What about the boys?

‘The Boy Crisis’ in school is a myth for middle-class white boys, write Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Chait Barnett in the Washington Post. Gender gaps in school achievement are small — except for black boys, who do far worse than black girls. “Boy-friendly” and all-boy classrooms with less stress on verbal skills won’t do the trick for most boys, the authors contend.

The Department of Defense offers a better model. DoD runs a vast network of schools on military bases in the United States and abroad for more than 100,000 children of service members. And in those schools, there is no class and race gap. That’s because these schools have high expectations, a strong academic focus, and hire teachers with years of classroom experience and training (a majority with master’s degrees). Of course, this solution costs money, and has none of the sex appeal of the trendy single-sex-school quick fix.

While DoD schools have some advantages — it’s easier to enforce discipline and mobilize parental support — they also educate students who move every few years and go through separations from parents. The DoD’s success is worthy of study.

I’d like to see more attention to engaging boys in learning, but I do think single-sex classrooms are unlikely to be the answer.

About Joanne


  1. georgelarson says:

    One of the reasons’s DoD schools are good are they can kick a disruptive kid out of them without fighting a war. Another reason is that all the parents are employed, have health care and are in an organization that requires them to be educated, literate, numerate and disciplined.

  2. SuperSub says:

    A few friends of mine have taught military brats. The one final trick, which has always forced the parent to confront their child, even in cases where the parent is completely at odds with the teacher – the teacher calls the parents’ Commanding Officer. Even if the parents don’t take their childrens’ education seriously, the military does, and a request or a suggestion from a teacher can become an order from their superiors.
    Imagine what would happen if similar things could happen to those who worked in the civilian world.

  3. Ryan Grant says:

    I’d like to see the evidence that shows that the DoDDs schools are great schools, because I sure haven’t seen it in the kids who come to my school. With rare exceptions the kids are a year behind, often more, and all the feedback that I’ve gotten from kids who have gone overseas to the DODDS system has been that the quality was better in the public school.

    Is there a study available that anyone is aware of? I’d love to read it.

  4. Imagine what would happen if similar things could happen to those who worked in the civilian world

    I’m guessing not much. Artificially motivating the student (such as via the parents) isn’t going to do much to remedy the ineffective instruction these kids are most likely getting in the first place. It is the ineffective instruction that is causing the lack of motivation in the first place.

    Here’s the cycle, see if you recognize the symptoms:

    Kids typically begin school motivated and are willing to listen to their teachers and try to learn.

    They get ineffective instruction (because they are either placed inappropriately and/or are instructed over their heads).

    Students begin making errors and get frustrated because they can’t keep up. Students lose self esteem.

    Students start to disengage from school and become unmotivated. Students stop learning.

    Now schools need a reason to blame the academic failure. The ready excuse is blame the student because he wasn’t motivated.

    Funny how the effective instructional programs are full of motivated students who learn. Think that’s a coincidence?

  5. SuperSub says:

    KDeRosa – Don’t underestimate the “motivation” provided by parents.
    Plus, your proposed cycle is one half of a “chicken or egg” scenario… ineffective instruction could be the result of already unmotivated students coming to school as teachers try to make their lessons more fun, interesting, and less difficult. Also, students with no motivation are directed into alternate programs.
    Fixing one end, whether its the teaching or motivation from home, will imrpove the situation, but both need to be done.

  6. Once upon a time, DOD schools were evaluated by the percentage of graduates who left reading, writing, & c at the 12th grade level. I suspect many modern parents would be appalled at the lack of sexy electives.

    That said, this goes back a few years; however, assuming it’s correct, I wonder if anyone’s studied DODDS’ emphasis on the middle of the bell curve instead of the tails.

    I should, I guess, also point out that DOD’s entrance standards lops most of the left-hand tail of the bell curve off, AND, most military dependents are children of parents who are one — at least — their second enlistment (or are mid-grade officers).

    Rod (Munich American (DOD) HS, 1970, btw).

  7. One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is the size of most DODDS Schools. The one I graduated from was 537 students, 7th through 12th. I graduated in a class of 48. I had the same English teacher four years in a row, only two math teachers, and only two Social Studies teachers. (there was more turnover in the Science dept…but for Physics I had a Col. who had taught Physics at the AF Academy)

  8. Don’t underestimate the “motivation” provided by parents.

    I’m not. Remember the kids who are in the need of the most parental motivation are the ones whose parents are least likely to capable of providing it. We’ve tried lots of things to increase parental motivation with little practical effect in the classroom. Parental motivation is not a solution to school failure, though it may make your life easier in some cases. Whatever instruction you’re going to provide has to assume you’ll get no parental support.

    Plus, your proposed cycle is one half of a “chicken or egg” scenario… ineffective instruction could be the result of already unmotivated students

    Research with effective instructional programs tells a different story. About 2-3% of kids do not have the cognitive capacity to perform; another 2-3% won’t respond to classroom management. This, leaves about 94% who are capable of being educated. Today about 33% learn what we want (according to naep). This leaves about 60% of the student polulation who presently are failing but who can be reached more effective instruction pactices.

    Let’s capture this lost 60% before we worry about reaching the few hard caes that truly involve inherent motivational or cognitive issues.

  9. I’m with Ken.

    My own son’s motivation to learn math is shot after 6 months with an incompetent teacher teaching in an incompetent middle school. No parent can fight that.

    This summer I’ll reteach the course, and I’ll hope to spark some interest in the subject. This will be my second stint picking up the pieces after an incompetent teacher taught him that “math is for nerds.”

    To most people, probably, our son would look motivated. He will continue to do his work, because we require him to do his work, and because he wants to do well in a global sense. He will complete all math assignments on time, hand them in, receive his next low grade devoid of explanation, and then repeat the cycle. He’ll manage to memorize enough to get through. He’ll survive.

    So, sure. He’s not a problem for the teacher. He does what he’s told.

    But his motivation is gone.

  10. This happened to one of my brothers too.

    The rest of us did great at maths. He had a bad teacher one year and switched off maths. (And no, our parents didn’t die or divorce during that year. Nor was there any other family tragedy).

  11. I am not sure that I agree with their “facts”. NCES figures actually put the percentage of college students who are female at 57.4% and males at 42.6% for schools eligible to recieve federal aid. Census numbers put males at just over 50% of the total population for the 18-24 demographic. In plain numbers, there are about 2.5 million more women in college then there are men of the 17.3 million college students. That is a very significant difference, given that the general population is just about an even split. I am not sure I understand why they chose to site the NEA versus NCES other than the NCES numbers would undercut a significant part of their argument.

  12. I went back to the article and found that they are only discussing white students. But even there, the NCES numbers only put white males at 49% when the household income is more than $70,000. For middle income (30,000-69,999) white males make up 43% of college population and 42% when household income is less than 30,000. So only the most narrow view of the college population gets you to the 51/49 split.

  13. edgeworthy says:

    It would be interesting to see if the Boy Gap exists in parochial schools. If not, my guess is that discipline and related socialization to channel “manly” behavior into productive activity are the key ingredients. Both Catholic schools and military schools do this and both have had marked success in training lower class boys — especially in comparison to the generic public school. It is a myth that Catholic schools have succeeded mainly through exclusion and expulsion. All the evidence suggests that Catholic schools make the biggeste difference for poor and low scoring kids. The only possible explanation for this is tighter control and socialization.

  14. Andy Freeman says:

    > The only possible explanation for this is tighter control and socialization.

    There are other differences. Catholic schools might well spend less time on PC blather.