The (negative) impact on boys in public education
Mounting evidence shows that boys, when compared to girls, are underachieving beginning at the early stages of education.
The phrase “boys will be boys” is often used as an excuse for the behavior of young men when they get into trouble. Usually, the boy’s father utters the saying after an untimely event, such as the neighbor’s window breaking from a home run swing or a mother finding a hole in her son’s brand new pair of pants. These situations usually end up with a parent smiling, fondly remembering a time when they were as innocent and carefree.
Underachievement in early education has caused not only lower high school scores, but higher dropout rates as well.
Despite the innocuousness of the phrase, an alarming situation has developed in public education. Boys are having a harder time learning in our public education system than their female counterparts. Reading assessments show that boys scored five points behind girls in fourth grade, ten points behind in eighth grade, and roughly twelve points behind girls in twelfth grade. Writing scores are even worse, with boys falling behind in fourth, eighth, and twelfth grade tests by seventeen, twenty-one, and twenty-four points, respectively. Granted, some of the disparity is related to increased achievement by girl students, but gone are the days when parents, teachers, or politicians could throw up their hands and say “boys will be boys” in regards to inattention in the classroom and lower test scores.
This underachievement in early education has caused not only lower high school scores, but also higher dropout rates as opposed to girls. The negative impact of boys falling behind in early education is seen most glaringly at the high school level. Young men, while only making up fifty percent of the high school population, account for fifty-six percent of high school dropouts. The reasons for dropouts are usually a disinterest in the material being taught, failing grades, and wanting to obtain a job.
Importantly, reports from 2009 show that ten percent of high school dropouts are either incarcerated or in juvenile detention facilities. This number, compared to less than three percent of high school graduates that are incarcerated, gives a greater understanding as to the social consequences of not completing high school. The economic burden is also significant: high school dropouts earn approximately $200,000 less than high school graduates during their lifetimes.
It is suggested that schools need to demand a greater effort from boys while simultaneously attempting to break the stereotype that good grades equal a lack of masculinity.
With statistics like these, many have started searching for the cause of academic underachievement amongst boys. Several special interest groups have targeted public elementary school teachers and policies as the nucleus for this “systematic failure” of young boys. Theories that the overwhelmingly female population of elementary school teachers can no longer relate to young boys and accusations that public schools have become anti-boy due to the promotion of zero tolerance policies boils down to the idea that boys are inherently different from girls and require a more active learning environment. This active environment, however, is not provided by the current educational system. Declines in physical activities like recess and physical education classes, coupled with a sharp increase in punishing aggressive behavior, are a few examples used by those who hold the education system at fault.
But why are girls consistently scoring and graduating at higher rates compared to their boy counterparts? One view suggests that the discrepancy relates to their increased effort and engagement in school. Girls are reported as studying for longer periods of time and simply caring more about their performance than boys. It is suggested that schools need to demand a greater effort from boys while simultaneously attempting to break the stereotype that good grades equal a lack of masculinity.
Another view points to the possible benefits of all-boys schools to combat high dropout rates. The National Association for Single Sex Public Education argues that boys are challenged in different, more constructive ways when exposed to an all-male learning environment. The idea is that gender stereotypes are alleviated at same-sex schools, allowing young men to be more open in pursuing their interests (art, music, literature, etc.). There is also a proven record for academic success at all-boy military schools. These military schools rely on strict schedules, the instilment of moral principles, and challenging the physical and mental psyche of young men. One of the premier military schools for seventh to twelfth-grade boys, Hargrave Military Academy, even outlines a required ten-step “How To” program for helping achieve greater academic success.
By developing a tailored learning environment that builds on gender differences during early education, schools may be able to lower dropout rates caused by feelings of isolation.
Early education sets the tone for a young man’s educational journey. If the environment these young boys are subjected to is one that inadvertently punishes them for their natural actions (or inactions) and produces lower overall achievement, it should be expected that these individuals will develop distrust for the education system. The National Education System believes solutions should include increased activity during classroom hours, which creates hands-on learning environments that play to a boy’s strengths and decreases the amount of suspensions and expulsions. By developing a tailored learning environment that builds on gender differences during early education, schools may be able to lower dropout rates caused by feelings of isolation and an inability to perform.
Encouragingly, campaigns such as the “Common Core” curriculum have been established throughout the United States to integrate high-level education, beginning in elementary school and continuing through high school. The program is designed to establish clear goals for students, parents, and teachers while equipping students for success in college and the “real world” that lies ahead. This new program has been adopted many states and will hopefully address curriculum needs.
The crisis we see today in our education system will take a significant amount of time to correct. While many solutions have been proposed, there is no clear choice that will guarantee increased test scores and attentiveness in the classroom; however, maintaining the status quo should not be a viable option. Although some reform attempts may fail, it is in the best interest of young men to create an educational environment that challenges them and adapts to their needs.