Call for boys' own bookshelves

BBC News, Wednesday, 14 March 2007

On average, boys lag behind girls in literacy tests

Every secondary school should have a bookshelf of "boys' stories" to try to encourage them to read and close the literacy gap with girls, ministers say.
Education Secretary Alan Johnson said working class boys in particular were falling behind in English lessons.

They should be encouraged to read with action and spy stories and to learn by fast-paced, practical lessons, he said.

Mr Johnson also announced a drive to attract more men into teaching in primary schools, to act as role models.

In a speech to the Fabian Society in London, Mr Johnson said by the age of 14, boys were on average 14 percentage points behind girls in their national test results for English.

Those from poor homes were doing even less well.

"This is the worst possible start for their GCSE years, in which writing skills are so critical," he said.

"We need an educational strategy that builds a positive identity for working class boys, instilling in them pride and a love of learning."

'Turn off TV'

He said literacy was crucial to achievement in other subjects.

"Boys like books which depict them in powerful roles, often as sporting, spying or fighting heroes - not just Jane Austen, but a necessary dose of Anthony Horowitz as well," he said.

"To help get boys reading we need a boys' bookshelf in every secondary school library in the country, containing positive, modern, relevant role models for working class boys."

Parents, he said should turn the television off and read to their children.
And lessons could be tailored to engage boys: "We know what works and what doesn't," he said.

"Boys do better when their attention is grabbed quickly. They like dealing with practical tasks which make learning tangible.

"Boys also like clear rules and quick feedback. They want to get straight to the point."


Liberal Democrat education spokesman Sarah Teather said: "Alan Johnson is right that we have to stop this worrying trend of boys falling behind their female classmates.

"But I hope he's not suggesting that girls don't like adventure stories.
"There is a perception in some schools that doing well at school and being academic is 'girly'. "Teachers struggle every day to help boys who are bright but embarrassed to overachieve - any initiative to help them do this is welcome."

Boys at School: A National Crisis

Family Education

Dr. William Pollack is a Harvard Medical School psychologist and director for the Center for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School.

Q: You have alerted the entire country to a "national crisis of boyhood." From the evidence in your book Real Boys, we also have a "national crisis of boys' education." What are the facts behind this crisis?

A: The statistics about boys' education are startling. Eighth-grade boys are 50 percent more likely to be held back a grade than girls. By high school, 67 percent of all special-education students are boys. Boys receive 71 percent of all school suspensions and are up to 10 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder.

A recent University of Chicago study, which combined results of six major surveys on educational achievement spanning 30 years and involving thousands of children, shows that there is a new "gender gap" in education -- with boys falling to the bottom of the heap.

As the study reveals, girls, due to our special efforts, have made steady gains in math and science while outperforming boys in reading and writing. The study found such large differences in boys' and girls' writing that it concluded that males are at a major disadvantage in what is a basic skill. That is a disparaging conclusion, to say the least.

"The Condition of Education," issued by the U.S. Department of Education in 1997, says much of the same. For the last 13 years, females have significantly outscored males in reading and writing. Boys have fallen behind.

The "Boy Code"

Q: The "boy code," or the myths and expectations we have about boys' behavior, is central to your work. How does the "boy code" affect the way we educate boys?

A: In my experience with my research and as a psychologist, when we observe boys' emotional worlds more closely, we discover much quiet suffering under their outward bravado. We bring boys up according to a "code" that teaches them not to express vulnerable emotions, and shames them if they do. In my "Listening to Boys' Voices" study at Harvard, even very young boys reported that they felt they must, to quote a few, "keep a stiff upper lip," "not show their feelings," "act real tough," "not act too nice," and "just laugh and brush it off when someone punches you." These boys were not referring to subtle suggestions about how they "might" comport themselves. Rather, they were invoking strict rules they had absorbed about how they "must" behave, rules that most of them seemed to genuinely fear breaking.

Boys learn the "boy code" in sandboxes, playgrounds, schoolrooms, camps, churches, and hangouts, and are taught by peers, coaches, teachers, and just about everybody else. Boys feel the pressure of the "boy code" in the classroom as much as anywhere else, and it is very detrimental to their education, from the way boys are often labeled as "troublemakers" and as "hyperactive" to their fear of expressing themselves in the classroom.

Moreover, this "boy code," as much a part of school life as it is, has created a "national crisis of boyhood": our boys are four times more likely to commit suicide than girls, and have a higher incidence of depression and a skyrocketing rate of diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder.

Where Are We Going Wrong?

Q: Where are schools going wrong with boys?

A: To the distress of teachers, administrators, parents, and boys alike, coeducational public schools are some of the least comfortable, least friendly and least productive environments in boys' lives. Teaching styles and disciplinary habits are simply not suited for the average boy, and often lock him into a terrible cycle of punishment and bad behavior.

But schools are not failing for lack of trying. Many of the schools I visit are trying hard to do well. Many teachers and administrators care greatly about boys. But, in general, our schools are failing boys in several ways. First, teachers simply do not appear to be doing a good job noticing the problems many boys have in certain academic subjects, namely reading and writing. Second, schools and teachers tend to be poorly versed in boys' specific emotional and social needs, and so they often handle these needs inappropriately or inadequately.

In learning environments biased against their strengths, boys may get turned off or begin to become frustrated, attempting now to get their needs met by seeking negative attention--or, we might say, through unwitting protest against this educational gender straitjacket that hems them in. This last-ditch rebellion completes the circle of failure, because now these boys are labeled as "troublemakers" or diagnosed with "hyperactivity." Because the myth that "boys will be boys" is deeply entrenched, teachers and school administrators are often permitted to become punitive toward boys --- thus pushing our sons even further toward academic failure, low self-esteem, conduct disorders, and other emotional and behavioral problems.

When boys feel in conflict with their schools and do not do well there, it deeply affects their self-esteem. By middle school, their self-esteem as learners is lower than girls'. While adolescent boys continue to show apparently average levels of self-regard, their scores on a measure called the "lie" scale --- that is, their fabricated self-esteem or false bravado --- skyrockets with age. Such lowered self-view, driven home by the education system, does more than lead to school failure. It creates a pathway to drugs, violence, depression, and suicide.

"Guy-ifying" Schools

Q: In Real Boys, you refer to "guy-ifying" schools. How do boys learn differently from girls, and what can schools do to make the classroom a more comfortable and effective place for boys to learn?

A: I firmly believe that – depending on how curricula are structured, how classrooms are run and what attitudes about boys prevail – a school can either shape boys positively or confuse them and lead them terribly astray. By addressing who a boy really is and what he really needs, a school can make a difference in helping him do well academically, feel positive about himself and develop a healthy sense of masculinity. A positive school experience, in short, can bolster a boy's self-esteem.

Boys have a unique learning style that is different from that of girls. Research suggests that, whereas many girls may prefer to learn by watching or listening, boys generally prefer to learn by doing, by engaging in some action-oriented task. I've observed boys who are so resistant to reading books in class that they'll literally toss them aside to pursue more hands-on activities. Yet some of these same boys have been motivated to read on a computer, which allows them to have fun scrolling through the pages using a keyboard or mouse. I've also seen boys who, though identified as "lazy readers," became active, proficient readers when given material on subjects that interested them, such as sports, adventure stories and murder mysteries. Most critically, I believe we must make absolutely sure that for every boy there is a "good fit" between what makes him thrive as an individual and what his school actually provides for him.

