Plastic women vs. cardboard men

Men are scarce on college campuses, writes Richard Whitmire in a USA Today commentary. College-educated women are dominating more career fields — “just about everything but plumbing,” he writes. Women are “plastic,” quick to adapt, some argue, while men are “cardboard.” Whitmire doesn’t think vast economic forces have caused what Hanna Rosin calls The End of Men:And the Rise of Women. He blames kindergarten reading.

Twenty years ago, education reformers pushed literacy skills into earlier grades, assuming an early start  would prepare more students for college, he writes.

So how’s that turning out? At the eighth-grade level, 37% of girls scored proficient or above in writing on a just-released federal test, compared with 18% of boys.

What happened? Educators somehow overlooked the fact that boys pick up literacy skills later than girls. When boys get slammed with early academic demands they can’t handle, they tune out. They assume school is for girls, and they move on to more interesting activities, such as video games.

“If educators adjusted their early-grades literacy practices, a lot more boys would arrive in 12th grade ready to compete in the new economy,” he writes. “What educators have done can be un-done.”

As a reading tutor, I’ve seen dramatically higher expectations for first graders in the 25 years since my daughter started first grade. (Yes, she’s that old.) Kindergarten is the new first grade and some kids — mostly boys — aren’t ready.

Girls can be doctors, but what about boys?

Disney’s ‘Doc McStuffins’ is a “cure for the common stereotype,” according to  the New York Times, which praises the cartoon for featuring a six-year-old black girl who aspires to be a doctor.

Her mother is a doctor (Dad stays home and tends the garden), and the girl emulates her by opening a clinic for dolls and stuffed animals. “I haven’t lost a toy yet,” she says sweetly to a sick dinosaur in one episode.

The series is a ratings hit with preschoolers and much appreciated by black parents, reports the Times. But where’s the role model for black boys? They couldn’t give little Doc McStuffins’ father a job? Black girls are far more likely to go to college, earn degrees and become doctors than their brothers.

Title IX: Is there a right to equal cheering?

Title IX guarantees girls an equal right to play sports, but does it guarantee a cheering crowd? Joshua Dunn and Martha Derthick, writing in Education Next, are dubious.

In a 2009 lawsuit, Indiana parents complained that nearly all boys’ basketball games, but only half of girls’ games, were scheduled for Friday or Saturday nights. Girls drew smaller crowds, creating “feelings of inferiority,” plaintiffs charged.

The school’s athletic director, Beth Foster, said she’d tried to schedule more girls’ games in prime time but could not because she “can’t get anybody to come play us on those nights.”

The case was thrown out, then revived on appeal by a Seventh Circuit panel.

The court started its decision with the image of a typical Indiana Friday-night game: “A packed gymnasium, cheer-leaders rallying the fans, the crowd on their feet supporting their team, and the pep band playing the school song.” Without similar support from the community, the court speculated that “girls might be less interested in joining the basketball team because of a lack of school and community support, which results in the perception that the girls’ team is inferior and less deserving than the boys’.” As a result, girls might feel like they are “second-class.”

“The appellate judges seemed to be very close to announcing a right” to large, cheering crowds, write Dunn and Derthick. “What if the school schedules more girls’ games in prime time and the fans still don’t come? Or don’t come in the same numbers they do for boys’ games? One glance at the Nielsen ratings for women’s and men’s NCAA tournaments would suggest that this could occur.”

Few girls take shop: Is it a problem?

A “shop stigma” is keeping girls out of traditionally male vocational courses, NPR worries.

Forty years ago, President Richard Nixon signed Title IX, which said no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from any education program or activity. Vocational education courses that barred girls — such as auto mechanics, carpentry and plumbing — became available for everyone. But it’s still hard to find girls in classes once viewed as “for boys only.”

Zoe Shipley, 15, is also the only girl in her high school’s auto tech course. Her parents are pressuring her to switch to engineering, which they see as less greasy.

Her high school’s construction management courses attract only a few girls, NPR adds.

It’s up to schools to “take extra steps” to recruit girls to “courses that lead to higher-paying careers in technology and trades,” instead of low-paying fields, such as child care and cosmetology, says Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center.

I think schools should make sure students know how much they’re likely to earn if they pursue auto mechanics, carpentry, child care or cosmetology. But the low female enrollment in auto shop isn’t really about bias — or parental pressure.

Update: In praising Title IX in a Newsweek commentary, President Obama said it’s a “great accomplishment” for America that “more women , , , now graduate from college than men.”  I know he didn’t really write it, but he should have read it before he let it be sent out. Far too many males are doing poorly in school, failing in college and — because they didn’t learn vocational skills such as auto mechanics — struggling in the workforce. This is a serious problem for America — and for the young women who’d like to marry a guy with a decent job.

