Alex Eble, Assistant Professor of Economics & Education at Teachers College, is co-recipient of an $884,205 grant from the federal Institute of Education Sciences to explore how messages about gender and race in elementary school textbooks can influence children’s beliefs in their own abilities and their subsequent educational decisions. Non-governmental sources will provide more than $133,000 in additional funds to support the effort.
A two-year research project by Eble and Anjali Adukia, Assistant Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, will explore the extent to which exposure to implicit gender- and race-based messages in elementary school textbooks may contribute to disparities in educational achievement among youth from different populations, particularly with regard to race and gender.
Their research is expected to build on current literature demonstrating that structural influences at the earliest stages can inform children’s beliefs about their own ability and the ability of others – and that those beliefs can influence educational achievement.
“We want to understand how much representation matters in shaping educational outcomes,” the researchers said. “This new work will provide insights into how messages related to identity, used in an official educational setting, affect actions and educational outcomes over time.”
Eble and Adukia will use machine-learning tools such as natural language processing and image analysis techniques to identify gender- and race-based messages in elementary-school textbooks used in Texas between 1985 and 2011. Texas mandated a standardized set of textbooks across the entire state.
The study will then pair these findings with administrative data to determine a relationship between the gender- and race-based messages to which students are exposed, and their academic performance and outcomes, including SAT and ACT scores, AP test scores and AP enrollment, employment status, and other factors.
During the period that the study will focus on, the number of students in Texas public schools ranged from 3.2 to 4.8 million; the proportion of these students who were Black ranged from 12–14 percent, and the percentage who were Latinx ranged from 35–53 percent.
This new work will provide insights into how messages related to identity, used in an official educational setting, affect actions and educational outcomes over time.
—Alex Eble and Anjali Adukia
Eble, who joined TC’s faculty in 2016, is affiliated with Columbia's Center for Development Economics and Policy, Committee on the Economics of Education, and Population Research Center. He is also a fellow at the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, and a part of Effective Intervention, a group of researchers based at the London Schools of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance working on how to raise education levels and reduce child mortality in pockets of extreme poverty in the developing world. In 2019, he was a recipient of a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, which provides funding and professional development to early-career education researchers.
Eble’s research focuses on two core areas. In one strand, he works to understand how children form beliefs about their own ability, and how this affects their human capital development. In the other, he works to identify, evaluate and study the scalability of potentially high-leverage policy options to raise learning levels in the developing world.