Boys are catching up in reading

Girls do better than boys at reading, especially as they get older, but the gap is narrowing, writes Tom Loveless in the 2015 Brown Center Report on American Education.

It’s not just the U.S. “Across the globe, in countries with different educational systems, different popular cultures, different child rearing practices, and different conceptions of gender roles,” girls read better than boys, writes Loveless. 

However, gender gaps are closing, he writes. “On an international assessment of adults conducted in 2012, reading scores for men and women were statistically indistinguishable up to age 35.” After that age, men had higher scores in reading.

Still, women are much more likely than men to be avid readers.  Of those who said they read a book a week, 59 percent were women and 41 percent were men. By age 55, the ratio was 63 percent to 37 percent. “Two-thirds of respondents who said they never read books were men,” notes Loveless.

The report also found that fourth grade reading scores improved more in states with strong implementation of Common Core standards than in non-Core states. Last year’s report found an edge in eighth-grade math for strong Core states. However, the differences are quite small and may be due to other factors.

Schools are failing our boys

Schools are failing our boyswrites Jennifer Fink, mother of four boys and creator of BuildingBoys.net, in the Washington Post

Her 8-year-old son struggles to sit still in the classroom, she writes. His teacher complains he’s uncooperative.
Sam woodstoveWhen the cold spell hit, his school kept students inside all week.

At home, he bundled up and spent hours “moving snow with the toy snowplow, creating ‘snowmobile trails’ in our yard with his sled and shoveling both our walk and our neighbors,” writes Fink.

He got up early to play Minecraft before school starts. “He also cleaned the dirty glass on the woodstove, started the fire and brought wood into the house.”

We’re reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, one of the books in the Little House series, aloud right now. Back then, boys (and girls) primarily learned by doing. Kids between the ages of 5 and 18 weren’t corralled into schools and kept apart from real life; out of necessity, boys worked on the farms and girls helped in the house. Entire families worked together to survive, and along the way, boys and girls learned how to function in the real world.

That’s the kind of learning my son craves.

Kids haven’t changed much over the past 150 years; our society has. So while my son still needs movement, still craves real-world learning, physical labor and ways to contribute to his family and his world, he’s expected to spend most of his time in a desk, in a classroom, with 20-some other kids his age.

In the 1800s, her son would have been a “model boy,” she writes. “Today, more often than not, he’s considered a troublemaker due to his failure (or inability?) to conform to the expectations of the modern educational system.”

He’s not the only one. Boys are doing worse than girls on every academic measure, she writes. They’re much more likely to get in trouble, drop out, skip college and end up “lost” in their 20s.

Tutoring closes boys’ math gap

Intensive math tutoring is helping Chicago boys catch up, writes David Kirp, a public policy professor at Berkeley. It could break the “school-to-prison pipeline,” concludes the University of Chicago study.

Working two-on-one, the tutors worked with ninth- and tenth-grade males with elementary math and reading skills, writes Kirp. Most were black or Latino and poor. “The previous year they missed more than a month of school, on average” and nearly a fifth had arrest records.

Tutor helps students at Chicago high school

Avery Huberts helps Christophir Rangel and Iann Trigveros at Foreman High in Chicago. Credit: Whitten Sabbatini for The New York Times

The tutored students earned higher test scores and passed more classes — not just in math — than the control group, the study found. They were 60 percent less likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

Match Education, which runs a very successful Boston charter school, ran the Chicago program. Tutors use “friendship and pushing” to “nag them to success,” Barbara Algarin, MATCH’s executive director said. “These students can make remarkable progress when they appreciate that their tutor is in their corner. . . . Grades improve across the board.”

The tutors earn about $16,000 a year plus benefits,  so the extra help cost 3,800 a year per student.

Single-sex classes are on the rise

Separate classes for boys and girls are making a comeback in public schools, according to the New York Times.

