Boys aren’t learning to read

Boys aren’t learning to read — and it’s a global problem, write William Brozo and Richard Whitmire in a New York Daily News op-ed.

According to a Center for Education Policy report that looked at 40 states, boys “lag well behind girls in literacy skills – while only tying them in math.” And it’s not just an issue in the U.S.

Earlier this month, results of 65-country comparison called the Program for International Student Assessment revealed that girls tie boys in math while soaring ahead of them by an astounding 39 points on reading skills. SportsCenter, last time we checked, has a limited audience in Albania, the country with the largest gender gap in reading.

And that’s not even the worst news. In 2000, the last time we had comparable international reading scores, boys were only 32 points behind. In only nine years, boys – around the world – have slipped another seven points further behind girls.

Boys are somewhat better than girls at reading text printed on computer screens, according to PISA.

But does screen-reading prowess balance out the inability (disinterest would be a better word) to read words printed on pulverized trees? Based on college enrollment and graduation rates, the answer has to be “no.” Truth is, college has become the new high school. Jobs ranging from bank tellers to policing to sophisticated machine shop work require post-high school studies that were not needed two decades ago.

The global economic race to produce the most educated workforce will be won by the nation that figures out how to teach boys to read, Brozo and Whitmire argue.

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Comments

  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Is this new? Did boys learn to read in the old days before massive educational spending, new methods of instruction…?

  2. That’s 39 points out of 1000, or a 3.9 percent difference. Not something you call the fire department over.

  3. tim-10-ber says:

    The 3.9% factor is irrelevant…boys are not graduating, more boys are getting disciplined than girls, more boys end up in MIP-Conduct classes with no way out than girls…the pendulum swung in favor of girls a few decades ago…it has never come back to the middle where the progress of both boys and girls is important…sadly for boys it is primarily black and hispanic boys that are struggling…I don’t know the results for white SES males..I have the graduation data by male and female as well as race…boys still under perform.

    Does anyone ever see the demographic breakdown of SES data by demographic group and then by performance of those groups? I love the fact that NCLB forced the breakdown of the data by demographic groups…just wish they required a further break out of SES performance so the public can see where the real challenges are…other than special ed

  4. 3.9% is pretty large on the scale of differences between tiers of universities.

  5. palisadesk says:

    A worthwhile discussion on Kitchen Table
    Math about this:

    http://kitchentablemath.blogspot.com/2010/12/good-school-is-good-for-everyone.html

    An interesting factoid: in the UK, the demographic breakdown is different. The lowest-performing group are white working-class boys. Black boys (even poor ones) do noticeably better. I’ll try to find the link.

  6. I just had a private tutor administer the NJASK8 test (last year’s version) to my 13 year old son. We currently homeschool and have done so since his 3rd grade. My son wants to attend the local high school next year, and I thought the ASK could provide some measurement of how he was doing. I was pretty surprised by the results. He passed the section I thought he’d have the most difficulty with, the language portion, as “advanced proficient”. This floored me because he’s my dyslexic kid and wasn’t able to read until age 10. He was the only kid in his 2nd grade classroom in our affluent school that was not able to read at the end of 2nd grade. He scored really poorly on the 2nd grade state test (Terra Nova in NJ).

    He is an enthusiastic reader now. He usually reads two to three hours every night before bedtime – his choice of book. I don’t usually assign homework. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my superior teaching that improved is ability over the years. It was all that extra reading for pleasure.

    Most modern kids don’t have time for a lot of extra free reading. The kids in our area have packed schedules – school, sports, activites, homework. The distractions also play a part: tv, cell phones, video/computer games.

    I know it’s an old gender stereotype, but boys are “do’ers”; they want to do things. Modern schools, with all their emphasis on “discovery learning”, actually do very few real things. They do a lot of pretend real things, though. This lack of authenticity most affects boys.

  7. The NAEP “reading” test requires an essay. I’d want to know more about this test first. On the ACT, in a couple states where all high school grads are required to take the test, the gender gap is negligible.

