even though there continues to be an earning gap between men and women, that gap is relatively smaller for people with a college degree.” 

Muller said the average GPAs reported by the University only demonstrate overall patterns, hiding how the variance in GPA may be larger for men than women.

“There are some men who do very well and some who do especially poorly, and the GPA spread is larger among men,” Muller said. 

Theatre and dance freshman Ryan Lord said he was not surprised to learn that women tend to receive higher grades than men. 

“I guess since women haven’t had as many opportunities in the past, they may be driven to succeed because of the history of women in education,” Lord said. “[But] I don’t think you can generalize either gender.”

Leah Hudson, a freshman computer science major in the selective Turing Scholars program, poses with her CS 336 math homework. A recent study done at UT discovered teachers exert a gender bias against white female students in math, even when these students performed equally well against their male counterparts.

Photo Credit: Zen Ren | Daily Texan Staff

Math teachers may rate white female students as less capable than white male students regardless of test scores, according to new UT research.

A recent study co-authored by assistant professor Catherine Riegle-Crumb and doctoral student Melissa Humphries has found that math teachers are likely to be biased against white female students.

Crumb and Humphries’ study found that when asked about their students’ math skills, teachers rate their white female students lower then their white male students even when their grades and test scores are equivalent. Humphries said teachers were asked if the class was too difficult, the appropriate level or too easy for a student.

“There is a lot of research that looks at this, especially focusing on younger grades, and they tend to find that there are often biases against girls in math,” Humphries said. “But what is surprising is we are looking at high school sophomores, so even at this level we did find that there was still possibly some bias.”

Ellen Cameron has always been good at math, receiving the AB calculus award her senior year of high school as well as the respect of past teachers. Despite this, Cameron, a Plan II and business junior, said she felt some teachers were biased against her as a female.

“It was the science teachers that I feel like were slightly discriminatory if anything,” Cameron said. “I feel like people group math and science together a lot.”

The study came from a data set of 15,000 high school sophomores, collected by the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002. Humphries said according to their study, white girls were about 40 percent less likely to be perceived as being in a class too easy for them and 33 percent more likely to be perceived as being in too difficult of a class.

Humphries said she and Crumb also considered what kind of difference the level of math students would make on teacher’s ratings.

“In some ways you might think if someone gets to an advanced math class, you already know they’re pretty good at it,” Humphries said. “But we still see this idea that the class just isn’t as easy for the white girls in the class as the white boys.”

Tamara Hudgins, executive director of Girlstart, a nonprofit whose goal is to empower girls in science, technology, engineering and math, said these results did not surprise her.

“I believe that while the effort to be inclusive in educational environments has been of interest of late, it is still too recent to have had much of a trickle-down effect at the schools,” Hudgins said. “Programs like UTeach at the University of Texas at Austin have a dedicated interest in equity and trying to remove bias from the classroom. But those efforts are fairly new.”

Hudgins said identifying biases like these is the first crucial step to ridding the education system of inequality.

“The more we ask this question about bias, the more opportunity we will have to subtly, but fundamentally, change systems,” Hudgins said. “Systematic change doesn’t happen over night, but it does happen when more people agree that something needs to be modified or improved.”

Leah Hudson, a computer science honors freshman, said she felt like she had experienced bias from her teachers in the past. She said a way to get rid of the bias would be for female students to raise their hand to answer questions in class, even if they were unsure of themselves.

Cameron, who works in a nursery, said she feels there is hope for the future generation.

“I get to watch the boys play with baby dolls and the girls play with the trucks,” Cameron said. “I think there is some optimism in that and it means gender norms are going to change in the future.”

Printed on Wednesday, April 18, 2012 as: Research finds biased math teachers