War Against Boys: The boys are losing

The War Against Boys still rages, writes Christina Hoff Sommers in the revised edition of her 2000 book.

The boys are losing, writes Nathan Glazer in an Education Next review. Schools continue to ignore boys’ “distinctive characteristics” and “the gap in school achievement between boys and girls” is “even more substantial and troubling.”

Sommers describes trends in education that hurt boys, including “the
ednext_XIV_3_waragainstboys_coverdecline of recess, punitive zero-tolerance policies, myths about juvenile ‘superpredators,’ and a misguided campaign against single-sex schooling.”

“As our schools become more feelings centered, risk averse, competition-free, and sedentary, they move further and further from the characteristic sensibilities of boys,” she writes.

“The movement to give special attention to girls and their needs was part of the grand drive to equality that has dominated American life and politics for decades,” writes Glazer, a Harvard professor emeritus in education and sociology. “But the drive for equality for the sexes was accompanied by a litigious and bureaucratic fervor that often went beyond common sense.”

Career tech programs that have engaged boys are under pressure to enroll more girls, Sommers writes. Few girls sign up for welding or pipefitting. Few boys want to be cosmetologists or child-care workers.

The Obama administration hopes to use the $1.1 billion Perkins Act to push more girls into “nontraditional” vocational and technical training, notes Glazer.

Sommers points out that in 2010 women made up 64 percent of graduate students in social science, 75 percent in public administration, 78 percent in veterinary medicine, and 80 percent in health sciences. Will that attract the attention of politicians and of bureaucrats enforcing Title IX?

Thirty-two percent of 27-year-old women have earned a four-year degree, compared to only 24 percent of men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Kids who lose recess need it the most

The sort of students who are kept in for recess are the ones who need it the most, writes Jessica Lahey in a New York Times parenting blog.

“Recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits” that are “crucial” to growing children, states the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

Elementary principals overwhelmingly agree that recess helps academic achievement and social development, yet 77 percent take away recess as a punishment, according to a Gallup survey.

Self-control is not an unlimited resource, writes Lahey.

. . . by the time unstructured play rolls around, most children have depleted their reserves. They have had to resist the temptation to wiggle, eat the piece of cookie someone left on the carpet or talk to their friends in favor of focusing on math facts.

Recess provides an opportunity to refill children’s reserves of self-control through play and expression that’s free from structure, rules, and rigorous cognitive tasks. . . .  Several studies have found that students who enjoy the benefit of recess are more attentive, more productive and better able to learn when they return to the classroom from a period of free play.

“As our children’s schedules become more regimented and structured, and free-play time retreats indoors in favor of video games over kick the can and stickball, recess is the only opportunity many children have to learn” important social skills, Lahey concludes.

Chicago struggles with longer school day

Chicago had one of the shortest school days in the nation — five hours, 45 minutes — until fall of 2012, writes Sara Neufeld in The Atlantic. Mayor Rahm Emanuel added an extra hour and 15 minutes at elementary schools, an extra 30 minutes at high schools. (The school year is 10 days longer too.) However, extra time may not mean extra learning, writes Neufeld.

Chicago Public Schools’ deficit, caused largely by a crisis in pension funding, is estimated at $1 billion. CPS’ 400,000 students have more time to learn, but fewer teachers and support staff.  

“Funding is not there for a quality day, period, no matter the length,” said Wendy Katten, director of the advocacy group Raise Your Hand and mother of a fifth grader at Augustus H. Burley School.

The city initially hired hundreds of new teachers to help with the expanded schedule, since it could not afford to pay existing teachers to work longer hours. But now officials have eliminated more jobs than they created. At some schools, newly added art and music classes have been cut back, and the mandatory reintroduction of recess without funding for supervision has created a logistical nightmare.

In violence-ridden communities,”a later end to the regular academic day has left families worried about their kids getting home safely after dark if they stay to participate in after-school programs and sports.”