For instance, if a boy learns best by reading quietly by himself for a certain length of time – say, half an hour – and then taking breaks in which he engages in vigorous physical activity, such as running or playing a sport, ideally his school will not require him to attend four hours of classes in which he is given no time to read by himself and no time for motor activities. If another boy learns best by working in small groups in which the students teach one another through shared lessons and activities and where no student is ever put on the spot to come up with the right answers, ideally the boy is not placed in classrooms with huge numbers of students and then grilled by the teacher.

The more warmly a boy feels toward his school – connected, understood and treated fairly – the less likely he is to become suicidal, to abuse drugs and alcohol or to engage in impulsive sexual activities. A boy does best when he feels his teachers care, understand him and have high hopes for him academically.

How Can We Change?

Q: Taking these examples and advice into account, where do parents and educators go from here?

A: Ten years ago girls lifted their heads and raised their voices that schools needed to address the ways in which they learn. Naysayers said at the time that there couldn't be change. In 1999, girls have all but caught up with boys in the critical areas of math and science where for so long they lagged behind.

It is completely possible in the here and now to make positive change for boys, and we can start by doing for boys what we have done for girls. We can teach teachers about boys' learning styles and help them adapt their teaching methods and curricula accordingly. We can help parents and teachers learn to connect with boys. Boys communicate and express in their own ways. The more we understand this, the smaller a unit is in which a boy participates, the better he is known in his group, the more clear the connection he has with his peers and his teachers, the more likely a boy is to be successful in school and in life.

The school environment is not particularly boy-friendly, some experts say

Published: January 23, 2002

By Michelle Galley

Belmont, Mass.

In the fall of 1998, Peter Holland, the superintendent here, wondered if something was amiss. A disproportionate majority of the high school students being inducted into the National Honor Society were girls. Many more girls than boys were receiving end-of-the-year awards for academic achievement. And significantly more girls than boys were on the honor roll. What was going on?
After some checking, Holland soon discovered that he was not alone. Four of Belmont's neighboring districts in suburban Boston were experiencing similar disparities. Holland didn't know it at the time, but that same gap has been occurring across the nation. According to a number of studies and several researchers, boys are faring far worse than girls in school.

In fact, some experts say, mounting evidence suggests that boys are far less suited than girls to succeed in the academic environment. Those researchers point, for example, to boys' lower scores on the language arts sections of standardized tests, to their out-of-proportion placement in special education classes, and to the number of times boys are disciplined compared with girls.
Such experts say that educators have been slow to recognize that boys and girls often have different styles of learning and varying classroom needs. They say that boys perform best when they have frequent recess breaks and are able to roam around the classroom. And boys themselves say they are more likely, for instance, to enjoy argument and lively classroom debate, which often is discouraged, they say.


The school environment is not particularly boy-friendly, William S. Pollack, an assistant clinical professor in the department of psychology at Harvard University's medical school, concludes in his 1998 book, Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons From the Myths of Boyhood.

"Boys receive between five and 10 times more disciplinary actions in elementary and middle school than girls do," Pollack said in a recent interview. "And mostly we're told that's because they're more difficult. My answer is, it's because the environment is more difficult for them to attune to."

The attention currently being given to the problems boys face in school comes a decade after such research on girls claimed the spotlight. In 1992, for example, an influential report from the American Association of University Women, "The AAUW Report: How Schools Shortchange Girls," said, in essence, that schools were not girl-friendly.

According to the research cited in that report, boys received more attention from teachers than girls did, and nearly all textbooks were biased in favor of boys.
Research that soon followed the AAUW report cited girls' lower scores in mathematics and science as indicators of gender inequities in education.
While not discounting the hurdles girls have encountered in the classroom over the years, a number of experts point to girls' gains in math and science, and their outperformance of boys in English and reading, as critical to any gender comparisons in education.

The gender gap in the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, or MCAS, which tests proficiency in math and English language arts, has shrunk significantly, says Barney Brawer, a researcher at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., who recently broke down the scores from the state assessment by sex.
"The math gap is gone consistently," he says.

In 1998, the first year the MCAS test was given, 7.3 percent of 10th grade boys and 6.4 percent of sophomore girls taking the math test scored at the "advanced" level. By 2001, 18.8 percent of boys and 18.3 percent of girls who took the test scored at that level, shrinking the gap from nine-thenths of a percentage point to half a percentage point, according to Brawer's research.
For English language arts in 1998, 7.3 percent of female test-takers in 10th grade scored at the advanced level on the MCAS, while only 2.6 percent of male sophomore test-takers did so. Both boys and girls improved in subsequent years, but girls still significantly outperformed boys. Nearly 20 percent of girls taking the test scored at the advanced level in 2001, while 11.3 percent of boys reached that level.

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is given periodically to a sampling of students nationwide, both female and male 12th graders showed gains in mathematics from 1990 to 2000, with girls slightly narrowing the gap with boys.

In 1990, the average score for 12th grade girls on the NAEP math test was 291, compared with 297 for 12th grade boys. In 2000, girls in that grade posted an average score of 299, while boys scored 303.

But girls enjoy a decided—and growing—edge in reading, scores from the national assessment suggest. On the 1992 NAEP reading test, 12th grade boys scored, on average, 10 points lower than girls did. And in 1998, the most recent year for which scores are available, boys scored 15 points below girls
Internationally, researchers see similar patterns. According to the Program for International Student Assessment, a 32-nation study of educational achievement that released findings last month, girls scored significantly higher than boys in reading in each country included in the study. With the exception of Iceland, New Zealand, and Russia, boys scored higher in math than girls did, though that gap was much smaller than the one in reading.

Girls vs. Boys

Gaps between boys' and girls' achievement in reading show up early. Girls and boys have similar skills overall when they enter kindergarten, but girls are slightly ahead in reading, according to the report "Entering Kindergarten: A Portrait of American Children When They Begin School."

The report, released a year ago by the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, also says that more boys experience developmental delays, and that "girls are more pro-social and less prone to problem behaviors."

The NCES also recently reported in the Digest of Education Statistics in January, 2001 that girls are more able to stay on task, better able to pay attention, and more eager to learn when they enter kindergarten.

But a study released in the fall of 1999 by the University of Chicago says that by age 4 1/2, boys have a better understanding of spatial relationships than girls do. Spatial skills are important, for example, in interpreting graphs, maps, and X-rays, the report notes.

Big Boys Don't Cry

Boys at that young age are also more able to have close friendships and talk about those relationships than they are later in life, according to Judy Chu, a researcher at New York University who has worked with Carol Gilligan on boys' relationships and development.

Gilligan, the chairwoman of the gender studies program at Harvard University's graduate school of education, is most noted for her research that determined that early adolescence is a time of turmoil for girls. Now, Gilligan is theorizing that early childhood is a similarly tumultous time for boys.

