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A sad fact of life is that, sometimes, not all people are treated the same.

This happens everywhere, even in educational settings. What does this look like and where does it happen? Complete this lesson to learn about bias in education.

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What Is Educational Bias?

A bias is a type of prejudice against a person, event, situation, or group. In simple terms, it’s when a person or group of people is treated unfairly. You’re probably not even aware of the bias that happens in our everyday lives. We see bias in the media, medicine, and even in education.

Sometimes bias occurs intentionally, but often, people form biased opinions and attitudes without being aware of doing so, which is called an unconscious bias. How does this look in education? Let’s look at Hoffman Elementary, an imaginary school struggling with educational bias, which is when a group of students is discriminated against in an educational setting.

Types of Education Bias

Educational settings have several factors that naturally lend themselves to opportunities for bias – intentional or not. Hoffman Elementary is no exception. Hoffman Elementary’s students are of mixed gender, culture, economics, and ethnicity. Because of the variety of students and backgrounds and a lack of educator awareness at Hoffman Elementary, many different educational biases occur in its classrooms.Let’s take a look at the different types more closely:

Gender Bias

The first type of bias is gender bias, which is when teachers treat one gender differently than another.

Teachers at Hoffman Elementary will tell you they try to treat all students the same – male or female. However, there’s a lot of evidence that shows girls and boys are not being given the same educational opportunities. Did you ever have a teacher who was easier on the girls, but gave the boys more grief? Or, maybe the boys got a longer recess because they had more energy. Did the girls clean up the classroom, while the boys lifted heavy boxes? These are all examples of gender bias.

This occurs in instruction, such as when boys are assumed to perform more strongly in math or girls in reading. Teachers also show educational bias in gender roles by allowing more boisterous behaviors from boys than girls or expecting girls to turn in homework more consistently. Teachers also often praise and criticize boys differently than girls, saying ‘Good job’ to a male student and ‘You can do better’ to a female.

Cultural Bias

Another type of bias is cultural bias, which is treating people differently based on their cultural background.

Hoffman Elementary has several different cultures represented. Students bring a rich cultural background to school with them and hope to be accepted and have their uniqueness honored. Though most teachers do a great job of caring for and providing supportive learning environments for all their students, the educational system itself can be set up for cultural bias.You may not even be aware of the existence of cultural bias in the classroom, but take a closer look at those textbooks and instructional materials.

Though a classroom reflects many different cultures, most books and reading material reflect the majority culture. Social studies texts sometimes offer a misrepresented or slanted view of historical events, such as in the portrayal of the Civil War or westward expansion. Even questions on standardized tests can be culturally biased in the same way by asking questions that are only geared to the mainstream audience.

Economic Bias

Though most students aren’t aware of their economic status at Hoffman Elementary, economic bias is present. Teachers and administrators, and even policy makers, show economic bias when they stereotype students based on the amount of income in their household. They assume a student from a lower-income family won’t be as academically successful, will be less responsible, and may be even less trustworthy.

Ethnic Bias

Ethnic bias may be the most hot-button type of educational bias today.

It occurs when educators believe a student’s ethnicity will impact achievement. We see ethnic bias at Hoffman Elementary in instructional practices, such as when a teacher delivers information differently to one ethnicity than another or assigns different content. Educators may also address behavior differently, being more lenient to one ethnicity and more demanding of another.

Ending Educational Bias

Gender, cultural, economic, and ethnic biases do occur in educational settings, as we have seen at Hoffman Elementary. However, the good news is that the school is willing to try to change. Here are some things the teachers and administrators can do to eliminate educational biases from their school:

  • Treat all students as unique individuals. Educators often get caught up in the day-to-day happenings of teaching students and forget the bottom line: children. Educational bias can be overcome when teachers remember that each student – regardless of ethnicity, culture, gender, or economic status – has a unique set of skills.

  • Have open and lasting conversations about educational bias. The more the topic is presented and discussed, and the more people are given evidence of bias, the less it will occur.
  • Reach out and connect with families. Educational bias continues because assumptions about groups of people aren’t challenged.

    Bringing different cultures, ethnicities, and lifestyles into schools in an open, honest, and respectful way helps people understand one another.

Lesson Summary

Educational bias is when one group of people is treated differently than another in an educational setting. Not all educational bias is intentional; sometimes bias occurs when people aren’t consciously aware of their beliefs and behaviors.

Educational bias takes place in differential gender, cultural, economic, and ethnic situations. We see this in teacher instructional practices, attitudes, and behavioral expectations. Educational bias is also present in learning materials, such as textbooks. We can help to overcome educational bias by making sure all students are viewed as unique individuals, by having long lasting and deep conversations about educational bias and by reaching out to all families.

Like most types of bias, once we’re aware as a society that it is occurring, changing it is up to us.

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