Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gender-bias impacts women physicists? Perhaps not

The author below obviously knows very little of the academic literature on stereotyping, even though her study is of stereotyping.

She has confirmed that there is a stereotype of men as better at physics but neglects to ask why. She would appear to think it is irrational or some evil male plot.

Yet the great preponderance of the stereotyping literature that actually asks the "why" question concludes that stereotyping has what Allport long ago called a "kernel of truth". See relevant literature summaries here and here.

So the first thing the Bug lady should have asked is whether or not men REALLY ARE better at physics. That she did not reveals her own biases

While some might argue that the lack of women in physics is down to personal choice or perhaps even biological determinism, Amy Bug, a physicist at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, USA instead claims it could be due to small, unconscious biases in the evaluation of female physicists that can add up to have a significant impact on their careers.

Bug videotaped a series of lectures using professional actors - two male, two female - who posed as physics professors. After the 10 minute lecture, 126 physics students were then asked to fill out a survey evaluating the lecture and the professor's performance.

Detailing her finding in August’s Physics World, Bug’s study found that, on average, male professors received higher scores than their female counterparts. The experiment also revealed that there is a distinct gender bias from both male and female students when it comes to gender-stereotypical attributes, for example associating a male professor as good with science equipment, and a female professor as more helpful.

Interestingly, Bug found that while female students gave slightly higher marks to the female professors than they did to the men, male students rated the male professors vastly better. Bug’s findings show that not only does the gender of a physics professor determine how lectures are received, but also the student’s gender plays a role as well.

These results are consistent with the theory that people associate different genders with different aptitudes and predilections. Female physicists break such associations prompting a negative perception. Together with small disadvantages such as smaller start-up grants and unequal wages these can accumulate over time and have dramatic consequences on a career.

According to Bug, progress towards more equality will depend on the continuous effort of educational, professional and funding institutions. “Today, the big issues are acknowledging and correcting the implicit bias, workplace policy reform, bringing in students from ethnic minorities, retaining girls between school and college, and seeking equality in the developing world.” writes Bug.


College transparency: Uncharted territory

Jane just got accepted to a prestigious private university. Tuition is over $40,000 a year and her parents do not qualify for financial aid because of their high incomes. They write out a check for $160,000 and Jane is on her way to earning a four-year degree.

John also received an acceptance letter to the same school. In his case, his parents are not so well off so he qualifies for both federal and state financial aid. Because of his high GPA he receives college scholarships as well. Still unable to afford college, he is offered and accepts several loans because he believes that going to a more expensive college means that his degree will be worth more and will eventually get him a high paying job. Eventually, he figures, he will be able to pay off those loans.

Most students at college tend to fall somewhere between those two cases. After wading through the bog of muddled information from college admissions offices about financial aid, parents are relieved to have even made it through the process alive, figuratively speaking. Little time or energy is then left to investigate questions like “What does my tuition money actually fund?”

College campuses are set up like miniature governments. The endless red tape and long lines. The faculty senate. The handbook, codes, rules. The unnecessary bureaucracy. Offices of disabilities and abilities alike. Signature collection, approvals, stamps, mailboxes, and forms. Even at private universities, you can expect to run into your fair share of government documents to fill out regarding employment, finances and running your affairs.

Colleges are very heavily subsidized by the government — through the current stimulus package, especially through aid and loans for students as also through a variety of other means. In turn, colleges know that they can raise tuition prices through the roof and get away with it. Government, which is to say the taxpayers extorted by the government, will always be there to provide the money. Right? This allows colleges to continually add more employees and limitless layers of bureaucracy, simply because they can afford it. An illusion is created that the college is progressive, growing and innovative. In reality, they’re simply unnecessarily wasting resources.

A truly free market would lack the subsidies that distort the current education market. In a stateless society, to be specific, market discipline would create the expectation that “what you pay for is what you get.” Admissions offices would boast of their efficiency; recruiting new students by pointing to comparisons of the costs versus benefits of attending their school — because that information would be easier to meaningfully identify without market distortions. Instead of cost alone, students and parents would be looking at the actual educational value to be received for their money. Colleges wouldn’t be pressured to give tenure to a horrible professor simply because of how long he had taught at the school. Rather, they would reward instructors based on merit as determined by consumer choices in the market.

From the perspective of the average person, meaningful financial transparency on college campuses is currently rare. With students lost in loan rules la-la land, chasing elusive job openings, and facing overall exhaustion with the current system, it can be arduous to investigate where the money students pay is going. With the current state of the economy, however, students and parents will have to wake up and ask these important questions of transparency, choosing the most cost effective and truly productive school. Such challenges to authoritarian institutions of all sorts will increasingly become crucial to the financial survival of the ordinary person.


British Primary school results 'inflated' by teachers

The extent to which children’s grasp of core subjects is being “artificially inflated” by schools is laid bare in damning figures which have been published for the first time. New-style tests show that results in science are up to a third lower at the end of primary school than previous scores suggested.

The figures – based on a small-scale “sample” designed to give a more accurate picture of national achievement – will fuel fears that pupils have been “taught to the test” to boost schools’ positions in league tables at the expense of a proper understanding of the subject.

It will also cast fresh doubts over Labour’s education record and raise questions over standards in other core subjects such as English and mathematics.

In the past, all children in England took Sats tests in science at the end of primary school. Last year, almost nine-in-10 reached the standard expected for their age and 43 per cent exceeded national targets.

But the science test was scrapped following complaints that schools drilled children to pass by repeatedly forcing them to sit practice papers, undermining their education. It was replaced with a sample test taken by just one-in-20 pupils nationally. Under the new system, individual schools are not identified and results do not contribute towards league tables.

Figures published by the Department for Education show that 81 per cent of 11-year-olds reached the national target for their age group – Level 4 – in the sample test. This compared with 88 per cent of those who took Sats last year.

It means fewer children can use tables and bar charts to record measurements, identify organs in the human body and understand the difference between solids, liquids and gases. At the same time, only 28 per cent gained an elite Level 5 in the sample test, compared with 43 per cent last year – a drop of around a third.

Prof Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: “With these sampling tests, the schools are not individually identified so there isn’t the same pressure to artificially inflate the result.

“When rewards and sanctions are attached to the test, teachers can push up results simply by training children in the sort of questions that will come up and scores quickly get out of line with the actual understanding of the children. In a sense, sampling provides a more accurate picture. “If we want to discover how well the education system is going, this is the way to do it.”

Statisticians from the Department for Education admitted that the results this year could not be compared with those of the past because previous tests “fed the school accountability framework”.

Ministers have refused to axe Sats tests in English and maths and the latest results will fuel speculation that results in those subjects are also artificially higher. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has already announced a review of the way primary school pupils are assessed.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The sample tests point the way forward and I urge the Secretary of State to conduct his review of national curriculum assessment with a view to putting the sampling system in place for both English and mathematics."

The sample science test results are also lower than teachers’ own assessments of pupils’ abilities in the classroom. Teachers informally assess children’s grasp of English, maths and science throughout the final year of primary education, with results being published alongside Sats scores. Assessment scores released last week suggested 85 per cent of children were at Level 4 and 37 per cent were at Level 5.


No comments: