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BIAS IN EDUCATION: DOES IT HAVE THE SAME EFFECT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT?

BIAS IN EDUCATION: DOES IT HAVE THE SAME EFFECT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT? Lawrence Steinberg CSULB

BIAS IN EDUCATION: DOES IT HAVE THE SAME EFFECT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT?

Abstract This paper discusses and explores the effect that bias has in both a traditional face to face and virtual environment for students in grades K 12. The effects of bias felt in the traditional setting have been in place for many years now, without many of us realizing it, including myself. I will attempt to demonstrate a correlation between the effect of bias: whether it be age, race, or gender, and whether or not it affects the reasons why students who attend a virtual public school, decide to withdraw and either return to the traditional face to face setting or choose an alternative one to both. I will look at current studies demonstrating bias in a traditional setting, review data from the virtual setting I work for, and compare if one setting has more effect than the other.

BIAS IN EDUCATION: DOES IT HAVE THE SAME EFFECT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT?

Background and Experience Approximately eight years ago, I finished a five - year, special education teaching assignment in Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD). As I was teaching in the classroom, I was concurrently completing my general education credential coursework at CSULB. The program required that I complete a student teaching course, so considering I was not obtaining an educational specialist credential, I had no choice but to leave LBUSD, complete my coursework, and then look for another teaching position upon completion of student teaching. After completing everything, I was looking for work, and stumbled across an opportunity to teach again. However, this was not any teaching assignment like I had seen before. The school was a virtual public school, where the teachers worked together in the same location, but the students work wherever they had access to the internet and their materials. Ive been in this environment for almost eight years now and there are many ways in which the school has evolved. Enrollment continues to show yearly increases and our student population is very diverse. Currently, we serve students in five different counties, including: Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino. Our school is accredited and serves students in grades K 12. One phenomenon that takes place each year, usually during two specific period time frames, the school receives an influx of newly enrolled students and a large group of students withdraw from the school.

BIAS IN EDUCATION: DOES IT HAVE THE SAME EFFECT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT?

Withdrawal from our school takes place for various reasons, but now that I am in an educational technology course where we are studying the effects of bias as it applies to race, gender, age, etc., I am curious to find out if there is any bias that creates impetus for withdrawal based on any affect felt by people of different races, gender, or age in our virtual setting. Before we focus on the effects, if any, of possible biases, I feel it important to discuss why students and families choose a virtual public environment as opposed to a traditional face to face or home school environment. When I first arrived at the school, we had a good group of students in grades K 9 (we did not have curriculum at that time for students in grades 10 12, which would come later). I was not very aware of parents motivation for having children attend our school, as their school of choice, but I did learn throughout the year that many of them chose to have their children attend our school for various religious and social/emotional reasons. Many families have very strong religious beliefs and they demonstrate a noticeable distrust for the public education setting, the information being taught by instructors, and the influence of the other students that attend those face to face settings. As Bramlet (2010) stated, the most recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics found that the main reason why parents opted for home school was for religious reasons. Not far behind were concerns regarding safety, peer pressure and academic instruction. Even though a virtual public school is technically not a home school, the students are still able to work at home,

BIAS IN EDUCATION: DOES IT HAVE THE SAME EFFECT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT?

under the immediate supervision of a parent or learning coach, and can ensure that their religious values are taught on a daily basis. As previously mentioned, there are also very strong social and emotional concerns that create interest for families to keep their kids at home. Many parents and students Ive spoken to over the last 8 years have mentioned issues at their local public school relating to bullying, harassment, violence, fear, etc., that have led them to make a change in their choice of a learning environment. Bullying is a difficult and serious issue that affects many children, no matter their race, gender, or age. The virtual setting offers students and families a chance to leave a past experience behind and try to create a successful present and future, both academically and emotionally. There are numerous success stories on the web where students have rebounded after switching from a traditional, face to face environment, to a virtual setting. Bias in the Classroom Bias is something that was recently discussed in our class, and it is pretty evident that it exists in our lives, whether we realize it or not. For example, in education, cultural bias in teaching is demonstrated within different textbooks across multiple domains, particularly within the United States. If you think about it, most contributions to subject matter like history/social studies and natural sciences are made primarily by people of the Caucasian race. Consider this example from Loewen (2007), most elementary and secondary U.S. history textbooks offer a romanticized view of the Europeans experience in the United States whereas most of the experiences of Native Americans and/or Africans in these same lands are either