Working from that theory, Chu conducted an intensive study of six boys, ages 4 and 5. She started visiting them when they were in preschool, and ended up observing them 39 times in the 1997-98 school year and the 1998-99 school year, when they were in kindergarten.

The boys were chosen because they attended prekindergarten at the Atrium School in Watertown, Mass., where Gilligan had done some of her previous research on girls. Chu says that, contrary to some of the recent literature in psychological journals that portrays young boys as emotionally deficient, she found that the boys she observed demonstrated an amazing ability to form meaningful relationships, and an ability to talk about their relationships.
"I was completely taken by surprise," she says. "I didn't think that 4-year-old boys could do that."

But as they grew older, their social skills, such as attentiveness, articulation, and responsiveness became harder to detect, she says.

That has a lot to do with what boys commonly learn from experience: Big boys don't cry. Boys feel "it is unsafe in the sense that people are not going to be receptive to their sensitivities," Chu says. "It is a wise decision to not reveal vulnerabilities."

The boys moved into a phase of showing "pretense" says Chu. Before she could talk to the boys about their relationships and feelings, she had to work through their saying things like "I'm the king of the world," says Chu. In preschool, the group of boys created a club that they called the "mean team." It was formed so that the boys could act out against and differentiate themselves from the girls, who were dubbed the "nice team," says Chu. One boy told Chu that he liked to play with the girls, but was worried that he would be kicked out of the club if the boy who was the leader of the mean team found out.

Chu says that try as they might, it is difficult for parents or teachers to shield boys from society's messages that certain behaviors are more acceptable for girls than for boys. "It is virtually impossible to take a boy out of that reality," she says.

And that preoccupation with pretense can make learning difficult. "It would make sense that boys would struggle in reading if they are not fully focused," she says.

No Girls

A group of middle school boys from minority, low-income backgrounds in Long Beach, Calif., seems to have overcome some of the messages they picked up from society. When the boys were educated in single-sex classrooms, their behavior changed in a way that surprised even the boys, says Kathryn Herr, an associate professor of education at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She spent the 1999-2000 school year studying 1,100 students—boys and girls—who were being educated in single-sex classrooms.

Being in classes without girls made the boys feel that they could take more risks and ask more questions, Herr says. And the girls, meanwhile, "felt somewhat more comfortable" without the boys around, she found.

"Both reported that the single-sex classes made for a safer environment," Herr says.

And some of the boys began helping each other succeed. Boys began to think that they were "in it together," Herr says. "They were startled by that," she adds.
The boys, she says, also reported that they "were supported and felt more known by their classmates and their teachers."

Ain't Misbehavin'

Nearly two-thirds of the students receiving special education services in the United States are boys. A study published last February in the journal Education and Treatment of Children says explanations for that fact abound.

The article, written by researchers from the Beach Center on Families and Disability at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and the ARC in Silver Spring, Md., identifies three especially prominent theories about why more boys than girls are placed in special education.

One is that boys are more susceptible to some genetic disorders and are predisposed to learning disabilities. Because girls mature more rapidly and have fewer birth defects, they may have a biological advantage over boys.
Another theory is that because boys are more likely to misbehave in class, they are more likely to get referred to special education programs.

And third, researchers in the field of gender equity have proposed that gender bias could be at the root of the discrepancy. They say that educators expect less from girls, and so they will more readily excuse low achievement from them. Educators set higher standards for boys, the reasoning goes, so if boys don't meet those standards, they are seen as needing special education.

To study some of the factors that contribute to placement in special education, the researchers reviewed the records of 695 students with mental retardation and specific learning disabilities from three midsize districts for three school years: 1992-93, 1993-94, and 1994-95. All of the students were at least 6 years old and were being admitted to special education for the first time.

The researchers gathered data about gender, reasons for referral, and the grades of the students when they were referred to special education, and drew on observations from classroom teachers about the students' behavior, coordination, and academic skills.

Of the students studied, only 2.5 percent of the girls had been referred to special education because of behavior problems. However, 20 percent of the boys had been referred for that reason. "Boys are more likely to be referred by regular education teachers, presumably because they are more disruptive and difficult to manage," the study says.

Because girls typically do not act up the same way boys do in classrooms, the researchers concluded that girls potentially are underrepresented in special education.

No Brainy Geeks Allowed

Back in Massachusetts, Superintendent Holland was determined to get to the bottom of the gender discrepencies the Belmont district faced. He set up a 10-member task force of parents, teachers, and administrators that met 11 times between November 1998 and May 1999.

The panel studied the makeup of various honors-level classes and extracurricular activities. As expected, more boys than girls were taking part in sports activities. And more girls than boys participated in academically oriented activities, such as the debate club and student government.

In the 1997-98 school year, boys made up only one-third of the students in the Advanced Placement English courses. The AP math classes were evenly divided between boys and girls. And the AP science courses were 55 percent male and 45 percent female.

The panel also wrote a questionnaire and surveyed small groups of parents, students, and teachers at Belmont High School, located in an upper-middle-class community northwest of Boston.

Doug Weinstock, a retired principal who served as the panel's chairman, said parents reported that their boys needed more support and needed to be encouraged to take more difficult academic courses.

Some faculty members from the high school and the district's Chenery Middle School were concerned that the task force's investigation would undermine the work that already had been done to benefit girls and ensure they got their fair share academically.

"Our task force did not see this as an either-or situation," says Weinstock, who served as an elementary school principal before retiring recently from the 3,700-student Belmont district. "We wanted to see what would be beneficial to all students."

Holland himself discussed the disparities between the boys' and girls' achievement levels with groups of sophomores and seniors at Belmont High. Members of the task force met separately with a group of senior boys and a group of senior girls.

In a report later released by the task force, some girls cited "peer culture and a lack of acceptance [among boys and girls] of the one-dimensional 'brainy' boy." Boys said that even in elementary school, they perceived that it was not acceptable to be a "geek" interested in schoolwork. And several boys reported that teachers appeared to have " 'given up' on them," and needed to have higher expectations for boys.

As a result of the task force's work, the district has become much more aware of boys' academic-achievement levels, Holland says. But change has been slow in coming, he says. District officials have tried to encourage middle school teachers to steer boys into harder classes for high school. But it will take several years to see results, the superintendent says.

Some high-achieving seniors currently attending Belmont High School have their own thoughts about why girls seem to be doing better than boys.
Greg Michnikov, 17, says that part of the problem could be that there are more female teachers than male teachers. "Females get along better with females than males do," he says.

NCES statistics show that three-quarters of the K-12 teachers in the United States are women.

"Females are more people pleasers," says Zdenka Sturm, a 17-year-old student at Belmont. "The teacher is a person, so when the girls please the teacher, the teacher rewards them with good grades," she says.

"Guys are more likely to say things, even if they are not sure that what they are saying is valid," adds Eden Lin, a 17-year-old boy. "Guys have a more confrontational approach to doing things than girls," he says.

But it's more than just getting along, says Brian Caliando, 17. Teachers discourage argument, which boys thrive on, he says.

"If someone poses an argument that coincides with the teacher's, he or she will let the argument go," Caliando says. "Then when you bring up a more radical idea, the teacher will come at you, so it's just a little more discouraging."
Lin says that to raise boys' achievement levels, schools should allow them to be more aggressive in the way they approach learning. "If we assume that guys tend to be more hands-on, and I think that is true, if you translate that tendency toward aggressiveness into the academic realm," he says, "I think it would be riding the natural impulses of males to learn that way."

