Are Schools Failing Our Sons? Why Boys Are Struggling
Why Is This Happening?
For decades, establishing gender equity in schools meant helping female students achieve at the same level as their male counterparts. However, recent research indicates that the tables have turned, and more boys are now struggling academically.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), otherwise known as the Nation’s Report Card, reports that girls in elementary and secondary schools across the US consistently outperform boys in reading and writing. In particular, girls outscore boys with an average of 24 points higher on writing assessments. At the same time, the perception that boys significantly outperform girls in mathematics and science has been shaken. Recent NAEP findings show that while boys are still in the lead, the gap between male and female achievement in math and science has been steadily shrinking.
When you look at the big picture, the statistics are cause for even more concern. Seventy percent of special education students nationwide are male. High school graduation rates indicate that 72 percent of girls graduate compared to 65 percent of their male counterparts. This trend continues into college, where males make up less than half of undergraduate students, and for every 100 men earning BA degrees, 133 women do.
These statistics leave parents wondering why one gender is flourishing and the other is struggling. Dr. William Pollack, PhD and author of Real Boys, believes many of our nation’s schools are failing to meet the needs of male students by not giving enough attention to the problems boys are having with certain academic subjects such as reading and writing. He also suggests schools are not necessarily offering curricula or teaching methods that meet boys’ needs and specific interests.
Why Boys Are Struggling in School
Many experts believe that brain-based differences in how boys and girls learn are at the root of the problem. Boys are generally strong spatial learners, abstract thinkers, and learn better when active—while the language centers in girls’ brains develop earlier, allowing them to grasp reading and writing skills with greater ease.
Michael Gurian, author of The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons From Falling Behind in School and Life, found that boys’ brains go into a rest state several times throughout the day, causing them to “zone out” during instruction. And while girls also experience a rest state, they are still able to gather information and take more in than boys do.
Matt Miller, a first grade teacher in Newton, Massachusetts, sees these differences daily in his classroom. “I find that boys need explicit instruction and practice in learning how to listen and gather information, whereas girls almost innately come into the classroom knowing how to be active listeners,” says Miller. He believes that boys are tactile learners who benefit from multi-sensory activities, and the review and repetition of skills.
Miller also feels strongly about allowing frequent breaks for movement, giving his students a chance to unleash their energy. While school systems across the country have cut back or eliminated physical education classes due to limited budgets, students, particularly boys, will have even fewer opportunities to be active during the school day which may impact their learning in the classroom.
Janine Mast, a fourth grade teacher in Dublin, Ohio, agrees. “I do think boys and girls learn differently. Boys love anything kinesthetic. They love to move around and act things out. Girls seem to be better auditory and visual learners. However, it is important to note that all students learn better by acting and experiencing what they are learning.”
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