IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

"Boys Have It; Girls Have to Work for It": Examining Gender Stereotypes in Mathematics Achievement

In 2020, Andrei Cimpian, along with co-PIs Sapna Cheryan, Joseph Cimpian, and Sarah Lubienski, were awarded a grant for “Boys Have It; Girls Have to Work for It”: The Development and Consequences of Gender Stereotypes About Natural Talent vs. Effort in Mathematics. The goal of this project is threefold: 1) to explore the origins of the gender stereotype that girls achieve in math due to effort and boys achieve in math due to natural talent, 2) to investigate the consequences of these stereotypes, and 3) to identify ways of reducing the negative effects of these stereotypes on mathematics outcomes. In this blog, we interviewed Dr. Andrei Cimpian on his inspiration and insights on this research, as well as his plans to disseminate the findings to education practitioners.

 

Dr. Andrew CimpianWhat spurred your research, and what prior research was foundational for this current study? 

The co-PIs and I were inspired to do this research because we were struck by the contrast between two sets of facts. On the one hand, girls do better in school than boys from kindergarten to grade 12. Women also obtain more bachelor’s and graduate degrees than men. On the other hand, we as a society still think of men as more brilliant and genius-like than women. For example, participants in a 2018 study referred more male than female acquaintances for a job that they were told requires natural smarts1. When the same job was said to require a strong work ethic instead, participants referred equal numbers of women and men.

Of course, societal views of women and men have changed quite a bit over the last century. With respect to general competence, women are now equal with men in the eyes of the American public. But the stereotype that associates “raw,” high-level intellectual talent with men more than women seems to have resisted change. Why?

Our research is testing a promising hypothesis: It is possible that people give different explanations for women’s and men’s intellectual successes, explaining men’s competence as being due primarily to their inborn intellectual talent and women’s as being due to their efforts. This effort-vs.-talent stereotype “explains away” women’s achievements by attributing them to a quality—perseverance—that is less valued in American culture than natural ability.

Versions of this explanatory stereotype have been documented in adults, but our project will provide its first systematic investigation among children. In particular, we will investigate the effort-vs.-talent stereotype in the domain of mathematics because innate ability is particularly valued in this domain1, which might make this stereotype especially consequential.

 

What are some examples of language or behavior that might suggest an individual holds a particular stereotype? Are there potential ways of mitigating the negative effects of stereotypes?

The best example of this stereotype that I can think of—and this is in fact the anecdote that crystallized our team’s interest in this topic—was recounted by co-PI Joseph Cimpian in a recent piece for The Brookings Institution (emphasis is mine):

About five years ago, while Sarah [Lubienski] and I were faculty at the University of Illinois, we gathered a small group of elementary teachers together to help us think through […] how we could intervene on the notion that girls were innately less capable than boys. One of the teachers pulled a stack of papers out of her tote bag, and spreading them on the conference table, said, “Now, I don’t even understand why you’re looking at girls’ math achievement. These are my students’ standardized test scores, and there are absolutely no gender differences. See, the girls can do just as well as the boys if they work hard enough.” Then, without anyone reacting, it was as if a light bulb went on. She gasped and continued, “Oh my gosh, I just did exactly what you said teachers are doing,” which is attributing girls’ success in math to hard work while attributing boys’ success to innate ability. She concluded, “I see now why you’re studying this.”

In terms of what can be done to mitigate the effects of this stereotype, our project will investigate a potential strategy: normalizing effort by making it clear to students that everyone (not just particular groups) needs to work hard to learn math. This message reframes what is viewed as necessary for success in math away from the belief that natural talent is key, thereby undercutting the power of effort-vs.-talent stereotypes.

 

The current study focuses on elementary school students in grades 1 through 4. What was the motivation for choosing this specific age group?

In general, gender stereotypes about intellectual ability seem to emerge quite early. For instance, girls as young as 6 and 7 are less likely than boys to associate being “really, really smart” with members of their own gender. For this reason, we think it is really important to focus on young children—we need to understand when effort-vs.-talent stereotypes first take root!

“Catching” these stereotypes when they first arise is also important for intervention purposes. If left unchecked, the effects of effort-vs.-talent stereotypes may snowball over time (for example, differences in the types of careers that young women and men are motivated to pursue).

 

What plans do you have to disseminate the findings of this research in ways that will be useful for education practitioners? 

