NYU Steinhardt News

Experts Talk Gender and Education at Steinhardt Policy Breakfasts

Gender and education is the subject of a three-part policy breakfast series this year at the Steinhardt School. Two recent events brought together policymakers, researchers, and educators to talk about the complex question of how gender may impact academic experience and educational outcomes.

“Do Gender Differences in Academic Achievement Really Exist?” brought together Marcia C. Linn, professor of development and cognition in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California-Berkeley, and Joshua Aronson, Steinhardt associate professor of applied psychology, who has researched the role of stereotypes, self-esteem, and motivation in learning and performance.

Following an introduction by Dean Mary Brabeck, who cited the reemergence of the belief in significant statistical differences in how the different genders learn, Linn walked the audience through current research, which shows few, if any, differences in achievement attributable to gender.

Aronson complemented Linn’s presentation with a discussion of his own study of stereotype threat, which he and others have defined as “the psychological discomfort that arises in a testing situation when an individual of a particular minority group becomes aware that his or her performance on the test may confirm an established negative reputation for that group.” Aronson’s research shows that performance is heavily influenced by mindset, which suggests that differences in intelligence or problemsolving cannot simply be attributed to gender or race, but to cultural and personal ideas about gender, race, and intelligence.

In part two of the series, “The Potential and Future of Public Single-Sex Schools,” speakers looked at the recent surge in public single-sex schools from a research legal, and policy perspective. Cornelius Riordan, professor of sociology at Providence College, who studied the effect of single-sex education at all levels of schooling, cited research that demonstrated outcomes that favored single-sex schools over coeducational schools in certain instances. Recognizing that single-sex education is a contentious issue, he conceded that “researchers still do not know empirically whether single-ex schools produce better outcomes than their coeducational counterparts.”

Emily Martin, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union, responded by arguing that much of the interest in public single-sex schools is based on “insidious gender stereotyping,” and results in educational inequalities between boys and girls. Citing protections under the U.S Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Title IX regulations, Martin contended that single-sex public schools run counter to the law and therefore should be tightly regulated.