Study: Teacher's gender affects learning

Associated Press , Sun Aug 27, 2006

Boys learn more from men and girls learn more from women

By BEN FELLER, AP Education Writer

WASHINGTON - For all the differences between the sexes, here's one that might stir up debate in the teacher's lounge: Boys learn more from men and girls learn more from women.
That's the upshot of a provocative study by Thomas Dee, an associate professor of economics at Swarthmore College and visiting scholar at Stanford University. His study was to appear Monday in Education Next, a quarterly journal published by the Hoover Institution.

Vetted and approved by peer reviewers, Dee's research faces a fight for acceptance. Some leading education advocates dispute his conclusions and the way in which he reached them.
But Dee says his research supports his point, that gender matters when it comes to learning. Specifically, as he describes it, having a teacher of the opposite sex hurts a student's academic progress.

"We should be thinking more carefully about why," he said.

Dee warns against drawing fast conclusions based on his work. He is not endorsing single-sex education, or any other policy.

Rather, he hopes his work will spur more research into gender's effect and what to do about it.
His study comes as the proportion of male teachers is at its lowest level in 40 years. Roughly 80 percent of teachers in U.S. public schools are women.

Dee's study is based on a nationally representative survey of nearly 25,000 eighth-graders that was conducted by the Education Department in 1988. Though dated, the survey is the most comprehensive look at students in middle school, when gender gaps emerge, Dee said.
He examined test scores as well as self-reported perceptions by teachers and students.
Dee found that having a female teacher instead of a male teacher raised the achievement of girls and lowered that of boys in science, social studies and English.

Looked at the other way, when a man led the class, boys did better and girls did worse.
The study found switching up teachers actually could narrow achievement gaps between boys and girls, but one gender would gain at the expense of the other.

Dee also contends that gender influences attitudes.

For example, with a female teacher, boys were more likely to be seen as disruptive. Girls were less likely to be considered inattentive or disorderly.

In a class taught by a man, girls were more likely to say the subject was not useful for their future. They were less likely to look forward to the class or to ask questions.

Dee said he isolated a teacher's gender as an influence by accounting for several other factors that could affect student performance. But his study is sure to be scrutinized.

"The data, as he presents them, are far from convincing," said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, which works to advance the progress of women.
Greenberger said she found Dee's conclusions to be questionable and inconsistent. More broadly, she said, boys and girls benefit by having male and female teachers as role models.
"I don't think there are many parents or students, looking back over their educational careers, who haven't been inspired by a teacher of the opposite sex," she said.

"And many have had very unhappy experiences with teachers of the same gender that they are. We have to be careful of too many generalizations," Greenberger said.

Student success cannot be narrowed to the gender of the teacher, said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers' union.

Experienced teachers, good textbooks, smaller class sizes and modern equipment all influence how boys and girls do in class, Weaver said.

"Students benefit by having exposure to teachers who look like them, who can identify with their culture ... but this is just one variable among many," Weaver said.

Dee said his research raises valid questions.

Should teachers get more training about the learning styles of boys and girls? Should they be taught to combat biases in what they expect of boys and girls?

In the nature-nurture debate, he said, teacher gender belongs.

"Some people will react strongly to this," he said. "But I've taken pains to explain that we need to be cautious about drawing policy conclusions. As provocative as this all might seem, I really haven't gotten that much negative feedback."

Concerns at Progress of Boys in School Lead to Many Theories

VOA-Voice Of America, 21, june 2006

by Nancy Steinbach

There is a lot of discussion in the United States about differences between boys and girls in school. Lately that discussion has centered on concerns that boys are not doing as well as girls. Boys, for example, receive seventy percent of all failing grades.

In April, the Manhattan Institute released its yearly study of graduation rates. The research group used information from two thousand three. The researchers found that seventy-two percent of girls successfully completed their high school education. That compared to sixty-five percent of boys.

The newspaper Education Week noted earlier this year that, in some ways, what people are worried about now is really not new. Boys have scored lower than girls on tests in the National Assessment of Educational Progress since at least nineteen seventy-one.

And the differences are not limited to the United States. Education Week noted the results of an international reading test in two thousand three. Fifteen-year-olds took the test in forty-one countries. Girls scored higher than boys in almost every country.

Differences between males and females are a continuing issue of fierce debate. Cultural and economic influences play an important part. But recent findings suggest that another part of the answer lies in differences between the male and female brain.

These include differences in learning rates. As a result, some researchers say, boys may not be able to develop language and reading skills as well as girls do.
The last time there was a lot of concern about differences in school, it was about girls, especially in math and science classes. Efforts to improve the situation for girls included hiring more female teachers.

Yet some people think the opposite situation exists now. They say not enough male teachers is one reason why boys may not learn as well in class.
Another explanation being heard involves the increased testing in American schools. Some people say schools are preparing for these important tests by forcing boys to sit quietly at their desks. They say this is unfair.

Still others say that society is failing boys, by giving them the message that studying is not manly. And others say boys are failing in school because they become too interested in the girls in their classes.

One attempt to solve problems like these is the use of same-sex classrooms.

Why boys will be boys

The New York Times, October, 24, 2005 & National Post - Canada, October, 24, 2005

Mr. Gurian note that boys:

-Receive as many as 70% of D's and F's given in schools;
-Create up to 90% of classroom discipline problems;
-Constitute 80% of high school dropouts.


Boys receive as many as 70% of the D’s and F’s handed out schools and make up 80% of high schools dropouts, author Michael Gurians’s research shows.

Brains account for their classroom problems, author says.

Why boys will be boys

Anyone who thinks "boy culture" is an oxymoron never read 71ze Wonder of Boys, Michael Gurian's breakthrough book on the science explaining why boys do the things they do.

Mr. Gurian, a therapist and educator from Spokane, Wash., has written other books in the ensuing nine years, including several on girls and the differences between boys and girls. His latest.. The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons From Fallíng Behind in School and Life, deals with the disconnect between boys and the classroom.

Not all boys have trouble in school, he says. But many don't thrive in schools that want kids to sit still, take notes and write papers.
Mr. Gurian and co-author Kathv Stevens note that boys:

· Receive as many as 70% of D's and F's given in schools.
· Create up to 90% of classroom discipline problems.
· Constitute 80% of high school dropouts.

Their brains make them do it, Mr. Gurian says, and his book is filled with scientific research to explain why, along with suggestions for breaking the cycle.

Mr. Gurian talked about the latest neurobiological research, how boys learn differently from girls and what boys need to learn best.

Girls join gangs, gut 90% of gang members are boys. Boys are hungry for the group.

Q. It's been almost 10 years since The Wonder of Boys was published. Do you ever get tired of talking about the subject?

A. I don't think I ever get sick of it, but I wouldn't write about it unless I saw something, a hole in the public dialogue that needs to be filled. (In this case) it happened with regard to education, where you can feel that something bad is happening.

Q. One time through several of your books is that it takes more than one person, even more than two parents, to raise boys. Why is that and is it different for girls?