BIAS IN EDUCATION: DOES IT HAVE THE SAME EFFECT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT?

misrepresented or underrepresented. I know from my own experience that I shared this view of history because of how it was taught to me. It was not until I was much older that I started to realize that what was taught was not entirely accurate. Another area of cultural bias in education that is debated yearly is within the context of standardized testing. Many people feel that bias is used in instructional practices by teachers and administrators, where belief is held that learning is only to take place during controlled classroom activities where students work independently, quietly, on one task, and are only to interact with the teacher. This perspective is seen as mainstream philosophy and ideology. The problem is that these valued ideas are not consistent with how children learn, especially children of different races and ethnicities and how they learn outside the classroom. Just because some students learn one way, does not mean they all will. Going back to the standardized testing issue, there are some assessments that are no longer used when testing students of certain races. For example, there is a standardized IQ assessment that can no longer be used with African American students because it was found to have cultural bias, especially when used to determine if a student has a learning disability. This example from Perry and Delpit (1998) demonstrates culturally diverse responses from students of different races. There was a study in which African American students responses to test items were evaluated. One test item showed a man standing, wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. Students in the study were asked about the destination of the man in the picture. It was reported that the test writers concurred that the correct answer was that he was going to

BIAS IN EDUCATION: DOES IT HAVE THE SAME EFFECT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT?

his place of work or business. However, many of the African American children thought the man was going to church. It was argued that the African American students response reflected aspects of their cultural background. Specifically, within their communities, men dressed in suits and carrying briefcases are typically going to church. Yet, from a mainstream cultural perspective, this response is deemed incorrect. Students were to observe that the suited man carrying a brief case is going to work and not church. For the researchers, marking the African American students responses incorrect reveals bias toward a knowledge base rooted in a North American or mainstream cultural value system. It also shows bias against knowledge emerging from an alternative, cultural value system. Another form of bias found in education is gender bias. For many, there is strong belief and research that supports the idea that females receive less attention from teachers and the attention they do receive is often more negative than attention received by boys. It is felt that socialization of gender within schools and evidence of a gender biased hidden curriculum demonstrates this belief. For example, according to Bailey (1992), the socialization of gender within our schools assures that girls are made aware that they are unequal to boys. This is demonstrated in simple, but often traditional ways like having boys and girls line up in two different lines, thus affirming that boys and girls should be treated differently. Often times behaviors of boys are tolerated, maybe because it is expected, than if girls exhibit the same behavior, which is seen as the old boys will be boys attitude.

BIAS IN EDUCATION: DOES IT HAVE THE SAME EFFECT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT?

Also, another socially exhibited way girls are treated differently in the classroom is when teachers respond to boys and girls with feedback. Boys, it is felt, receiv e praise or remediation, whereas girls are likely to receive solely an acknowledgement response from the instructor. Boys are given opportunity for animated and expanded ideas than girls, and boys are reinforced for their responses in general than girls. Bailey (1992) also notes some bias regarding instruction and how it is taught and/or presented: Gender bias is also taught implicitly through the resources chosen for classroom use. Using texts that omit contributions of women, that tokenize the experiences of women, or that stereotype gender roles, further compounds gender bias in schools curriculum. While research shows that the use of gender-equitable materials allows students to have more gender-balanced knowledge, to develop more flexible attitudes towards gender roles, and to imitate role behaviors contained in the material schools continue to use gender-biased texts. There is evidence that shows texts designed to fit within current California guidelines show language bias, neglect towards the academic success of women, and the exclusion of women when it comes to developing our nations history or technological developments. Recent Data Considering that we know bias is embedded within an educational setting, whether it be how boys are treated differently than girls, or how textbooks and assessments are culturally

BIAS IN EDUCATION: DOES IT HAVE THE SAME EFFECT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT?

unaware of differences, the data I am going to present represents both the successful families and students who attend or have attended our virtual school and it will demonstrate the rate of withdrawal and reasons for it for those who have attended our virtual school. The name of the school, student names, and any other identifying information will be withheld. Currently, our school serves approximately 2,200 students in grades K 12. Students in this study are sorted by: ethnicity, gender, and performance. Within those categories we will see how they perform both in their school - based assessments and how they score in standardized state tests in both reading and math. Example 1: For this chart, there were some abbreviations used to ensure chart clarity. AI or NA is used for students identified as American Indian or Native Alaskan. PI or NH is used for students identified as Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian. I used black in place of African American to save room on the chart axis, otherwise, when sorted they are classified as African American. The chart below shows how students are currently scoring in all of their courses at this point during the school year.

