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"Math Class-ification" -- The Discovery Files

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Do some high school teachers think math is harder for girls than boys? Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin say yes.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: High school class change) Discriminating Behavior.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Here's a math question: (Sound effect: chalkboard writing sound) The high school math teacher has 18 boys and 18 girls in the class. Asked if math is harder for the girls than the boys, what does the teacher think? Of course, it depends on the teacher but a new University of Texas at Austin study reveals that, when it comes to gender bias, high school math teachers may not make the grade.

(Sound effect: high school hallway) The researchers used previously-gathered data on some 15,000 U.S. students monitored from sophomore year into college and the work force.

They found biases appear along racial lines, those vanish once grades are taken into account. But gender bias against white females remains. Even after grades and test scores are factored in, many teachers still rate white girls as less good at math than white boys--so ingrained is the stereotype.

The formative years of high school are when many students decide on their career paths. The researchers say: "keep sending young women the message they aren't as good at math, and many capable women won't pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics just when the nation really needs them."

That could be one of our toughest math problems.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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