A. I think the three family system (creating a “tribe” to work together in raising children) is good for all kids. If I were going to make a distinction, it’s that there is a danger with boys. We (males) are more aggressive. We are driven by testosterone. We are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. We are in danger, and we put the world in danger if boys are unsupervised.
Girls join gangs, but 90% of gang member are boys. Boys are hungry for the group.

Really, kids need four or five people to say, “Here’s who you can become, and we’ll help you.”

Q. Why are boys and organized education often a less-than-perfect match?

A. We’ve created an industrial greatest number of people, and (there are) several potential mismatches. The male brain goes to a resting state a number of times a day. If you’re saying, the way to learn is to sit … when (boys) sit down, their brain shuts down.

And industrial schooling relies on words, on writing. Many of these guys are not very verbal. That’s another potential mismatch, that guys who can’t read and write very well are being told that education depends on reading and writing. We have to look at other solutions.

And the third area is discipline. The industrial system values studiousness, quiet. And a lot of our guys don’t learn that way, so they’re discipline problems.

Q. Given the neurobiological differences in male and female brains, why do some boys do so well in school?

A. Industrial schooling does work for a lot of people. In a class of 30, I’d say you’re going to lose five boys and one girl. And if the teachers are really good, they can make anything work. They can teach to the vast middle of the spectrum, where the males have enough verbal strengths and the females have enough spatial (strengths). It’s just that there are so many more nonverbal males.

I don’t think people realize how a lot of this is hard-wired in. If the teacher would let (a boy) move around more when he takes notes, his notes would get better.

Q. Some teachers seem better suited to boys than others. What allows teachers to do well with boys?

A. They can put up with a little more noise. They don’t take things personally. They hold their authority. They might do it through jesting or jibing, and they will eventually lower the boom.

They have a sensitivity to the male need for movement. They’ll say you can draw as part of your brainstorming. A lot of teachers intuitively start with drawing before moving into words.

Q. What’s the most important thing parents can do for their sons? Or if you can’t limit it to one, the top four or five?

A. First is birth-to-three attachment. A lot of the assets the child will develop for education are (acquired) birth-to-three. It means we create an attachment system that includes (both parents) and certainly involves the day-care system.
Second, start a parent-led team (of relatives and family friends) and rely on it so that you’re never alone, especially when a child is in trouble.

Third, we need parents to advocate for teachers to be trained in how the learning brain works. If they see that a school is failing boys, parents need to politely insist that schools learn how to teach these kids.

Fourth, nutrition and screen time, what the kid eats and what the kid watches. (He recommends protein for breakfast, for starters.) If you stare at the screen for a long period of time the learning centers of the brain aren’t developing.
Fifth, pay attention to the emotional sensitivity of all boys but especially the 20% or 30% that are especially sensitive, the guys who are verbal, who are lower on testosterone, who are not strong on athletics.

Brain research indicates about one in seven boys is a bridge brain his brain is formatted on the female side. He’ll do better in school unless he gets so bullied by the dominant male hierarchy, which will never go away. It’s nature. If you have a son who is 12 or 13, and he’s hiding in his room, he’s stopped communicating, there’s probably something going on.

Q. You have two daughters. Has this research changed how you think about girls, as well?

A. It absolutely has. When wrote The Wonder of Boys, I was going to write The Wonder of Girls next. But The Wonder of Boys was a big book, and I ended up doing (more work on boys).

The greatest distraction for our girls is not math and science… it’s that there’s no support for stepping out (from the word world) when they want to have their own children.

We have to think about what our kids (will be) doing at 30 when they want to have children. I don’t think we have a good model for female life in an industrial culture.

Boys and girls should be nurtured in different ways

The Daily Telegraph, July 26, 2005

Boys and girls should be nurtured in different ways to achieve their full potential to achieve their full potential. Your child's health: growing pains. In the second installment of a five-part series covering everything from common ailments to tantrums, Lesley Thomas finds that boys and girls should be nurtured in different ways to achieve their full potential

There's no harm in letting your little son spend his time climbing trees and being boisterous, is there? Boys will be boys. He won't concentrate on anything for more than 30 seconds, but he can't help that. And why shouldn't your small daughter immerse herself in the sugary world of Barbies and copy her friends' outfits? They're just doing what they were born to do. Is that a problem? Well, yes, it can be.

A new school of thought among child psychologists and education experts argues that boys are indeed different from girls - though not always in the ways we assume - and that parents need to help strengthen the areas where their children are naturally weak. If we adjust our stereotypical attitudes towards the genders, we will raise confident children who will reach their fullest potential as adults.

Nurture individuality

For advice on raising girls, Americans turn to Sylvia Rimm, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. Her book, See Jane Win: The Rimm Report on How 1,000 Girls Became Successful Women, was a New York Times bestseller and is the baby gift of choice among middle-class Manhattanites.

"If you want your children to do well," she says, "you have to recognise the differences but not necessarily accept them."

For her book, she examined the lives of thousands of high-flying women and found that there were many similarities in their childhoods.

"In general, young girls don't seem to have a strong sense of their individuality, and uniqueness isn't encouraged as much as it should be. It's a hangover from the days when women's identities were defined by their husbands - when they were just in a supporting role."

Dr Rimm found that the women she talked to - including Eileen Collins, the first female space shuttle commander - were encouraged by their parents to search for their own identity early on. Mary Grandpré, the Harry Potter illustrator and another of her case studies, was called "the artist" by her parents from a very young age.

"She is a good example of someone who was encouraged to discover who she was and what her strengths were and who grew up to have confidence in them."
Many mothers assume that sacrificing their careers for their children is worthwhile, but in her study, Dr Rimm found that the successful women had mothers who worked or studied at least as soon as their children were in school.
"They admired their mothers for being able to do everything and they wanted to emulate them. Mothers have to remember they are role models. Mothers don't need to be at home, hovering over their children, their entire lives."

Encourage girls to take risks

You often hear parents bragging about how "good" their young daughter is and how "easy" it is to look after her. It's natural for girls to seek approval and praise by behaving well, but if their personality is to develop, girls need to take risks occasionally.

"Girls seem to have a natural reticence. They like being good and they like to model themselves on others. It makes life easy for parents, because they are not challenged by their daughters, but if girls spend their time trying to please others, they end up not knowing who they are. As a parent, you have to show them it's safe to challenge you." Girls' confidence starts to take a downturn as they head for their teens, and self-knowledge and independence will equip them well during these years.

"Girls playing with their mother's make-up is one thing," says Hartley-Brewer, "They are experimenting and reflecting their mothers. But make-up sets specifically made for girls of this young age is another thing entirely. They're being told who to be and how to behave at an age when they should be trying to find out for themselves."

Studies suggest girls start to lose confidence around the age of 14 - though parents of girls this age don't need proof.

"They need as much self-belief as possible in the pre-teens, because it's going to crumble during the teenage years. It's a good idea to allow them autonomy progressively, so they have a sense of being in charge of themselves later on. We tend to overprotect girls. Allowing them out of the home more and to have time on their own is important."

Learning and developing a personality is a risky business, but a child will learn very little if their parents are too paranoid to allow them those risks.