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — In one third-grade classroom, the walls are bordered by cheetah and zebra prints, bright pink caddies hold pencils and glue sticks, and a poster at the front lists rules, including “Act pretty at all times!”

Next door, cutouts of racecars and pictures of football players line the walls, and a banner behind the teacher’s desk reads “Coaches Corner.”

The students in the first class: girls. Next door: boys.

. . . Here at Charles Drew Elementary School outside Fort Lauderdale, about a quarter of the classes are segregated by sex on the theory that differences between boys and girls can affect how they learn and behave.

Teachers “recognize the importance of understanding that Angeline learns differently from Angelo,” said Angeline H. Flowers, the principal.

Social scientists disagree, notes the Times.  Critics say segregating by sex encourages stereotyping. The ACLU has sued to prevent single-sex programs. In response, the Obama administration has issued new guidelines.

Schools may set up such classes if they can provide evidence that the structure will improve academics or discipline in a way that coeducational measures cannot. Students must have a coeducational alternative, and families must volunteer to place their children in all-boys or all-girls classes.

But the guidance says that “evidence of general biological differences is not sufficient to allow teachers to select different teaching methods or strategies for boys and girls.”

“I am very concerned that schools could base educational offerings on stereotypes,” Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, told the Times.

Research hasn’t shown significant academic benefits — or drawbacks — from single-sex education, says Janet Hyde, a University of Wisconsin psychology professor.

Segregating by sex is based on a “zombie idea,” writes Dave Powell in Ed Week. Lack of evidence can’t kill the “specious claim that boys and girls simply learn differently.”

People cite “fake brain science” to support sex-segregated classes, writes Lise Eliot in Slate.

I don’t have a problem with letting parents choose a single-sex class, if they think it will benefit their child. I believe there are no significant brain differences between boys and girls, but there are behavioral differences. And we’ve got to figure what kind of elementary teaching works best for boys, who are falling behind their female classmates. Still, I wouldn’t have chosen an “act pretty” class for my daughter.

Where are the boys in choir, orchestra?

Boys are on the wrong side of a “gender gap” in music education, reports Pacific Standard. Girls outnumber boys by roughly two to one in high school choirs and orchestras, according to a University of Maryland study.

From 1982 through 2009, the average high school choir has been 70 percent female to 30 percent male, reports Kenneth Elpus. Orchestras have averaged 64 percent female and 36 percent male. Boys are more likely to participate in band, but girls are the majority there too.

What are they reading? Easy books

Most middle and high school students read unchallenging books, according to Renaissance Learning’s What Kids are Reading report.

The analysis is based on the data base of Accelerated Reader, which quizzes students on books they read independently and as assigned reading.

Reading peaks in sixth grade and declines through high school. Worse, 12th graders are reading books at a 5.2 level of complexity, according to the report.  That’s way below the recommended level of 9.7 to 14.1 for high school, notes the Christian Science Monitor. It’s also “far lower than the complexity of the average New York Times article (10.6) or college textbook (13.8).”

“In elementary school, kids being asked to [read appropriately difficult books], and they can handle it,” says Eric Stickney, director of educational research for Renaissance. By high school, less than 15 percent of students read one or more books in their target range.

Research indicates that students who spend at least 30 minutes a day reading independently, at an appropriate “challenge” level (where they can understand at least 85 percent of what they read), experience the most growth in reading, according to the report. And yet just over a quarter of students in Renaissance’s study read that often, and nearly half read for less than 15 minutes a day.

The average girl reads 3.8 million words between Grades 1 and 12, about 25 percent more than the average boy, who reads about 3 million. Boys read more non-fiction.

“Over time, boys are at a disadvantage because they’re just not getting enough exposure to vocabulary,” says Stickney.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the most popular book from third through seventh grade.

Overprotective parents raise ‘lazy’ teens

Overinvolved parents are raising “lazy,” unmotivated teen-age boys, writes therapist Adam Price in the Wall Street Journal.