During his freshman and sophomore years, back when school let out at 2:31 p.m., Raul Arias played basketball and ran cross-country at the Marine Math and Science Academy. “I stopped last year as soon as the whole extended school day started,” said Arias, 17, a senior. He commutes an hour each way on public transportation to attend the military-themed magnet school instead of a subpar option in his neighborhood. “I have to worry more about myself going home than what I’ll actually be doing in school.”

In the 1970s, Chicago Public Schools cut short the school day to make sure students got home before dark, writes Neufeld.

The September 2012 teachers’ strike, “spurred partly by the fact that teachers were being asked to work more without a proportionate pay increase,” closed schools for seven days, writes Neufeld. A deal was struck: Elementary teachers work more hours, but get a longer break for lunch and planning. Students also get more time for lunch. 

Theodore Roosevelt High added five minutes to each class period to use the extra 30 minutes. It doesn’t help, says Tim Meegan, a board-certified social studies teacher. “There’s no way anyone can tell me kids are learning more because they’re in school longer.”


Second graders at Patrick Henry Elementary School follow along to an exercise video during indoor recess. (Armando L. Sanchez / Hechinger Report)

High-performing charters typically have a much longer school day and year, writes Matt Di Carlo. District schools that want to extend the day should consider that a little extra time may not be enough.

No-rules play lowers injuries, bullying

A New Zealand school that got rid of playground rules saw a “drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing,” reports TVNZ. 

Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don’t cause bedlam, the principal says.

 “We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over,” says Principal Bruce McLachlan.

Swanson School worked with university researchers on encouraging active play, then decided to throw out the rule book. When the study ended, “researchers were amazed by the results,” reports TVNZ.

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a “loose parts pit” which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose.

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield said there are too many rules in modern playgrounds. “The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run.” Children learn about consequences by taking risks, he said.

The research project morphed into something bigger when plans to upgrade playgrounds were stopped due to over-zealous safety regulations and costly play equipment.

“There was so many ridiculous health and safety regulations and the kids thought the static structures of playgrounds were boring.”

Via Instapundit.

Here are some wild-and-crazy playground designs from a Danish firm.

New Ridiculously Imaginative Playgrounds from Monstrum Set the Monkey Bars High for Innovation playgrounds kids

School’s outside

In a town in northern Switzerland, 4- to 7-year-olds spend the day outside in “forest kindergarten,” writes Emily Bazelon.

It’s autumn. A few kids splash through a muddy creek. One boy falls down in the water, gets up, squawks, keeps going. A larger group sits and jumps in a makeshift-looking tent that consists of a tarp hung over a pole, with low walls made from stacked branches. A teacher tootles on a recorder. Later, the teacher describes the daily routine: Singing, story time, eating, and “then the children can play where they want in the forest.” She continues, “During the play time, the children have a lot of space. They can go where they want. Usually I know where they are playing but I cannot see them always.” The camera pans to a girl on a rope swing, swinging shockingly high into the tree canopy.

Academics usually don’t begin until age 7 in Switzerland, Bazelon writes. Swiss kids soon catch up, say the filmmakers.

In their new book, The App Generation, education professors Howard Gardner and Katie Davis argue that kids today are becoming more risk averse. “Rather than wanting to explore, to try things out by themselves, young people are always pushing to find out exactly what is wanted, when it is wanted, how it will be evaluated, what comes next and where we end up,” they said in a recent Q-and-A.

When Bazelon was on a panel with Gardner, he made a related comment: Many American kids today never have been lost.  “They have never been outside, in an unfamiliar place, without a parent or a GPS or a phone app to guide them. They don’t know what it’s like to lose your way in the world around you and to make do until you find it again.”

An American teaching in Finland was surprised that elementary school kids get themselves to school on their own. Children get frequent breaks – 45 minutes of instruction and 15 minutes of recess — and play outside, rain or shine.

Let boys be boys

Schools should help boys succeed instead of treating them as “defective girls,” writes Christina Hoff Sommers in Time.

Compared with girls, boys earn lower grades, win fewer honors and are less likely to go to college. One education expert has quipped that if current trends continue, the last male will graduate from college in 2068.

“The ability to regulate one’s impulses, sit still and pay attention are building blocks of success in school and in life,” she writes. Boys need help to learn these skills.