We are mindful of the importance of getting this research into the hands of teachers so that they can use it in practice. We hope to write articles on this work for media outlets that draw educationally oriented audiences. To reach parents as well, we will coordinate with popular media outlets to disseminate the results of this work to general audiences. More generally, we will make every effort to ensure that the findings have maximal societal impact, raising awareness of effort-vs.-talent stereotypes among parents, educators, and the general public.

 


Andrei Cimpian, PhD (@AndreiCimpian), Professor of Psychology at New York University, has conducted extensive research on children’s conceptual development, explanations, and motivation in school.

Written by Yuri Lin (ylin010101@g.ucla.edu), intern for the Institute of Education Sciences.

Photo credit: Brian Stauffer


1The full PDF and resources are available at https://www.cimpianlab.com/motivation.

The Center for the Success of English Learners Launches Website to Support Policy and Practice for English Learners

Policies and practices affect English learners’ (ELs) education access and quality. Supporting these students requires alignment across all levels of the education system—from federal and state governments to districts and schools to individual classroom teachers and students. 

About the Center

To address these issues of policy and practice, IES funded the Center for the Success of English Learners (CSEL) with the goal of improving access and outcomes for English Learners across the United States. Specifically, CSEL’s focused program of research includes identifying and removing barriers related to ELs’ access to the classroom and developing and testing interventions that leverage transdisciplinary approaches (for example, foregrounding content knowledge and building knowledge and academic language simultaneously) to improve instruction for ELs in Grades 6 and 9 science and social studies. Some research questions that will be explored include:

  • How are potential barriers, such as educator attitudes and mindsets and stated policies, associated with school tracking practices?
  • How do educators encounter and/or overcome barriers to providing ELs with access to the general curriculum?
  • What is the impact of the CSEL developed lessons on student vocabulary, language, and content knowledge in science and social studies?
  • Can student outcomes be improved in science and social studies through integrated formative assessments that allow teachers to make meaningful interpretations of student learning and informed decisions to guide their instruction?

New Website Launched

CSEL has launched a brand-new website to engage with the larger education community to exchange ideas, disseminate information and resources based on their findings, and create learning and collaboration opportunities for state and local education agencies. Visit www.cselcenter.org for information to learn more about their research, resources, and events, including an upcoming event based on their recently published brief, Education English Learner Students During the Pandemic: Remote & In-person Instruction & Assessment.

For more information about IES’s investment in improving opportunities and achievement for English learners in secondary school settings, please see here.


Written by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for the English Learners Portfolio, National Center for Education Research.

 

Supporting Teachers and their English Learners during Online Learning

Under an IES grant, Drs. Leslie Babinski, Steve Amendum, Steve Knotek, and Marta Sánchez are evaluating the impact of the Developing Consultation and Collaboration Skills (DCCS) program. The DCCS program is a year-long professional development intervention designed to support English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) and classroom teachers to develop their skills in collaboration, literacy instruction, and parent outreach and engagement for their Latino students. Unfortunately, COVID-19 disrupted their study, but rather than calling it quits, the research team used it as an opportunity to explore how teachers are responding to a new normal and learned some important lessons along the way.

 

Last spring, we were in the middle of conducting a randomized control trial in elementary schools working with teaching teams of kindergarten, first grade, and ESL teachers when COVID-19 hit, and schools pivoted to online instruction.

As we paused our efficacy trial and adapted our plans, we continued to stay engaged with teachers despite the rapidly shifting circumstances. We realized that the foundational skills central to our intervention—using high-impact instructional strategies for English learners (ELs), building on families’ cultural wealth, promoting collaboration between ESL and classroom teachers, and ongoing, supportive implementation coaching—could be modified and adapted for different contexts and modes of delivery. These ongoing interactions with teachers provided us with an up-close look at their experiences as they connected with families remotely and adapted to this new and unfamiliar way of teaching. We learned about the challenges, successes, and possibilities for providing online instruction for young ELs.

While online teaching during the current school year looks and feels very different from the emergency shift to remote teaching from last spring, we learned important lessons from the experiences of teachers and students.

 

First, we learned that our implementation coaching model could be productive in a virtual format. In fact, teachers were eager to engage in reflective conversations despite the demands on their time and the stress of the pandemic. Each of the school teams continued to meet with our implementation coach. Together, they found new ways to scaffold instruction for ELs during online learning. Teachers supported one another in finding creative ways to use technology to communicate with families and provide support that reached beyond academics. They also created lessons that intentionally adapted instruction to reach ELs in their classrooms. For example, embedded in the videos the teachers created, they continued to use our core instructional strategies, such as previewing academic vocabulary before reading a new text, supplementing student background knowledge related to the content, providing sentence frames for both oral and written participation, and selecting texts related to student cultures and families.

