Are boys negatively affected by the lack of male teachers?

As part of a series on diversity among teachers, Michael Hansen and Diana Quintero recently published a report with Brookings called “How gender diversity among the teacher workforce affects student learning.”


The teacher workforce in America is overwhelmingly female. Although the student population is evenly split, 75% of teachers are female. This gap is nearly as large as the gap in race and ethnicity. Furthermore, 200,000 male teachers would need to join the workforce to return to the gender balance seen in 1988.


Are boys disadvantaged?

Many are concerned that a lack of teacher gender diversity negatively impacts male students. The report outlines the argument that the majority-female teacher workforce contributes to the “growing gap favoring females in college graduation.” However, Hansen and Quintero point out that this argument is flawed in several ways.


First, the performance of both boys and girls in elementary and early secondary grades is increasing over time even as the share of male teachers declines. Simply, data from NAEP tests does not show significant gaps in achievement between male and female students, regardless of the gender of their teachers.


Still, some argue that the “female-dominated teacher workforce imposes norms of learning and behavior…that are developmentally appropriate for girls but implicitly disadvantage boys.” This argument is typically intended to mirror findings in racial/ethnic achievement gaps. However, “the key difference is that boys and girls are about equally distributed across all different types of schools and communities,” which is not true for racial and ethnic minorities. So, the analysis of these two issues is, as the report states, “inherently different.”


Finally, the report argues that the reasons women are graduating from college in larger numbers have more to do with the gender pay gap than the gender of their K-12 teachers. Women “need to succeed in school to have a decent shot at middle-class earning power,” while men can achieve higher wages with fewer years of education. This is a more compelling reason that women are more likely to earn college degrees, while evidence that the disproportionally female K-12 workforce affects this outcome is unclear.


When does teacher gender matter?

While the disproportionate number of female teachers has not contributed to significant problems overall, there are two more specific instances in which gender disparity among teachers matters.


The first is the lack of women pursuing careers in Sciene, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM.) Research on undergraduate students finds that learning from a female professor results in higher grades and persistence in STEM fields for women. More women in math and science K-12 classrooms could lead to gender equity in future the STEM workforce. What’s more, there is no evidence that suggests female teachers negatively impact boys’ interest in STEM careers or study.


Finally, boys raised in low-income households are also typically disadvantaged in school—this includes a disproportionate number of ethnic and racial minorities. According to the report, black boys are particularly disadvantaged, and lag behind white boys, while “almost no gap exists between white and black girls. While there is not empirical evidence that hiring more male teachers of color would increase the achievement of these students, studies point to the lack of father figures as a factor in low social mobility. So, the report argues that male teachers of color could potentially fill this role as well as contribute to a sense of belonging in academics.

What do you think about diversity in K-12 Education? What are some issues that should be focused on? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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