Challenge stereotypes

Dr Rimm cautions against fathers that treat their daughters as "pretty princesses" who learn at an early age how to impress their dads.

"You may end up with a daughter who is a brilliant people-pleaser and has excellent manipulation skills but her focus will not be to achieve something for herself." Challenging stereotypes should begin when children are babies, she says. "Encourage daughters to play with blocks and puzzles, to improve their spatial awareness. You go into a nursery and you'll never see girls doing this."

The trick is to treat girls a little bit more like boys and vice versa. "In some very recent research I've done on middle-school children, I noticed that boys' handwriting is very bad and it's accepted," says Dr Rimm. "It may be because that's natural, but wouldn't it be better for them if we raised our expectations? If you encourage a boy to take an interest in art, for example, it's going to help him.

"And there seems to be a trend for boys aged around eight to 13 to think it's cool to be lazy and we have to help them to see the benefits of completing a task - even if it's working in the garden or helping with the decorating."

The main issue with boys is their energy and lack of focus. They need to be steered regularly towards examining their tasks and the outcomes, without being nagged.

Boys need discipline

It doesn't matter whether boys and girls are born or made, they behave differently and we must use this information wisely.

Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer, a British education expert and social policy specialist, says: "Teachers shouldn't tolerate messy work from boys. They need the discipline, but they need understanding, too. They get bored easily and they lose concentration, so they need regular encouragement in this area. You need to help them focus and pin them down, without criticising.

"If a boy has turned in some schoolwork that wasn't his best, for example, you can ask him what he would do differently next time.
Boys feel less competent about completing tasks, but from the age of around eight to 10, they're very proud and physical. It's important to encourage this pride."

It's standard behaviour for boys to identify with their fathers around the age of eight to 10 and to seem less dependent. Mothers should resist the urge to hug boys to their bosom.

"They can start to be quite rude to their mums, but it's all part of them making sense of their world and their place in it," says Hartley-Brewer.

They want to play with fire metaphorically and often literally - and you can allow them to do so while setting firm boundaries. Boys' self-esteem, she says, peaks at the age of 14 and plummets at the age of 19 - which is hardly surprising when you consider the greasy, grumpy monster that is the average teenage boy.

· 'Raising and Praising Boys' and 'Raising and Praising Girls' by Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer will be published by Vermilion in September
How to motivate your children

Motivating boys

Appreciate that boys are full of energy and tend to act before they think. Encourage them to plan more.

Male pride and bravado can make boys dismissive of their errors. Reward them for being honest about their mistakes, so that they learn from them.
Young boys find it hard to concentrate. Allow for this by giving them short-term targets.

Don't over-monitor boys. Allow them some independence.

Motivating girls

Self-belief is the most common problem with girls. Let them know what their talents are and what they're doing right.

Girls like to be people-pleasers. Encourage your daughter to praise and judge her own efforts, so she is not simply seeking your approval.

Don't over-emphasise your daughter's physical attributes. Praise her personality and abilities, too.

Praise her, too, for trying new things. Girls need encouragement to take risks.

Results of a four-year study of gender differences in education 2005

Leonard Sax, Executive Director, NASSPE

Researchers at Cambridge University have just released results of a four-year study of gender differences in education. The researchers investigated hundreds of different schools, representing a wide variety of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, seeking to identify strategies which improved performance of both girls and boys while narrowing the gender gap between girls and boys. What makes this study really unique is that the researchers did not merely observe and document what they found; they then intervened, and attempted to graft those strategies onto other, less successful schools. A total of 50 schools were involved either as “originator schools” (schools which had successfully improved student performance while narrowing the gender gap) or “partner schools” (less successful schools onto which the “originator” strategies were grafted).

One of those strategies was single-sex education. These researchers found that the single-sex classroom format was remarkably effective at boosting boys’ performance particularly in English and foreign languages, as well as improving girls’ performance in math and science.

I had the honor of sharing the podium last week with the lead authors of the study, Michael Younger and Molly Warrington. Together, we did six presentations in two days! It was a great privilege to be able to discuss the study with the lead investigators face-to-face. Michael Younger more than once referred to the improved performance of the boys in the single-sex foreign languages classes as “astonishing.” Both researchers emphasized that it is not sufficient simply to put all the girls in one room and all the boys in another and say “let’s give it a whirl.” Teachers and administrators need to be committed to the program and must be determined to see it through.

The full report contains many fascinating insights from students and teachers. Consider this comment from one of the boys in the single-gender class:
We don’t just do war poems and Macbeth, we do Wordsworth too. It’s a challenge, in a way, which Mr J sets us to show the girls we’re capable of doing it, but I couldn’t talk about these things if there were girls there! (p. 85)

The researchers conducted extensive interviews with individual students, and thus were able to distinguish among students rather than lumping all the boys into one group and all the girls into another. The researchers were particularly interested in gender-atypical boys: boys who don’t care for sports, for example. How do these pupils fare in the all-boys classroom?
Interviews with [these] ‘non-macho’ boys suggest that these boys did not feel exposed in single-sex classes. . . .Such boys told us – without exception – that they felt at ease and comfortable, that they did not experience bullying or aggressive behaviour from other boys, and that they were not intimidated by the atmosphere in all-boys’ classes. (p. 86)

John Morris: Back to basics for successful boys

The New Zealand Herald, Friday April 29, 2005

* John Morris is headmaster of Auckland Grammar School.

The Minister of Education has recently set up a think tank to investigate the reasons why boys are not achieving as well as girls in the secondary school system.It is not before time. In 2000 I wrote a piece for the Herald outlining the growing disparity in achievement between the genders.In the interim the situation has become worse, largely because of the introduction of NCEA. The resultant increase in on-course assessment has been well proven to favour the way that girls work and further militate against boys achieving to their potential.

In Australia, Britain and the United States there has been voluminous work done on this issue and the minister has wisely suggested that a review of the available literature would be one of this think tank's tasks.I am delighted that the ministry is also doing some research on this topic. In the past, intensive independent research has not been a strong point of the ministry or New Zealand Qualifications Authority. If it had been I am sure NCEA would have a vastly different look about it than it does today.One key part of the research for the four principals chosen for the think tank (two of whom lead South Island boys' schools) should be to talk to other heads of boys' schools around the country, particularly those schools that have a proven record of academic success in external exams.These people, more than most, know how boys work and what works with boys.Boys' schools are uniquely placed in this regard because, unencumbered, they are able to operate best practice for boys.They do not necessarily have to consider political correctness and pedagogical orthodoxies, because they can focus exclusively on what is best for boys alone.There have long been arguments about whether boys do better in single-sex schools than in co-educational schools.From my experience teaching for 31 years, 20 of those in boys' schools ranging from decile 3 to 10, I believe strongly that boys in boys' schools outperform boys in co-educational schools.

A glance at the 2003 University Bursary league tables will give an indication of this. While boys' schools account for fewer than 10 per cent of the country's schools in total, five of the top 20 performing schools in Bursary last year were single-sex boys' schools - 25 per cent.This is not an aberration. The academic success of boys' schools can be traced back throughout the history of Bursary exams.The reason for this is clear: boys do have a different way of working from girls. This requires an approach to teaching and learning that is different from today's accepted orthodoxy.Boys' schools that recognise these differences are able to implement strategies and programmes that suit the way boys learn and therefore enhance boys' prospects of academic success.

