Studying 18,000 students of biology, chemistry and physics, a group of researchers have observed notable gender bias in student ratings of high school science teachers.
The study conducted by researchers at Clemson University, the University of Virginia and Harvard University showed that, on average, female high school science teachers received lower evaluations than their male counterparts, even though male and female teachers were equally effective at preparing their pupils for college.
Revealed online in Science Education, the findings show that high school students harbour a gender bias about science teachers.
The researchers have revealed that the physics students in the survey, most notably, showed the largest bias toward female physics teachers.
In biology and chemistry, male students tended to underrate their female teachers, but female students did not, they say.
In physics, both male and female students tended to underrate their female teachers, they add.
"The importance of these findings is that they make it clear that students have developed a specific sense of gender-appropriate roles in the sciences by the end of high school," said Geoffrey Potvin, assistant professor of engineering and science education and the department of mathematical sciences at Clemson.
"Such a sense of what are and what are not appropriate roles for males and females in science likely impacts the choices students make when they consider their college studies. Such a bias could negatively impact female students and contribute to the loss of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics," said Clemson researcher Zahra Hazari, also an assistant professor in engineering and science education and the department of mathematical sciences.
Potvin and Hazari joined forces with Robert H. Tai of the University of Virginia and Phillip M. Sadler of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to conduct the survey at 63 different colleges and universities across the US, while the students were beginning their college science studies.
The pupils were asked reflect on their high school science experiences.
Most of the questions focused on the content coverage in their high school classes, the classroom techniques used by their teachers, the nature and type of laboratory experiences as well as students' academic and family backgrounds.
The researchers used quantitative statistical techniques to analyse the data.
They observed that while a few differences in teaching style do exist between male and female teachers, they had no correlation with the gender-bias ratings.
They also found evidence that male and female teachers were equally effective at preparing their students for college, for their students performed equally well in college science.
The team also noticed that the rate at which female teachers produced students bound for college-level science study appeared to be identical to the rate of their male counterparts.
The survey data was drawn from a four-year study funded by the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.