Can gaming close the high-tech gender gap?

To close the high-tech gender gap, “encourage your daughters to play video games,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told Dana Goldstein.

. . .  childhood gaming and hacking experience has motivated many computer programmers to enter the field, including Sandberg’s boss, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The leap toward more advanced computing comes not only from playing games—today, 94 percent of girls are gaming, compared with 99 percent of boys—but in becoming curious about how they work and then beginning to tinker with code in order to modify game results. Boys are still much more likely than girls to explore this type of simple computer programming, and not every young girl who is curious about how computers work has an encouraging parent at home or the hardware she needs.

So it’s not just the gaming. It’s the tinkering. My nephew just got hired (first paying job out of college!!!) by a company that makes “pink market” fashion design games.  Girls might learn about fashion design, but I don’t think they’ll learn programming. That’s Alan’s job. (He may know less about fashion than anyone on the planet.)

K-12 educators are trying to hook girls on the “computational thinking” that makes programming possible, writes Goldstein.

The Academy for Software Engineering, a public school whose curriculum will be built around computer programming and Web development, will open in New York City this September. Just one-quarter of the incoming freshman class is female, but the school’s founders, who are closely tied to the New York tech community, have ambitious plans for pairing female students with women mentors working in the field, in order to tamp down on attrition, direct girls into meaningful careers, and recruit more female students to the school in future classes.

In Pajaro Valley, Calif., south of Santa Cruz, researcher Jill Denner launched a program that teaches low-income Latina girls and boys, in gender-segregated classrooms, to create their own computer games.

I’m skeptical that mentors or “pink” games will turn girls into programmers, but I guess it’s worth a try.

No red flags in single-sex classes

The ACLU is sending “cease and desist” letters to schools and districts that offer single-sex classes, reports Ed Week.

“We all want to fix failing schools, but co-education is not the problem, and single-sex education is not the answer,” said Galen Sherwin, a staff attorney for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, in a press release. “Over and over, we find that these programs are based on stereotypes that limit opportunities by reinforcing outdated ideas about how boys and girls behave.”

Single-sex classes are popular with parents, teachers, principals and students, writes Sandra Stotsky, who studied single-sex classes in two Arkansas public elementary schools. She found “no academic downside” to giving parents and students what they prefer.

In one school, single-sex students — especially boys — did better in reading than students in a mixed class. In another school, boys in the mixed class did better on one reading test than boys in the all-male class.

The teachers, parents and principals agreed that single-sex classes seem to provide less distraction for both sexes, better accommodation of each sex’s interests, better learning environment for shy or quiet children, more opportunity to use examples for academic concepts and class readings tailored to each sex and more opportunity for leadership skills of each sex to emerge.

On the other hand, a few teachers and parents perceived them as causing girls to become chattier and boys less polite and too competitive.

Girls were more likely than boys to request single-sex education, Stotsky notes.

More research should be done before banning the single-sex option, she argues.

 

Feminizing STEM? It can backfire

Female college students need encouragement to consider predominantly male STEM careers. However, feminizing science careers is a turn-off for middle school girls, a study finds.

Study: Teachers think white girls can’t do math

High school teachers think white girls can’t do math, concludes a University of Texas study.  “Even with the same grades and the same test scores, the teachers are still ranking the girls as less good at math than the boys,” says Catherine Riegle-Crumb, co-author of the bias study. By contrast, teachers’ perceptions of minority students’ math abilities matched their achievement.

 

Stress + hysteria + teenage girls = epidemic

The Mystery of 18 Twitching Teenagers in Le Roy can be explained by teenage girls expressing stress in physical ways (“conversion disorder”) and mass hysteria, suggests a New York Times Magazine story.  The epidemic started with high-status girls and spread to the less popular. A search for environmental toxins — ones that affect only adolescent girls — fueled the panic.

Science vs. single-sex classes

Science Doesn’t Support Single-Sex Classes, argue Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers in Education Week.

The loud, hissing sound you hear may be the air coming out of the tires of a much-hyped vehicle for improving American public education: the single-sex classroom.

. . . A consensus is emerging among scientists that single-sex classrooms are not the answer to kids’ achievement issues. This fact appears to be true even for students of color, who are often seen as those most likely to be helped by sex-segregated classrooms.

In The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling, published in Science, eight psychologists and neuroscientists “found the rationale for setting up separate classrooms for boys and girls ‘deeply misguided’ and ‘often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence’,” Barnett and Rivers write.