Parents complain their children — especially their sons — aren’t achieving their “potential.” His practice is seeing more “college students, home for a year because when the parents, tutors, coaches and, yes, therapists were no longer around, they failed.”

It’s hard to be motivated by someone else’s goals. Teens crave autonomy, Price writes. Many parents won’t let their children make their own decisions and live with the consequences.

. . . the lack of motivation is not the root problem: For many children, it is the lack of accountability. Parents remove that when they try to protect their children from suffering in the future by doing everything possible to make them successful today

He suggests parents stop telling their kids they’re smart or too “special” to take out the garbage. Set limits. Don’t “saddle children with unrealistic expectations.”

Boys need male teachers

Taught overwhelmingly by female teachers, boys are falling behind in school, writes Glenn Reynolds in a USA Today column. Why aren’t schools under pressure to recruit male teachers?

Brandon Bell teaches third grade in Georgia.

Brandon Bell teaches third grade in Georgia.

If elementary teachers were predominantly male and girls were doing poorly, “Title IX-style” equity legislation would require gender balance, writes Reynolds, a law professor who blogs as Instapundit.

Boys get the message that they’re naughtier and not as smart as girls, say researchers. They’re disciplined more and suspended much more often.

Female teachers also give boys lower grades than girls for similar work, according to research in Britain.

“More and more, it’s looking like schools are a hostile environment for boys,” writes Reynolds.

“Boys perform better when they have a male teacher, and girls perform better when they have a female teacher,” concludes Stanford Professor Thomas Dee.

Yet only 18 percent of elementary and middle-school teachers are male.

If elementary schools hired math/science specialists, it would be easier to get more men in elementary classrooms.  Single-sex classes also would increase boys’ odds of having a male teacher.

Lessons in manhood

Shop class — called simply “work” — channels “boy energy” at Berkeley’s East Bay School for Boys, reports NPR. The private, nonprofit school values creativity, resilience and self-reliance.
At East Bay School for Boys, sometimes the sparks of inspiration result in, well, actual sparks.
Boys build their own cubbies, desks and benches, reports NPR. “One student, Jaden Yu, is building a massive metal hammer as part of a larger project in which boys imagine themselves as superheroes.”

Yu’s superhero mission is to fight poverty. “What this is for is destroying old buildings so that new ones can be rebuilt. Old buildings that aren’t being used, so that new ones can be built for homeless people, people who need it.”

Parents pay more than $21,000 a year, but a majority of students get financial aid.

NPR’s Men in America series also looks at a college-prep charter in Chicago and an after-school program in Oakland that encourages middle-school boys to talk about their anger and sadness. Most are growing up without their fathers.

Abolish middle school

Middle schools should be abolished, writes David Banks in The Daily Beast. These “educational wastelands” should be combined “with the guidance and nurturing that children find in elementary school, or with the focus on adult success that we expect from our high schools.”

A former high school principal, Banks heads the Eagle Academy Foundation for Young Men, which operates five all-male schools in New York and New Jersey. The district-run Eagle schools serve low-income, minority students in grades 6 to 12.

Reading and math achievement declines in middle school, Banks writes. Even good students have trouble with the transition.

Too often in middle school the teachers have never received real professional development training to help students succeed in high school.  And, more importantly, there is little to no time for teachers to focus on establishing strong relationships with their students, which has a tremendous impact on how students perform in the classroom, particularly for boys.  A teacher’s ability to relate to his or her students is not icing on the cake of serious academics—I believe it is the whole cake.

. . . communication from peers can drown out the wiser voices of parents, teachers and mentors, trapping our young people—and especially our boys—in an echo chamber of voices as inexperienced and impulsive as their own.  Students struggling academically may decide to give up, while the bright but under-unchallenged may conclude they don’t really need to learn how to study, because middle school seems to prove that they’re smart enough to wing it.

The neediest students will get the most benefit from either K-8 schools or middle/high schools, he argues.

Banks’ book, Soar, which will be published in September, focuses on “how boys learn, succeed and develop character.”