  8. I agree with tim-10-ber. When we decide to focus on a subgroup, that subgroup tends to get ALL of our attention all the time. I remember when this same report came out about females falling behind. Instead, why don’t we focus on programs that allow all students, regardless of race, gender or other “subgroupings” to succeed?
    We’ve had great success with arts integration. This is a research-based curricular method that teaches the reading and math contents (as well as science and social studies) through the arts with both sets of objectives being assessed at the same time. It allows students to create meaning and deepen critical thinking skills at all levels. Our own data has shown an increase in math and reading scores across the board with the biggest gains being had by boys, special ed students and minority groups. This is consistent with data from other schools that are implementing this around the nation. In fact, the Lucy School which is a private K-3 school in Frederick, MD has kids (male, female, various ethnicity groups) going into public schools in grade 4 reading up to 2 years above grade level.
    Rather than focusing our energy of pockets of students, let’s focus on curricular methods that have the potential to work for all students.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    Susan Riley.
    There is no advocacy group for “across the board”.

  10. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Susan Riley saith:

    We’ve had great success with arts integration. This is a research-based curricular method that teaches the reading and math contents (as well as science and social studies) through the arts with both sets of objectives being assessed at the same time. It allows students to create meaning and deepen critical thinking skills at all levels. Our own data has shown an increase in math and reading scores across the board with the biggest gains being had by boys, special ed students and minority groups. This is consistent with data from other schools that are implementing this around the nation.

    I’m sure it’s true and it’s a wonderful program, and I think it’s a wonderful suggestion, as far as it goes.

    But if I have to read one more mealy-mouthed sentence of “allows students to create meaning and deepen critical thinking skills at all levels” I’m going to claw out my eyes and ears with a ballpoint pen.

  11. Susan Riley…”a research-based curricular method that teaches the reading and math contents (as well as science and social studies) through the arts with both sets of objectives being assessed at the same time.”

    I’m curious as to what grade you would give a student who frequently created sentences such as the above.

  12. I think there’s something to the idea that male brains are wired to be somewhat superior in spatial reasoning while female brains are wired to be somewhat superior in verbal reasoning. And the small biological differences get exacerbated by the environment. Left to their own devices, my DS will spend hours building elaborate Lego creations while my oldest DD will spend hours reading. My DS likes to read and is fairly proficient at it for his age (he turned 5 last month and is reading Frog and Toad type books). But his sister at the same age was reading chapter books. OTOH, he seems to have a more intuitive grasp of math. I would be willing to bet that when they are high school seniors, DD will score higher on the verbal portion than the math and DS the other way around.

    I outscored DH on the verbal portion of the SAT by 50 pts. and he outscored me on the math portion by 50 pts. We both got accepted to the same top 5 university. So having a gender gap in reading isn’t necessarily going to doom boys to failure.

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    Crimson.
    Not at the top levels, which you and your family inhabit.
    However, toward the bottom, the difference would be between barely functionally literate, and not.
    And if it were any other identifiable group, we’d have “programs” designed to address the vicious discrimination.

  14. Michael – I understand and respect your point. I think we’ve all seen those types of sentences in education quite a bit and I apologize for writing it yet again. I thought it might be a bit more substantial than “this works! Try it!”. I just feel very strongly that this type of program is worth a look when reading about studies like this one.

    David – I might think about giving the student a lower grade with the suggestion of breaking it into two sentences. Then again, I might raise the grade for giving my brain something that took more than 2 seconds to process. I guess it would depend on how many of those types of sentences were used within the piece.

  15. David: you have something against complex sentences? WWDD? (What Would Dickens Do?

  16. palisadesk says:

    I had a look at Whitmire’s blog and found this link to an article in last summer’s Atlantic magazine:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/8135/

    It’s about much more than boys’ reading skills (and somewhat apocalyptic in tone and message) but an interesting read.

    He also linked to this Australian site on the topic of boys’ education:

    http://www.deewr.gov.au/schooling/BoysEducation/Pages/default.aspx

    Lots of questions, not many answers.

  17. Lightly Seasoned…The problem with Susan’s sentence is not that it is complex, but rather that it is written in bureaucratese. For example, why say “teaches the reading and math contents” when one could simply say “teaches reading and math”?

  18. J. Remarque says:

    “This is a research-based curricular method that teaches the reading and math contents (as well as science and social studies) through the arts with both sets of objectives being assessed at the same time.”

    I think a discussion of this kind of language is germane to a discussion of education, because David Foster is right: it’s “bureaucrat-ese.” It’s designed to discourage questions by obfuscation and the suggestion of expertise.

