Gender bias in teacher evaluations

by Stephanie Chasteen on May 2, 2009

I’m at the American Physical Society conference in Denver this weekend (a nice way to spend a rainy weekend) and heard a very interesting talk this morning by Zahra Hazari, from Clemson University on gender bias in how students evaluate their teachers.  It was a very nice study, iwth very interesting results.  She asked male and female freshmen to evaluate their teachers from high school, to see whether there was difference in how they perceived male vs female instructors.

She checked to see whether male and female teachers prepared their students differently, and found that freshmen performed just as well in college regardless of the gender of their instructor in high school.  That’s a good thing!  So, one would assume then that any difference in ratings is due to bias, not to actual differential ability.

What she found is fascinating.  And this is controlling for all the important variables (like preparation)– it’s a multiple regression analysis.

In chemistry and in biology, male students rated their high school teachers lower if they were female than if they were male. Female students didn’t.

In physics, however, both male and female students rated their female high school teachers lower than their male teachers. Her interpretation is that the gender stereotypes about gender differences in ability in science and math is stronger in physics than in other disciplines.

The full article is downloadable here.

Here is the abstract:

In this study, the evaluation of high school biology, chemistry, and physics teachers by their students is examined according to the gender of the student and the gender of the teacher. Female teachers are rated significantly lower than male teachers by male students in all three disciplines, whereas female students underrate female teachers only in physics. Interestingly, physics is also the field that suffers the greatest lack of females and has been criticized most for its androcentric culture. The gender bias in teacher ratings persists even when accounting for academic performance, classroom experiences, and family support. Furthermore, male and female teachers in each discipline appear equally effective at preparing their students for future science study in college, suggesting that students have a discipline-specific gender bias. Such a bias may negatively impact female students and contribute to the loss of females in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields


Fran May 3, 2009 at 2:49 pm


reading this makes me feel a little weird inside. I’m female, and I’m the one who teaches the AP physics at my school (the other two physics teachers are male and they don’t teach AP). Still, do they think I’m not as good?

sciencegeekgirl May 3, 2009 at 3:12 pm

It *is* weird, but it completely makes sense with all the research on gender stereotypes and how we evaluate ourselves and others. I talked to some other people about the research and they said other studies have shown similar things. Of course, studies are dependent upon the context of the particular location, and statistics don’t predict what a particular individual’s experience will be, so it doesn’t necessarily say anything about your students. Still, I feel I’ve been hiding my head in the sand for a long time about gender bias, and it would be foolish to think there wasn’t a chance that it affected your students in some way. But it’s also the sort of thing that it may not be useful to dwell upon too much. Acknowledge it, and do the best you can?

carina May 3, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Hi, very interesting post. The link to the full article doesn’t work – is the link just wrong or do I need a subscription of some sort to read the full text?

sciencegeekgirl May 3, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Thanks for letting me know, Carina, I’ve fixed it now! Though you will need to pay for the article if you’re not at an institution that has subscription access to Wiley.

Priscilla May 6, 2009 at 4:03 am

This matches what I’ve heard from sources in my feminist theory and women’s studies background. It’s been a topic more than once on the international women’s studies email list. Thanks for keeping it in front of our attention.

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