 

Second, it is clear that there are serious inequities in access to online schooling. In our study, even as teachers made the commendable efforts described above, they also reported that more than half of their EL students required a device from the school district, while one-third of the families also needed a Wi-Fi hotspot to access online learning. This rate is considerably higher than a Pew Research Center poll that found that one in five parents reported difficulties with online learning due to lack of a computer or Wi-Fi access, highlighting the fact that many English Learners may have limited access to the technology necessary for online learning.

 

Third, online learning requires a partnership between teachers, families, and other caregivers. Even with a device and internet access, many young children and their families had difficulty logging onto their school accounts and navigating the technical aspects of the learning platforms for online schooling. Teachers reported that about half of the EL students in their classrooms had a parent or guardian who was able to help them with schoolwork at home. About 20% had help from another adult or a sibling. In one case, a teacher described a family in which a kindergarten student received support for online schooling from her brother in second grade. In our study, support at home was critical for student participation in online lessons. Our work with teachers during remote teaching and learning highlighted how parents and other caregivers are important advocates for their children’s education and are eager to partner with teachers and schools to help their children succeed.

 

Looking to the future, it is clear that instruction for ELs will need to focus on equitable access to high-quality instruction, whether online or in-person. Access to devices and Wi-Fi is essential, not only for online teaching and learning, but also for extending learning into the home. Finally, we note that teacher collaboration and coaching can be effectively adapted for an online environment and is an essential component in providing support to teachers for high-quality instruction for ELs.

Although we could not have anticipated the value of continuing to work with teachers during the pivot to remote instruction, we are grateful for the experience and all that we have learned during the process.

 

For more information, see this EdWeek article and this interview on The TakeAway.


Dr. Leslie Babinski is an associate research professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Director of the Center for Child and Family Policy.

Dr. Steve Amendum is a professor at the School of Education at the University of Delaware.

Dr. Steve Knotek is a professor in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Marta Sánchez is an associate professor in the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

This is part of a series of blog posts focusing on conducting education research during COVID-19.

 

New Project Exploring Adult Basic Skills in STEM-Related Postsecondary CTE®

In celebration of CTE® (career and technical education) month, we would like to highlight the launch of an NCER project that aims to help us understand how to best support adults seeking additional CTE education and training.

Through their exploratory project, Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem-Solving Skills in Technology-Rich Environment in the STEM-Related Subbaccalaureate Programs in the United States, researchers will use a mixed-method design to gather information about the distribution of basic skills (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving) for adults in STEM occupations and students enrolled in STEM-related sub-baccalaureate programs at community colleges. Their goal is to help identify the needs of students and the programming practices at community colleges that may promote basic skill development in STEM programs.

The team will be leveraging data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) to survey the distribution of skills and abilities across a nationally representative sample of adults in STEM fields. They will also be collecting primary data from adults and programs in multiple locations, including Indiana, Ohio, and Washington states.

 

 

To help inform the public about their project, the researchers have created a short YouTube video for the public. This project began in July 2020 and may have initial results ready as early as late 2021.

 


Written by Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), Program Officer for Postsecondary and Adult Education, NCER.

Representation Matters: Exploring the Role of Gender and Race on Educational Outcomes

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice.

 

The process of education transmits sociocultural values to learners in addition to information and knowledge. How individuals are represented in curricula and instructional materials can teach students about their place in the world. This can either perpetuate existing systemic inequalities or, conversely, provide a crucial counternarrative to them. With an exploration grant from IES, Anjali Adukia (University of Chicago) and Alex Eble (Teachers College, Columbia University) are exploring how  representation and messages about gender and race in elementary school books may influence student’s education outcomes over time. The researchers will develop and use machine-learning tools that leverage text and image analysis techniques to identify gender- and race-based messages in commonly used elementary-school books.

 

Interview with Anjali Adukia, University of Chicago

Tell us how your research contributes to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, and/or inclusion in education.

In my work, I seek to understand how to reduce inequalities such that children from historically (or contemporaneously) marginalized backgrounds have equal opportunities to fully develop their potential. I examine factors that motivate and shape behavior, preferences, and educational decision-making, with a particular focus on early-life influences. Proceeding from the notion that children are less likely to be able to focus on learning until their basic needs are met, my research uses both econometric methods and qualitative approaches to understand the specific roles different basic needs play in making these decisions. My research, for example, has explored the role of safety and health (sanitation, violence), economic security (road construction, workfare), justice (restorative practices), and representation (children’s books), particularly for marginalized groups.

