"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I Am Good at Math, But Not in Writing

Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, "Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Are gaps in education likewise guaranteed? Achievement gaps do seem permanent. And sometimes, gaps even become bigger with time. Inequalities become magnified with one side progressing and the other falling behind.

In US education, there are gender gaps suggested in both math and reading scores for grade 12:

Math Scores
2013 NAEP Test for 12th Graders

Reading Scores
2013 NAEP Test for 12th Graders

These gaps are not exclusive at the end of K-12, but are actually present as early as fourth grade:

Above copied from Education Next
To address these gaps, stereotyping is frequently judged as the culprit. The gender gaps seen above can indeed come from a social frame of reference. Presently, there are more women teaching in K-12 classrooms but at the university level, there are more male professors. A more recent concern has likewise been raised regarding the trend that colleges are now enrolling more females than males, and that there are more males failing or dropping from basic education. In either case, there is a gender gap and the question of whether schools are making this gap bigger needs to be addressed.

Ulrich Schroeders from the University of Bamberg has kindly provided me with a copy of a paper he co-authored in the Journal of Educational Psychology.  The study includes data from more than forty thousand ninth grade students in Germany. The paper looks at the relationship between how a student views a particular subject in relation to other disciplines. We have heard these phrases before from so many people, both children and adults: "I am good at writing, but not in math" or the reverse, "I excel in arithmetic but I struggle with book reports". A table in this paper is worth noting as it shows the relationship between how students perceive one's ability in various subjects:

Above copied from
Contrast and Assimilation Effects of Dimensional Comparisons in Five Subjects: An Extension of the I/E Model.
Jansen, Malte; Schroeders, Ulrich; Lüdtke, Oliver; Marsh, Herbert W.
Journal of Educational Psychology, Feb 9 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000021
Mat =Mathematics, Ger = German, Bio = Biology, Che = Chemistry, Phy = Physics
The above are correlations between how a student perceives his ability on one subject against another. The negative number between German and Mathematics illustrates the 'contrast effect' between the two subjects. If one is good in math, one is not as good in German, and conversely. And it is apparent that, except for Biology, the sciences, Chemistry and Physics, are closely linked to mathematics. Thus, students think that if one is very capable in math, chances are high that one would likewise excel in the sciences. Of course, this myth is shattered if one looks at the rest of the table where the students' test scores between these subjects are examined:

Above copied from 
Contrast and Assimilation Effects of Dimensional Comparisons in Five Subjects: An Extension of the I/E Model.
Jansen, Malte; Schroeders, Ulrich; Lüdtke, Oliver; Marsh, Herbert W.
Journal of Educational Psychology, Feb 9 , 2015, No Pagination Specified. dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000021
Mat =Mathematics, Ger = German, Bio = Biology, Che = Chemistry, Phy = Physics
Test scores are all correlated with each other. Students who are proficient in German are likewise proficient in math and in the sciences. The idea that verbal and mathematical domains are separate and that these two are negatively correlated is incorrect. Yet, a lot of students believe that this is true. A lot of adults believe in this as well. Thus, in addition to avoiding gender stereotypes in education, this imagined demarcation line between math and verbal abilities must be eradicated. Recognizing that math and reading are not really negatively related domains should help in addressing gender gaps. If one can be capable in both, there is therefore no reason to become proficient in one but not in the other....





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