Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Boys and Education ... We Need to Do Something and Without Further Delay

President Obama says he'd have to think long and hard about whether to allow his son to play football, assuming he had a son. I'd like to ask him how he'd like to require his son to attend public school in Chicago, Detroit, Washington, or Atlanta, among other big cities, assuming he had a son.

And if the answer was no, I'd ask why he doesn't embrace vouchers and school choice for all children. And why kids and their parents can't just take the money spent on them in public schools and spend it as they choose on their sons' education. Doesn't he believe in the powerful beneficial effects of competitive free markets and individual free choice?

My guess is he won't be addressing those questions anytime soon. So let's move on and discuss the importance of concentrating on improving the educational outcomes of our boys.

Boys don't do as well in school as girls. The gap begins as early as age five and continues through graduate school.

But it's not because girls are smarter than boys. In fact, on standardized tests their respective scroes are comparable.

Perhaps none is this is news to you, but the punch line is this. Unless we get boys doing better in education, our nation has lots of unnecessarily tough times ahead -- even tougher than those we're enduring currently.

The Boys at the Back has the story:

"Boys score as well as or better than girls on most standardized tests, yet they are far less likely to get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college. Why? . . . Teachers of classes as early as kindergarten factor good behavior into grades — and girls, as a rule, comport themselves far better than boys.

. . . data from more than 5,800 students from kindergarten through fifth grade . . . found that boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted.

. . . attributed this “misalignment” to differences in “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently. As most parents know, girls tend to develop these skills earlier and more naturally than boys.

. . . teachers rated boys as less proficient even when the boys did just as well as the girls on tests of reading, math and science. (The teachers did not know the test scores in advance.) If the teachers had not accounted for classroom behavior, the boys’ grades, like the girls’, would have matched their test scores. . . .

Over all, it’s likely that girls have long behaved better than boys at school (and earned better grades as a result), but their early academic success was not enough to overcome significant subsequent disadvantages: families’ favoring sons over daughters in allocating scarce resources for schooling; cultural norms that de-emphasized girls’ education, particularly past high school; an industrial economy that did not require a college degree to earn a living wage; and persistent discrimination toward women in the workplace.

Those disadvantages have lessened since about the 1970s. Parents, especially those of education and means, began to value their daughters’ human capital as much as their sons’. Universities that had been dominated by affluent white men embraced meritocratic values and diversity of gender, race and class. The shift from a labor-intensive, manufacturing-reliant economy to a knowledge-based service economy significantly increased the relative value of college and postgraduate degrees. And while workplace inequities persisted, changing attitudes, legislation and litigation began to level the occupational playing field. . . .

Women now account for roughly 60 percent of associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees and have begun to outpace men in obtaining Ph.D.’s.

There are some who say, well, too bad for the boys. If they are inattentive, obstreperous and distracting to their teachers and peers, that’s their problem. After all, the ability to regulate one’s impulses, delay gratification, sit still and pay close attention are the cornerstones of success in school and in the work force. It’s long past time for women to claim their rightful share of the economic rewards that redound to those who do well in school.
As one critic told me recently, the classroom is no more rigged against boys than workplaces are rigged against lazy and unfocused workers. But unproductive workers are adults — not 5-year-olds.

If boys are restless and unfocused, why not look for ways to help them do better? As a nation, can we afford not to? . . .

One (reason to help boys) is the heightened attention to school achievement as the cornerstone of lifelong success. Grades determine entry into advanced classes, enrichment programs and honor societies. They open — or close — doors to higher education. . . .

A second reason is globalization. Richard Whitmire, an education writer, and William Brozo, a literacy expert, write that “the global economic race we read so much about — the marathon to produce the most educated work force, and therefore the most prosperous nation — really comes down to a calculation: whichever nation solves these ‘boy troubles’ wins the race.”. . .

A third reason: improving the performance of black, Latino and lower-income kids requires particular attention to boys. Black women are nearly twice as likely to earn a college degree as black men. At some historically black colleges, the gap is astounding: Fisk is now 64 female; Howard, 67 percent; Clark Atlanta, 75 percent. The economist Andrew M. Sum and his colleagues at the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University examined the Boston Public Schools and found that for the graduating class of 2007, there were 191 black girls for every 100 boys going on to attend a four-year college or university. Among Hispanics, the ratio was 175 girls for every 100 boys; among whites, 153 for every 100.

Young men from middle-class or more comfortable backgrounds aren’t lagging quite as far behind, but the gender gap exists there, too. Judith Kleinfeld, a psychology professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, analyzed the reading skills of white males from college-educated families. She showed that at the end of high school, 23 percent of the these boys scored “below basic,” compared with 7 percent of their female counterparts. “This means that almost one in four boys who have college-educated parents cannot read a newspaper with understanding,” she wrote.

WHAT might we do to help boys improve? For one thing, we can follow the example of the British, the Canadians and the Australians. They have openly addressed the problem of male underachievement. They are not indulging boys’ tendency to be inattentive. Instead, they are experimenting with programs to help them become more organized, focused and engaged. These include more boy-friendly reading assignments (science fiction, fantasy, sports, espionage, battles); more recess (where boys can engage in rough-and-tumble as a respite from classroom routine); campaigns to encourage male literacy; more single-sex classes; and more male teachers (and female teachers interested in the pedagogical challenges boys pose).

These efforts should start early, but even high school isn’t too late. . . .

And fairness today requires us to address the serious educational deficits of boys and young men. The rise of women, however long overdue, does not require the fall of men."

Summing Up

Boys must be encouraged to improve their academic performance in order for our nation to continue to lead the world economically and educationally as well.

Our ever increasingly diverse nation can afford to do no less than raise the educational and knowledge bar for boys and then do whatever we can to help them jump over it.

It's not a matter of brainpower but rather of willpower.

We simply cannot afford as a society to have 50% of our children being undereducated underachievers due to a lack of establishing good learning habits and goals at an early age.

It's not fair to the boys or the girls, and certainly not in the best interests of the country as a whole.

Globalization is real and competition is severe. The necessity of a well informed and highly educated U.S. citizenry will only increase in the future.

Thanks. Bob.

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