K-8 Teachers’ Overall and Gender-Specific Beliefs About Mathematical Aptitude

Abstract

Teachers’ beliefs play a significant role in students’ academic attainment and career choices. Despite comparable attainment levels between genders, persistent stereotypes and beliefs that certain disciplines require innate ability and that men and women have different ability levels impede students’ academic career paths. In this study, we examined the prevalence of US mathematics teachers’ explicit general and gender-specific beliefs about mathematical ability and identified which teacher characteristics were associated with these beliefs. An analysis of data from 382 K-8 teachers in the USA indicated that overall, teachers disagreed with the idea that general and gender-specific mathematical ability is innate and agreed with the idea that hard work and dedication are required for success in mathematics. However, our findings indicate that those who believed mathematics requires brilliance also tended to think girls lacked this ability. We also found that teachers who were teaching mathematics to 11- to 14-year-old students seemed to believe that mathematics requires innate ability compared with teachers who were teaching mathematics to 5- to 10-year-old students. In addition, more experienced teachers and teachers who worked with special education students seemed to believe less in the role of hard work in success in mathematics, which could have serious consequences for shaping their students’ beliefs about their academic self-concept and future career-related decisions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We use the term “ability” to be consistent with the literature on “field-specific ability beliefs” (see, e.g., Leslie et al., 2015) which uses the term “ability” synonymously with terms such as “natural gift,” “talent,” or “brilliance.”

  2. 2.

    The term attainment refers to education levels that are reached as set by given standard benchmarks (e.g., grades, standardized test scores, educational credentials), a concept that differs notably from the nebulous idea of innate mathematical ability.

  3. 3.

    This evidence is based on graduation data from the UNESCO website (http://data.uis.unesco.org) under “Distribution of Tertiary Graduates.”

  4. 4.

    In total, 664 teachers received an e-mail for the survey, and 434 completed our items.

  5. 5.

    Note that coefficients of internal consistency tend to increase as the number of items goes up; thus, our scales consisting of two items might be expected to have a lower value for alpha than what is conventionally accepted (e.g., Nunnally & Bernstein, 1994).

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Acknowledgments

We thank Caroline Brayer Ebby and Jonathan A. Supovitz for their help conduct us this research.

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Correspondence to Yasemin Copur-Gencturk.

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Copur-Gencturk, Y., Thacker, I. & Quinn, D. K-8 Teachers’ Overall and Gender-Specific Beliefs About Mathematical Aptitude. Int J of Sci and Math Educ (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-020-10104-7

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Keywords

  • Gender-specific ability beliefs
  • Mathematics-specific ability beliefs
  • Teachers’ beliefs