Math Teachers Get the Worst Student Evaluations

Customer satisfaction is important, and if you work in higher education, you know that schools are no exception. At colleges, student evaluations of teachers often factor into hirings, firings, promotions – and, of course, tenure, the holy grail for professors.

If you’ve attended a college but never worked at one, you’re also likely to be familiar with student evaluations although you might not have realized how much importance they can carry. No, you won’t be able to get that professor who gave you an unfair grade fired by giving them a bad student evaluation, but schools do take note when a professor consistently gets poor student ratings.

Student evaluations can also matter in other kinds of schools, not just colleges and universities. Sometimes they’re even a factor in how much teachers get paid.

And apparently, this is tough luck for math teachers, because people who teach quantitative courses tend to get lower evaluations.

That’s what a pair of researchers from Canada found when they analyzed over 325,000 student evaluations at a university in the United States. The results of the study suggest that when teachers get rated, it matters not just how they teach but what they teach.

For example, when the researchers compared student ratings for math teachers and English teachers, they found a stark difference: the English teachers received much higher ratings on average.

Moreover, when the researchers compared data across multiple subjects, they found that teachers who taught more quantitative courses were much less likely to receive promotions, merit pay or tenure when their student evaluations were compared with standard scores not specific to the classes those teachers taught.

Why is this the case? One scenario is that maybe teachers in quantitative fields are less effective on average. Equally possible, though, is that students just don’t like math, so they give math teachers worse ratings.

Whatever the case, one thing is clear. To quote the authors of the study: “teaching quantitative courses can be hazardous to one’s career.”

Image: Flickr/Blondinrikard Fröberg