Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

A Gender Study of High School Science Teachers in Rural Florida

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

A Gender Study of High School Science Teachers in Rural Florida

Article excerpt

Introduction

Biology is often the dominant course in science taken by high school students. In fact, a 2000 study indicated that 91% of high school graduates took this class and that "as a universal, lab-based high school science experience nothing else approaches the important or dominance of biology" (McComas 2007, p. 28). Therefore, the instructors who teach biology interact with the majority of high school students and may provide those students with their only view of science, since "only 59% of graduates in 200 took both biology and chemistry, and fewer still, 25% completed the 'big three' science classes [number three is earth science] before finishing high school" (McComas 2007, p. 28).

In the U.S., Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are now being implemented in 45 states, as well as in Washington, DC. As part of this initiative, content literacy is being emphasized in the sciences. Ten standards address this literacy in grades 9-10 and another ten standards cover grades 11-12 (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers 2010). Florida is one of the states who has adopted these standards, but it also continues to use content standards for Biology known as Next Generation Sunshine State Standards (Florida Department of Education, Next Generation Sunshine State Standards 2013). Florida has created an end of course standardized exam to assess student knowledge of these standards. This assessment was first given in the spring of 2012 (Florida Department of Education, Florida End of Course Assessment 2013). Scores are reported as levels one through five, with level one being the lowest in achievement. To earn credit for the biology course, a student must score at level three or above (Florida Department of Education, Office of Assessment 2013).

To enhance the content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge levels of biology instructors in preparation for the implementation of the biology end of course assessment, the Florida Department of Education disseminated a request for proposals under the category of Florida Teacher Quality Grant in August of 2011 (Florida Department of Education, Bureau of Curriculum and Instruction 2011). Gulf Coast State College and the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium, located in northwestern Florida, responded to this request and were funded for $500,000 as the Biology Partnership: A Teacher Quality Grant (Biology Partnership March 5, 2013). An additional $500,000 in funding was received for the 2012-2013 academic year. The science instructors who are the participants in this grant are the focus of this study.

Theoretical Foundations

This study is informed by contemporary feminist theory, which uses "the starting point of all its investigation [as] ... the situation (or the situations) and experiences of women in society. Second, it seeks to describe the social world from the distinctive vantage points of women" (Lengermann and Niebrugge 2011, p. 454). The sociological perspective of feminist theory focuses primarily on inequalities between the genders. The definition of gender, then, is one of this theory's major contributions to sociology. Gender is defined as "the social and cultural characteristics that distinguish women and men in society" (Cherlin 2013, p. 26). In feminist theory, gender is a social construction and such a pervasive one that "it usually takes a deliberate disruption of our expectations of how women and men are supposed to act to pay attention to how it is produced" (Lorber 2007, p. 276). In this socially constructed view of gender, the focus is not upon the differences in biological (sexual) characteristics between men and women, but rather in how gender shapes social identities and creates a power differential. Kerbo (2009, p. 310) describes this process of identify formation as:

   From birth, females and males are treated differently, made to
   dress differently, play with different toys, and are exposed to
   different experiences at home and elsewhere. … 
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