BIAS IN EDUCATION: DOES IT HAVE THE SAME EFFECT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT?

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90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Male Female Male Female Asian Male Black Female Male Female Male Female White AI or NA AI or NA Asian Black NH or PI NH or PI White Series1

In taking a quick look at the graph, it is evident that there in not one group performing much better than the others, but its interesting to see that in comparing just males and females, it appears that the females perform better overall when compared to their male counterparts. None of the female groups scored below 70%, but there are two male groups, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders who scored below 70% as an average. This could be for a number of different reasons, but perhaps it is based on their cultural history and the different ways in which they learn. Perhaps there is some bias that is affecting how they perform in a virtual educational setting. In the next graph, for students who attended our school last year, you will see how they scored on their standardized assessments in math and reading. Keep in mind that standardized assessments like this are only for students in grades 2 - 11 and again, these students were with us last year, so they do not represent everyone in those grades as did the previous graph of information.

BIAS IN EDUCATION: DOES IT HAVE THE SAME EFFECT IN A VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT?

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300 250 200 150 100 50 0 Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female AI or NA AI or NA Asian Asian Black Black NH or NH or White White PI PI Reading Below Math Below Reading Proficient Math Proficient

From observation, it is evident that the students who attend a virtual school in these grades are predominantly classified as White. It is also evident that females in general, scored well overall in both ethnicities, and in reading and math. Again, this makes me wonder if the virtual setting may have a leveling of the playing field effect, if you will. Perhaps being removed from some of the face to face issues that have been researched, are females given an opportunity to succeed, like their male counterparts? Whatever the reason, it is very impressive to see such success, considering that I do not think I would have been successful in an online environment at their ages. Why do students leave? If bias and other issues students and families faced in face to face or traditional environments gave them reason to switch to an online environment, then why do they leave to return to that environment? As stated earlier, students who attend our virtual school often enroll in bunches during certain times of the calendar year. With that, the opposite takes place as well, with a

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good number of students that withdraw. This usually occurs within a few weeks of the school year beginning or some wait until the end of the semester to leave and return to a face to face traditional setting.

Number of students
900 800 700 600 500 400 300 200 100 0

Number of students

Conclusions and Future Study As you can see, most withdrawals take place because they find a better option for their students. Unfortunately, the reasons listed do not let families indicate why the other schools provide a better situation for their students. It would be interesting to gather data on students that leave, sort it to see the numbers between males vs. females and then compare the results with the numbers presented previously showing how they are performing in a virtual setting. If you remember reading in the beginning of this paper, I mentioned that when I first began, many families indicated that they chose our school for religious reasons. To me, that signifies cultural behavior, which leads to learning in ways that may not be mainstream. So, there may

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be more families than we know that choose to leave because they feel bias is evident in our school in some way. If bias is a factor in determining why a student chooses to leave, it would be very interesting to provide a survey allowing them to indicate that in fact it was why they left. Especially considering that no matter where they attend chances are biases will be embedded there as well. While online learning has the potential to eliminate all biases toward race, age, and physical disability that might occur in the classroom, the hope is that virtual education levels the playing field and creates an automatic equality that would not exist otherwise due to race, age, and physical discrimination.

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References

Bailey, S. (1992) How Schools Shortchange Girls: The AAUW Report. New York, NY: Marlowe & Company. Berge, Z. & Clark, T. (2005) Virtual Schools: Planning for Success. New York. Teachers College Press. Loewen, J. W. (2007). Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong. New York: Simon & Schuster. Marshall, C.S. & Reihartz, J. (1997) Gender issues in the classroom. Clearinghouse, 70 (6), 333338. Perry, T., & Delpit, L. (1998). The real Ebonics debate: Power, language, and the education of African-American children. Boston: Beacon. Watson, J., Murin, A., Vashaw, L., Gemin, B., & Rapp, C. (2011) Keeping Pace With K 12 Online Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice. 74 76. Retrieved from: http://evergreenedgroup.com/work/another-sample/

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