Sommers suggests more unstructured play time. Children in Japan get 10 minutes of play every hour. More recess could mean less Ritalin.

To turn boys into readers, teachers should know what boys like. She suggests Guysread.com for “lists of books that have proved irresistible to boys.”

Finally, “work with the young male imagination.”

In his delightful Boy Writers: Reclaiming their Voices, celebrated author and writing instructor Ralph Fletcher advises teachers to consider their assignments from the point of view of boys. Too many writing teachers, he says, take the “confessional poet” as the classroom ideal. Personal narratives full of emotion and self-disclosure are prized; stories describing video games, skateboard competitions or a monster devouring a city are not.

. . . Along with personal “reflection journals,” Fletcher suggests teachers permit fantasy, horror, spoofs, humor, war, conflict and, yes, even lurid sword fights.

“If boys are constantly subject to disapproval for their interests and enthusiasms, they are likely to become disengaged and lag further behind,” Sommers concludes.
Soldier drawn by 8-year-old.
As a perfect illustration of her point, an Arizona school threatened to expel an 8-year-old boy who drew pictures of an armed soldier, ninja and Star Wars character as possible Halloween costumes. His parents withdrew him from Scottsdale Country Day School.

The headmaster told the father the third grader’s art was “highly disturbing.” The headmaster had highlighted words in the boy’s journal he found violent and unacceptable, the father told CBS5.

For example, the boy had written about escaping a killer zombie at a haunted school:

“I’d open the window, but, stand back quickly. Booby-trapped. Shoot the gadget – a rope gun – I’d swing across without getting hit.”

Many of the third-grader’s other journal entries were about saving the earth and protecting humanity.

In one passage, he wrote he’d like the ability to stop an atom bomb and stop bullets.

The headmaster told the father his son was a threat to the safety of the other children.

As Instapundit puts it: When they make you a school principal do they at least pay for the lobotomy?

Nerf recess: No balls, tag, cartwheels

“Hard” balls, tag and cartwheels are banned during recess at a Long Island middle school.

acrobat kid -

Kids were getting hurt on the playground, Port Washington Supt. Kathleen Maloney told CBS.

Structured sports are safe, a press release stated. In a smaller recess space due to construction, unstructured play with “hard balls” is not.

Students have been given Nerf balls to replace footballs, baseballs and lacrosse balls. They’re not allowed to play “rough” games of tag or turn cartwheels without a coach’s supervision.

“Cartwheels and tag — I think it’s ridiculous they are banning that,” a student told CBS.

Others agreed they want more than a Nerf recess. “You go for recess — that’s your free time to go let loose and recharge,” a boy said.

Parents charged that fear of  liability and lawsuits — not injuries — prompted the ban.

The boys at the back

“Boys score as well as or better than girls on most standardized tests, yet they are far less likely to get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college, writes Christina Hoff Sommers in The Boys at the Back in the New York Times.

Elementary teachers give boys lower grades than their test scores would have predicted, according to a study in The Journal of Human Resources. Boys can’t keep up with girls in “attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently,” the researchers say.

. . . one critic told me recently, the classroom is no more rigged against boys than workplaces are rigged against lazy and unfocused workers. But unproductive workers are adults — not 5-year-olds. If boys are restless and unfocused, why not look for ways to help them do better? As a nation, can we afford not to?

In a revised version of her book, The War on Boys, Sommers hits “boy-averse trends like the decline of recess, zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, the tendency to criminalize minor juvenile misconduct and the turn away from single-sex schooling.”

As our schools have become more feelings-centered, risk-averse, collaboration-oriented and sedentary, they have moved further and further from boys’ characteristic sensibilities.

Male underachievement in school is a global phenomenon. The British, the Canadians and the Australians are experimenting with ways to  help boys do well in school, Sommers writes. That ranges from “boy-friendly reading assignments” to single-sex classes.

At Aviation High School in New York City, students spend half their day learning traditional subjects and the other half on aviation mechanics.