    “…a research-based…” Do you mean that it’s based on research by professional educators and psychologists who’ve studied how kids learn? (Shouldn’t all curricula be? Is this like referring to “experts” or saying that something was “scientifically designed”?) Or are you saying that the kids themselves learn by doing research?

    “…curricular method…” Can you explain to this layman the difference between a “curriculum” and a “curricular method”?

    “…that teaches the math and reading contents…” As David asked, why not just “that teaches math and reading”? Does this method actually teach kids math and reading, or does it just put “contents” in front of them?

    “…with both sets of objectives…” Which objectives? Do you mean “math” and “reading”? Those are skills, not “sets of objectives.”

    “…being assessed…” Assessed by whom? Teachers? Tests? Why write in the passive and eliminate any sense of agency, especially in what I imagine is the judgment of potentially subjective creative projects?

    “…at the same time.” Do you mean that the kids are tested while they learn, not sometime after the fact, or at the end of the term? You tack this on as if it’s important, but what’s the purpose of assessing a kid before you can see if they’ve retained anything? (If that’s even what you mean. Again, I can’t tell.)

    I have a feeling I’d approve of this system of arts-integrated education, but how can I tell? When a sincere, enthusiastic, and apparently good-hearted professional educator spends 35 words explaining a system and I know no more about it at the end of her sentence than I did at the beginning, how can I have faith that our kids will learn how to read and write lucidly?

  19. Rudolph Flesch wrote “Why Johnny Can’t Read” in 1953.

  20. But even when properly taught using a systematic, explicit phonics approach, there’s still a gender gap in reading (albeit not as large of one). That suggests that there’s something more going on than just poor instruction. Of course, we should give all children proper phonics instruction, include “boy-friendly” books in the curriculum, and so on. But that probably won’t eliminate the entire gender gap.

  21. Richard Aubrey says:

    Crimson Wife
    Some gender gaps are more equal than others. Trying to cure this one is going nowhere.
    Unless you point out that the worst-affected are black and hispanic boys, in which case the appropriate advocacy groups will be demanding special grading procedures.

  22. david: because content has a specialized meaning in edu-ese. I know jargon is no fun, but “math and reading content” means something different to me than “math and reading.”

    Personally, I’m not sure arts integration is the answer, but I don’t know what the gender gap is caused by. I know that linguistics research shows no reason for it (nobody has been able to prove anything about “wiring,”) and I know that every year my AP English classes are overflowing with razor-sharp boys. On the other hand, my remedial classes are also overflowing with boys who are somewhat less than sharp. It seems to me, at the top levels, boys and girls are about equal, but more girls than boys manage to be mediocre, and mediocrity is what these tests are best at identifying.

  23. Female twins who have a brother show greater performance on spatial rotation tasks and are significantly more likely to be dyslexic than female twins who have a sister. That strongly suggests prenatal testosterone wires the brain differently.

  24. Crimson: Do you have a study for that? Everything I’ve read indicates dyslexia is hereditary.

  25. J. Remarque – I’ll happily answer each of your questions above.

    “research-based” – yes, this means that this method has been studied by scientists, educators and psychologists as to its effects on learning. In an ideal world, everything we do in education should be research-based, but I think you and I would both agree that there are often fads that are implemented that do not have research behind them.

    “curricular method” is referring to a way that a curriculum is being presented.

    “teaches math and reading contents” – I will agree that I should not have put the term contents behind math and reading – that was a grammatical error. The intent was simply math and reading. I was hoping that the overall idea would be discussed and not a grammatical error. My apologies here.

    “both sets of objectives” is referring to both the math/reading objective and the arts objective that is being taught simultaneously.

    “being assessed” by teachers through measurements such as rubrics, portfolios and/or “traditional” standardized testing, depending upon the subject matter.

    “at the same time” is referring to teaching and assessing both the content and the art simultaneously.

    As you can see – while I admit it may have come off sounding like educanese – this program is quite substantive and requires a good bit of explanation. I was attempting to give a broad scope of what it entails because, after all, this is a blog comment section. I have an entire blog dedicated to this method; I apologize if my condensed version induced eye-rolls. I had hoped it would provide a discussion on other ways in which to teach and reach children regardless of gender or other subgroup.