Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Boys, Schools and the Sunshine State

Here's an article that ran recently in the Gainesville Sun. Dr. Clark has been doing some very interesting work about boys who struggle in school in Florida.

Mary Ann Clark: How to close the education gender gap
Special to The Sun

Published: Sunday, June 15, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 13, 2008 at 8:10 p.m.

There have been numerous articles in the media on the growing gender gap in educational achievement and persistence resulting in significantly more women than men entering and graduating from college and earning graduate degrees (see "Outnumbered on campus," Gainesville Sun, March 16).

There have also been counterarguments, such as a recent American Association of University Women (AAUW) study, that claim there is no gender gap and that boys are doing just fine in school.

Politically in today's world, it is difficult to make a case for boys being offered interventions, as the perception is that any assistance given them may short-change girls and the numerous and positive educational and career inroads made by women over the past 30 years.

However, the national and international data are there: More women than men are earning more degrees and have better grades at all levels of education.

Undergraduate enrollment in the United States of women to men is currently about 134:100 with many flagship universities enrolling 60 percent or more female students (UF's freshmen class in 2007 was 59 percent female).

More women than men are entering graduate schools, accounting for the increase in graduate enrollment. The gender gap with regard to college enrollment and retention cuts across racial and socioeconomic groups.

Local data in Alachua County mirror the national and international data.

Boys at the elementary, middle and high school levels have significantly more discipline referrals, special education placements and attendance issues than do the girls. These findings are true of white, African-American and Hispanic students.

Significantly more girls in all groups are achieving at a higher level in middle and high school as measured by earning (unweighted) grade point averages (GPAs) above 3.0, and significantly more boys in all groups earning GPAs below 2.0. Those that have grades below a 1.0 are potentially the ones who will drop out of high school, and a large majority of that group is male.

Although the numbers of students identified as "gifted" in K-12 education are relatively equal by gender, the girls are more often the honors graduates (check the Gainesville Sun each spring for pictures of these students and count the numbers of girls and boys). In our Alachua County public schools, there are significantly more girls enrolled in the advanced high school programs. Out of 2,221 students in Advanced Placement courses, 57 percent are females.

Likewise, the International Baccalaureate Program consists of 59 percent girls. The Cambridge Program has 63 percent female enrollment, as does the Santa Fe Community College dual enrollment program.

In an era where college admissions officers of selective institutions are emphasizing the importance of rigorous and challenging high school preparation (read college level work), many more girls than boys are following such a path.

My graduate students and I have engaged in research about this important educational issue for the past two years. In addition to analyzing quantitative data, we have conducted focus groups of middle and high school students, and have interviewed educators and parents about their perspectives on school success skills, achievement and attitudes toward learning.

Educators and parents voiced concern as related to student gender about themes of organization, motivation, study skills and completing assignments, learning styles, role models and mentors, impulsivity and discipline, maturity, and thinking about the future.

The majority of the interviewees expressed that boys as a group are less organized and appear to spend less time on their assignments and in studying, seem less motivated and interested in school and plan less for the future than do girls as a group.

"Perceptions of masculinity" seemed to be another major theme; adults and students of both genders state that boys are more likely to face criticism from their peers for trying to do well, while girls are expected to achieve at a high standard and care about their performance.

There is a concern about the lack of male role models both at the school level and outside of school. The number of male educators is at a 40-year low, and 85 percent of single parent homes are headed by women. Educators and parents expressed that school culture is more female oriented; group work and expectations to comply and to sit still are more closely aligned with girls than with boys.

Several of these themes have implications for educators, parents and community members when considering student gender. These points include increasing the awareness level among parents and educators regarding gender issues and learning, the expansion of a network of male role models, assisting male students in practical organization and study skills, offering choices in assignments and reading materials that may take learning styles and energy levels into account for both genders, and making a concerted effort to encourage male students to think more about future educational and career planning.

Other strategies, such as using single gender groups within classrooms, may warrant trying and evaluating. Collaborating with business partners in schools can assist in developing programs that feature mentoring and tutoring for all ages, as well as possible job shadowing and apprenticeship possibilities for older students.

Setting high academic expectations and encouraging males to enroll in advanced courses or programs in middle and high school can set an achievement trajectory earlier in their academic careers. Increasing home and school communication about future planning may be essential to increase boys' awareness and motivation for future opportunities.

There are several vital programs in Alachua County that seek to provide mentors and role modeling for our youth to foster pride, motivation, appropriate behavior and group bonding for positive gains as students and citizens. Perhaps building on such programs to reach a wider network of boys by utilizing community and school partnerships could be a positive step in extending such influences and promoting cross-generational bonding that seems less prevalent than it has been in the past.

It is in the best interest of all of us for both genders to work to their potential and be successful in school and life in general. Educational achievement and persistence of our young people affect all of us, our future generations and family structures.

The gender issue is not about innate abilities. It is about motivation, encouragement, engagement, developing aspirations for the future and strengths building. Let's meet that challenge as educators, parents and community members for all of our students.


Anonymous Dr. Debi Yohn said...

As a counseling psychologist, a Mom and a parenting expert for college students, I agree with everything you say. As a mom of a normal boy child, I observed all the attention the well behaved, sitting quietly at her desk, girl child received. Boy children with high intellect and high energy are not always embraced by the school systems because I believe they are more trouble. Over the years, many boys have been brought to me after a referral from the school. They are turned off by the whole school thing and who wouldn't be with all the negative energy pointed their way. CollegeWorks101.com takes parenting issues into the college years where boys do find their feet but we need to get them to college.

June 25, 2008 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger 49mikie49 said...

I disagree with everything you say. I am an applied linguist, Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University, and have taught children for nine years. You can never get boys to take you seriously as long as you do not take your own language seriously. As long as you use psychogobbledygook like "psychologists", "sociologists", "medication", "mental health", "ADHD", "social scientists", and other semantically polluted language with which no normal language agent would expect any boy to suppose anything else than your psychopride and psychohypocrisy, yes, you are "driving them crazy" because money is all that matters to you. debi yohn is not the "mom of a normal boy child", but only supposes she is, because "as a counseling psychologist" would "drive [any boy] crazy".
Dr. David Shaw

September 11, 2008 at 8:17 PM  

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