. . .  I observed a classroom of 14- and 15-year-olds focused on constructing miniaturized, electrically wired airplane wings from mostly raw materials. In another class, students worked in teams — with a student foreman and crew chief — to take apart and then rebuild a small jet engine in just 20 days.

The school’s 2,200 pupils — mostly students of color, from low-income households — have a 95 percent attendance rate and a 90 percent graduation rate, with 80 percent going on to college.

. . . “The school is all about structure,” an assistant principal, Ralph Santiago, told me. The faculty emphasizes organization, precision, workmanship and attention to detail.

Aviation High is co-ed, but only 16 percent of students are girls. The school has received the district’s “A” rating six years in a row.

“Vocational high schools with serious academic requirements are an important part of the solution to male disengagement from school,” Sommers concludes.

Ilana Garon couldn’t control a nearly all-male special ed class, until her female co-teacher was replaced by a male teacher, she writes on Ed Week‘s View from the Bronx.

Finnish myths: Teachers aren’t paid like doctors

No, Teachers in Finland Are Not Paid Like Doctors, writes Jason Bedrick on Cato @ Liberty.

According to a Finnish teacher who’s reached meme status: “We pay teachers like doctors, students enjoy over an hour of recess, and there’s no mandatory testing – the opposite of what America does.”

Not so, writes Bedrick.

In Finland general practitioners earn, on average, about $70,000 per year, which is less than half of what doctors earn in the United States. The average salary for primary education teachers with 15 years experience in Finland is about $37,500, compared to $45,225 in the United States. Moreover, the cost of living in Finland is about 30% higher.

In short: higher teacher salaries are not what make Finland’s education system better than ours. And I suspect it isn’t recess either.

Finland is praised for its high PISA scores, Bedrick notes. The nations’s curriculum is closely aligned with PISA.

Recess returns — with less free play

Chicago schoolkids are going out for recess this week for the first time in 30 years — the mayor added time to the very short school day — and principals are worried that children don’t know how to play, reports the Chicago Tribune.

When Chicago’s Bright Elementary School added 15 minutes of recess to its school day this year, teachers ventured outdoors to find a run-down schoolyard with no playground, a sometimes violent neighborhood and a generation of kids who didn’t know how to play outside.

At Namaste Charter School, officials this year spent $23,000 for a “recess coach,” a modern-day schoolyard referee tasked with keeping fights and bullying to a minimum while also teaching games that could be unfamiliar to today’s schoolchildren — games like four square, tag and dodgeball.

Recess helps children learn, writes Nicholas Day in Slate.

Repeated studies have shown that when recess is delayed, children pay less and less attention. They are more focused on days when they have recess. A major study in Pediatrics found that children with more than 15 minutes of recess a day were far better behaved in class than children who had shorter recess breaks or none at all.

They’ll get more out of class, too: Children seem to learn more efficiently when information is spaced out—when it is distributed over time. It’s been widely documented that the brain needs a break. High-performing East Asian schools have famously long school days—but much of the extra time is taken up by recess, not instruction.

But principals see recess as a time of chaos. So the new recess is “more structured and sports-focused, less dreamy and aimless.”

The nonprofit organization Playworks puts full-time “recess coaches” in low-income schools—currently they’re in 387 schools in 23 cities—who teach children how to play: They organize games; they model how to resolve disputes (rock-paper-scissors); they try to get kids more active and engaged.

Playworks claims to add only the structure that might be provided by a big brother or sister teaching the little kids how to set up a game. There’s little fighting or bullying, the group says. But will the little kids grow up to run their own games?

Recess is a “no-brainer,” says Anthony Pellegrini, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota. But it’s value is undercut when the kids aren’t in charge.

 “A very important part of what kids do on the playground is social competence—that is, they learn how to get along with others,” he says. “You have to cooperate, you have to use language, you have to compromise. And that’s not trivial. That is huge, in terms of both academic success and success in life.”

Low-income children are the most likely to live in places where it’s not safe to play outside. They’re also the least likely to have time for play at school. “The more minority students a school has, and the lower the income level of their parents, the less time allotted for recess—nearly half of poor children go all day without it,” writes Day.