There are undoubtedly many things that impact on the academic success of boys but experience would suggest there are 10 non-negotiable traits that need to be implemented to ensure they reach their academic potential.They are, in no particular order:* Structured teaching and clear organisation.

* Discipline and order with few distractions.
* Clear targets set and met.
* Competition.
* Work that is meaningful and challenging.
* Material is presented in a way that is as relevant as possible to boys' lives.
* Homework is focused and brief, marked and returned promptly.
* Activities are purposeful and lead to a result.
* There is a reliable ladder of progress, and explicit rewards are provided to channel boys' competitiveness.
* Teachers actually teach; direct instruction, rather than the child-centred voyages of discovery so much loved and espoused by the doctrinaire teachers' colleges, has been proved the most successful approach with boys.

It could be argued these traits are also significant in the academic success of girls, and I would not disagree. However, I believe boys temperamentally depend much more than girls on these principles of traditional education and without them struggle to reach their potential and compete.In its research planning into boys' underachievement I suggest the think tank does not get too esoteric but rather concentrates on the basics, much like the successful teachers in successful boys' schools who continue to stress the basics and reap the rewards of academic success for their boys.

In boys' schools the 10 traits listed arguably constitute best practice and allow boys to develop their own thoughts and views and to become independent learners.There are of course those who, brought up on the child-centred pedagogy, doubt that independent learners can develop from such an approach.I firmly disagree. I am constantly excited to see boys grow, mature and become young men confident of their own views and thoughts.I was delighted to see that when the Education Office reviewers last visited Auckland Grammar School they recognised this fact and noted that the positive school tone and high standards of teaching had produced confident, independent learners (ERO Report 2001).

For years boys' (and girls') schools have successfully helped students to develop a strong sense of self-esteem and worth, while accommodating differences in learning styles and creating a climate of disciplined achievement.In large part this is because teachers in boys' schools are able to embrace the distinctive tempo, sequence and style of learning specific to boys.Of course most boys in New Zealand attend co-educational schools and such specialisation is much more difficult. But if we genuinely care about the academic progress of boys generally, then some of the methods used in successful boys' schools must be looked at and perhaps tested in a co-ed environment.

Of boys and girls

National Post, Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Post's Anne Marie Owens spoke with Dr. Sax.

When Leonard Sax noticed the parade of boys being marched into his family medical practice with notes from school seeking medication for Attention Deficit Disorder, he realized something was out of whack.

A trained physician and psychologist, Dr. Sax found most schools refused to recognize innate gender differences. He became an impassioned advocate for gender-segregated classes through the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.

His new book, Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences (Doubleday), pulls together his wide-ranging findings on everything from how girls respond negatively to stress, to how anti-drug ads actually encourage teenage boys to do drugs and how all of these differences are hard-wired from birth. The Post's Anne Marie Owens spoke with Dr. Sax this week

Q: In the book, you suggest that educators have made a virtue of ignoring gender differences, but isn't that changing?

A: There is much more to the emerging science of gender differences than just education. One of the longer chapters in my book is about the many differences in drug use by teenage girls and boys.

Ads which effectively discourage drug use by girls have actually been show to promote drug use by boys: for example, ads which stress how harmful drugs are, and how they can ruin your brain. Girls don't want to ruin their brains. But risk-taking boys -- who are exactly the boys who are most at risk for using drugs -- will see an ad like that and think: "Way cool! Drugs fry your brain! Where can I get some?"

The United States government announced two years ago that its five-year, US$900-million campaign to discourage teenage drug use had been a total failure. Boys who saw the ads were more likely to use drugs subsequently than boys who had not seen the ads.

Likewise, girls who smoke cigarettes often say they smoke to lose weight. Boys almost never say that. Talking to a girl about the risks of smoking won't be effective unless you address her concern about her weight. I tell mothers, Why not join a fitness club with your daughter? Make a bargain that as long as she doesn't smoke, you'll pay her membership.

There are also big gender differences with regard to sex. Girls and boys have sex for very different reasons. High self-esteem decreases the odds of a teenage girl having sex, but increases the odds of a teenage boy having sex.

Participation in competitive sports such as soccer and basketball decreases the odds of a girl having sex, but increases the odds of a boy having sex. Et cetera. Et cetera. There's much more to this than just the educational angle.

Q: Other experts say things like, "Girls are more emotional."

A: Girls are not more emotional than boys. Most girls are more articulate about their emotions than most boys are, but when you assess emotionality by other, non-verbal measures, you find that boys are often more emotional than girls.

Likewise, boys are not innately more gifted in math and science. Girls can perform as well or better than the boys in those subjects, if teachers know how to teach it to them.
Girls are not innately more gifted in art, music, or creative writing than boys are. Boys can perform as well as girls in those subjects, if the teacher knows some of the techniques.

Q: You raise some fascinating gender differences in your book -- on brain development, on hearing, on the way the brain is hard-wired, on reaction to stress, even on art.

A: Let's just focus on one of those topics: Reaction to stress. There is now very substantial research showing that the right type of stress enhances learning in males, while it impairs learning in females. That finding has implications not only for the classroom, but also for the home.

Consider how parents discipline their children. Most parenting "experts" advise parents to use a discipline technique known as "induction" -- i.e. "How would you feel if someone did that to you?" That approach works well with most girls. It's a total failure with many boys. With boys, a more confrontational approach to discipline is more effective -- provided that it's done in a loving way. The same is true in the classroom, incidentally.

Q: I'm also the mother of four boys, including five-year-old triplets, so that's a big reason behind my interest in this. I think that's why the stuff on children's drawings is really fascinating to me.

A: I open that section of the book by describing a study done by scientists at Cambridge University on newborn babies. They offered newborns -- all less than 24 hours old -- the choice of looking at a human face on one side of the crib or a swinging, dangling mobile on the other side. The girls look at the human face. The boys look at the swinging mobile.

I then explain why this difference is present. The bottom line is that the visual system -- beginning with the retina -- is wired very differently in girls compared with boys. [In girls, the visual system is derived primarily from the retina's P-cells, which are designed to detect colour and texture. In boys, M-cells predominate in the retina, which are designed to detect motion and velocity.]

As a result, girls draw nouns, boys draw verbs. If you give a five-year-old girl a blank sheet of paper and a box of crayons, she's likely to draw pictures of people, or pets, or flowers, using 10 or more crayons, with a predominance of red, orange, yellow, green, beige and brown. If you give a five-year-old boy a sheet of paper and a box of crayons, he's more likely to draw actions -- a rocket smashing into a planet, an alien eating an animal, two cars smashing into each other. He is likely to use fewer crayons, with a predominance of black, grey, silver and blue.

Kindergarten teachers are seldom aware of these hard-wired differences. Nobody's ever told them about P cells and M cells. The result of that lack of awareness of gender differences is, ironically, a reinforcement of gender stereotypes.

After one year of coed kindergarten, boys will tell you, "Drawing is for girls." In all-boy kindergartens, though, boys never stop loving to draw with crayons.