 

As a woman and a minority, how has your background and experiences shaped your career?

My research is informed and influenced by my own experiences. When I was a child, I never understood why there weren’t more characters that looked like me or when there were, why they had such limited storylines. For me personally, the motivation underlying our IES-funded project was borne out of my lived experience of always searching for content that reflected who I was. I think of representation as a fundamental need: if you don’t see yourself represented in the world around you, it can limit what you see as your potential; and similarly, if you don’t see others represented, it can limit what you see as their potential; and if you only see certain people represented, then this shapes your subconscious defaults.

It was a real watershed moment when I realized that academia allowed me to pursue many of my larger goals in life, in which I hope to meaningfully improve access to opportunities and outcomes for children – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. I hope to accomplish this in various ways, paying forward the many kindnesses generously given to me by: (1) producing rigorous policy-relevant evidence that expands our understanding of big questions and opens new avenues for inquiry; (2) translating my research such that it helps inform policymakers and practitioners in the design of school policies and practices; (3) understanding issues with a depth and sophistication that comes from “on-the-ground” insights, knowledge cultivated in multiple disciplines using different methodologies, introspection, humility, and courage; (4) directly working with government agencies, non-profit organizations, and community groups to positively inform policies; (5) contributing to the larger public discourse; and (6) by training and advising students to have the fortitude to ask hard questions, to be able to defend different perspectives on issues, to learn that knowledge brings more questions than answers, and to be willing to take risks and fail (and in the process, I will certainly learn more from them than they will ever be able to learn from me).

 

What has been the biggest challenge you encountered and how did you overcome the challenge?

Life is always filled with challenges, but one challenge starting from when I was young was to feel comfortable in my own skin and to find legitimacy in my own voice. I grew up as an Indian-American daughter of Hindu immigrants in a rural, predominantly white and Christian setting. I was different from the other kids and did not always feel like I fit in. I remember literally trying to erase my skin hoping that it would make it lighter. I found the helpers, as my parents (and Mr. Rogers) would suggest, and tried to focus on the voices that lifted me up – my family, teachers, other mentors, those friends who loved me no matter my differences. My mother always told me to find the kindness, the good, the love in people; to find the common ground and to embrace and learn from the differences. I surrounded myself with love, focusing on what I had and on what I could do rather than what society was telling me I couldn’t do. I turned to concentrating on things that mattered to me, that drove me. I don’t think there is a single challenge in life that I overcame alone. I have been very lucky, and I am deeply grateful for the many gifts in my life, the many loved ones – family, friends, colleagues, mentors, healthcare workers – who have lifted me up, and the opportunities that came my way.

 

How can the broader education research community better support the needs of underrepresented, minority scholars?

The notion of what is considered to be an important question is often driven by the senior scholars in a field, for example, the people considered to be “giants.” Demographically, this small set of leading scholars has historically consisted of people from the most highly represented groups (particularly in economics). And because the field is thus shaped mainly by researchers from a “dominant” group background, the key questions being pursued may not always reflect the experiences or concerns of people from underrepresented backgrounds. Education research has pockets where these different perspectives are being considered, but it can continue to evolve by becoming more open to approaches thought to be less traditional or to questions not typically asked (or asked from a different point of view). Expanding the notion of what is considered important, rigorous research can be difficult and cause growing pains, but it will help expand our knowledge to incorporate more voices.

 

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minority backgrounds that are pursuing a career in education research?

Keep a journal of questions that arise and topics that pique your curiosity and interest. Soon, you will find questions in the fabric of everyday life, and you will start to articulate the wonder you see in the world around you and what inspires you to action, to understand the universe further. I find that when I return to past writings and journal entries, I am reminded of questions that have ignited my fires and see some of the common themes that emerge over time. Find your voice and know that your voice and views will grow and evolve over time. There are so many interesting and important questions one can pursue. Most importantly, you have to be true to yourself, your own truth. Find circles of trust in which you can be vulnerable. Draw strength from your struggle. There is deep truth and knowledge within you.

 


Dr. Anjali Adukia is an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and the College.

This interview was produced by Christina Chhin (Christina.Chhin@ed.gov), Program Officer, National Center for Education Research.