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The School Context of Gender Disparities in Math Motivation


Females are still vastly underrepresented in math and science careers. This may be partly due to continued gender disparities in math and science motivation (i.e., the cognitions and emotions that drive math and science related choices and behaviors). Yet the effect of school contexts on these disparities is still unclear. School effects research has mostly focused on schools' role in achievement outcomes, while research on student motivation, including gender differences in math motivation, has primarily studied the contribution of individual-level factors to motivation. There are numerous policy and practice implications that can emerge from the finding that schools impact motivation even after controlling for student and family characteristics. Determining what school features are related to gender disparities could inform classroom and school-wide reforms to improve girls' math and science motivation. Therefore, this study not only adds to the school effects and motivation literatures, but it could also shape education policy and practice by examining the school context of gender disparities in math motivation. To study school contributions to student motivational outcomes, data from the National High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 were analyzed. The survey tapped into students' and teachers' perceptions of their schools, significant school features (e.g., school sector and teaching quality) as well as students' 1) beliefs about their math ability, 2) interest in math 3) perceived usefulness of math, and 4) intentions to take math in the future. Multi-level modeling was used to assess school-level features that contribute to gender disparities in math motivation. Results suggest student perceptions of teachers are strongly associated with between-school differences in math motivation, as well as gender disparities in motivation. For schools in which females were strongly motivated for math compared to males, students reported highly positive relationships with their math teachers. The results from this study will help professionals involved in education recognize the role of math teaching climate and quality in enhancing the math motivation of underrepresented female students.

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