Boys' education

Australian Government, Department of Education, Science and Training


Over the past decade there has been considerable community concern about the level of achievement attained by boys in Australian schools.

An inquiry into the education of boys in Australian schools was conducted in 2002 by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Training found that overall, while many boys in Australian schools are doing well, boys are not achieving as well as girls across a range of educational and social measures.

Some areas of concern for boys compared to girls are their lower literacy achievement, lower school retention and lower levels of participation in higher education. Boys also have higher rates of school exclusion. There is also evidence that boys’ performance as a group in areas such as literacy has declined over time.

To help those boys who are not achieving in school, the Australian Government is delivering a range of innovative programmes.

Success for Boys is a national $19.4 million initiative that is offering average grants of $10,000 up to 1,600 schools over 2006 and 2007. Success for Boys focuses on at-risk and disadvantaged boys and will address the following key intervention areas: positive male role models; literacy; information and communication technology; and improving Indigenous boys’ engagement with school and educational achievement.

Boys’ Education Lighthouse Schools is a $7 million initiative that was implemented in two stages over 2003 – 2005, and has provided funding to over 550 schools to assist them in improving boys’ educational outcomes.

The Australian Government has also managed a number of research projects relevant to boys’ education, and was the major sponsor of the 4th biennial Working with Boys, Building Fine Men conference held on 3-5 April 2005.

For further information on research into boys’ education please visit our boys’ education research and websites page, which includes the 2003 Australian Government publication Educating Boys.

How Boys Lost Out to Girl Power

New York Times, By Tamar Lewin, 12 December 1998

No one's calling for affirmative action for boys just yet.

But given the fact that girls are becoming an ever larger majority at most American colleges, many educators are beginning to think boys should get more attention.

For several years, the conventional wisdom -- reinforced by a steady drumbeat of stories stressing female victimhood -- has been that girls are shortchanged in school, getting less attention from their teachers than boys and gradually losing their self-esteem as they enter adolescence.

By all kinds of measures, though, girls rule in school. They have better grades, higher reading and writing scores, higher class ranks and more school honors, and they are more likely than boys to take Advanced Placement exams in English, social studies and foreign languages.

Boys are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out, be put in special education, be diagnosed with learning disabilities and be put on behavior-modifying medication like Ritalin. As teenagers, they are also far more likely than girls to commit suicide.

"The myth that the schools shortchange girls is dangerously wrong because it has diverted policy attention from the group at genuine education risk -- African-American boys," said Judith Kleinfeld, a University of Alaska professor, in a paper earlier this year that found that schools put boys at more of a disadvantage than girls. "This is the group that scores lowest on virtually every educational measure. This is the group where an enormous gap does exist between males and females. But the African-American gender gap favors females.

"The idea that boys need more help than girls do is slowly gaining currency nationally. "Something is changing," Ms. Kleinfeld said. "Just recently, people are beginning to be willing to think about boys' problems."

No one denies that the status of women remains a real issue in society. Despite the flood of women into business and the professions over the last two decades, women are underrepresented in corporate boardrooms, science labs and partnerships at law firms. And even in school, sexual harassment remains a problem.

Boys still dominate the nation's technical and engineering schools, and obtain higher scores on many standardized tests -- although those gaps are narrowing.
But some educators say the boys-versus-girls bean-counting has gone too far, that those gaps have become small enough that they are unimportant, especially when measured against the very large racial differences in educational achievement.

"They're saying that more girls take biology and chemistry, but uh-oh, there's more boys in physics," said Diane Ravitch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"This is not an alarm bell ringing in the night," she said. "What we should be concerned about is the racial disparities. There's a four-year gap between blacks and whites on the national tests. The average black
17-year-old scores the same as the average white 13-year-old. That's a crisis, not gender."

Arthur Levine, president of Columbia University's Teachers College, takes a middle road, stressing that both sexes have unique problems that schools should address.

"It's not either-or, and we shouldn't always see things as the crisis du jour," he said. "We can do better by boys. We need to do a lot better with regard to racial and socioeconomic differences, and that doesn't mean we shouldn't pay attention to the special needs of girls."

The furor over gender equity was kindled in 1992 by the release of a study by the American Association of University Women, "How Schools Shortchange Girls," which declared that girls face bias from preschool through high school in textbooks, tests and teachers.

The association presented the situation as dire. "This report brings to light the pervasive inequalities that have made girls second-class students in America's schools," said Alice McKee, the AAUW Educational Foundation president at the time. "Girls and boys enter school roughly equal in ability. Twelve years later, girls have fallen behind in key areas. Whether one looks at achievement scores, curriculum design or teacher-student interaction, it's clear that our schools are shortchanging America's girls."

The report stimulated debate on teacher training and gender equity, experiments with single-sex math and science classes and new interest in girls' schools, including new efforts like the Young Women's Leadership Academy in New York's Harlem.

But based on extensive re-examination of the AAUW data and findings, Ms. Kleinfeld's paper found the report shoddy, biased and simply incorrect. She wrote: "In the view of elementary and high school students, the young people who sit in the classroom year after year and observe what is going on, both boys and girls agree: Schools favor girls. Teachers think girls are smarter, like being around them more and hold higher expectations for them."

Ms. Ravitch also believes that the AAUW report was grounded more in gender politics than educational reality.

"That first AAUW report was just completely wrong," she said. "What was so bizarre is that it came out right at the time that girls had just overtaken boys in almost every area. It might have been the right story 20 years earlier, but coming out when it did, it was like calling a wedding a funeral. It was phony, it dominated the news for years and it was harmful. There were all these special programs put in place for girls, and no one paid any attention to boys."

Janice Weinman, executive director of the AAUW, defends the report. " 'How Schools Shortchange Girls' was a wake-up call," she said. "I think it's because of that report that girls made progress in math and science."

Others have also found it valuable.

"To my mind, it was a good thing that the AAUW got us to worry about girls, because there is no question in my mind that women in classrooms were treated with less respect and interest than boys," said Frank Newman, president of the Education Commission of the States, a policy group in Colorado.

"The boy-girl problem is much deeper than education, it's a civic
responsibility problem. When I was a university president, dealing with discipline cases where someone was being expelled or suspended, it was always boys. I don't remember a single girl. We need to teach boys responsibility. That's why sexual harassment is still a problem. Boy-girl differences are still important, but they pale in comparison to the big differences in education, which are due to race and class." This fall, the AAUW issued a follow-up report, talking about girls' gains, as well as the areas where boys lag.

"I agree, the issue shouldn't be boys versus girls," Ms. Weinman said. "It should be equity and excellence for everyone. And we're not stuck in the same groove, singing the same song. Our follow-up report said number one, that girls had made real progress; number two, that boys had not made that kind of progress in the fields where they lag, and number three, that we should look at subgroups, like Hispanic girls or African-American boys, to determine where there are particular needs."

But even the new report emphasized a growing technology gap that leaves girls less equipped for skilled computer jobs, calling technology the new boy's club.
"It's a significant problem, and we're very concerned about it," Ms. Weinman said. "And it's true, we're the American Association of University Women, and our mission is to look at education for girls and women."