• Joanne Jacobs

Most boys should start school a year later than girls

Boys should start school a year later than girls, argues Richard V. Reeves in The Atlantic. Boys are slower to mature and benefit from "the gift of time."


He's author of a new book, Of Boys and Men, about "why the modern male is struggling."


Before the pandemic closed schools, only about 6 percent of children, nearly all boys, delayed entry to kindergarten, Reeves writes. But the numbers are higher for students with affluent or well-educated parents and for private-school students. "Among summer-born boys whose parents have bachelor’s degrees, the rate was 20 percent in 2010."


"On almost every measure of educational success from pre-K to postgrad, boys and young men now lag well behind their female classmates," he writes.


“In virtually every school district in the U.S., female students outperformed male students on ELA [English Language Arts] tests,” writes Sean Reardon, a Stanford education and sociology professor. “In the average district, the gap is … roughly two-thirds of a grade level.”


By high school, the female advantage has become entrenched. The most common high-school grade for girls is now an A; for boys, it is a B. Twice as many girls as boys are in the top 10 percent of students ranked by GPA, and twice as many boys as girls are among those with the lowest grades. It’s an international pattern: Across economically advanced nations, boys are 50 percent more likely than girls to fail at all three key school subjects: math, reading, and science. In the U.S., almost one in five boys does not graduate high school on time, compared with one in 10 girls—the rate for boys is about the same as that for students from low-income families.

Some blame the fact "feminized" behavior expectations, less time for physical education and play and the focus on "academics rather than vocational learning," Reeves writes.


I'd add that academic expectations are higher: What used to be first-grade material -- and sometimes second grade -- is now taught in kindergarten.


Reeves believes "the biggest reason for boys’ classroom struggles is simply that male brains develop more slowly than female brains — or at least those parts of the brain that enable success in the classroom."

The gaps in brain development are clearly visible around the age of 5, and they persist through elementary and middle school. (As Margaret Mead wrote of a classroom of middle schoolers: “You’d think you were in a group of very young women and little boys.”)

By high school, the differences are wide.


. . . the parts of the brain associated with impulse control, planning, and future orientation are mostly in the prefrontal cortex—the so-called CEO of the brain — which matures about two years later in boys than in girls.
. . . The cerebellum . . . reaches full size at the age of 11 for girls, but not until age 15 for boys. Similarly, there are sex differences linked to the timing of puberty in the development of the hippocampus, a part of the brain that contributes to memory and learning.

“In adolescence, on average girls are more developed by about two to three years,” Frances Jensen, the chair of the neurology department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said in a 2017 interview.

"Studies of redshirted boys have shown dramatic reductions in hyperactivity and inattention during elementary school, lower chances of being held back later, higher test scores, and higher levels of life satisfaction," Reeves writes.

A study in Tennessee found stronger benefits for red-shirted boys than girls with the greatest gains for students from lower-income families -- the kids who are the least likely to receive the "gift of time."


Still, one of the researchers warned that redshirting may do more harm than good.


The trend is to start kids in school ever earlier. Universal preschool and pre-k will not help children

if it means teacher-led instruction, write researchers Eric Dearing and Dale C Farran. Young children's brains need "exploration, interaction and conversation." They're not ready for academics. "Families with means are typically choosing more experiential learning environments; some are even “redshirting” their children — holding them back from academically demanding kindergartens and giving them more time to learn through active exploration and play."

If parents could get free child care for their unready-for-school children -- perhaps outdoor play, sports and music instead of sitting inside drawing pictures -- more would be willing to wait a year for kindergarten, "the new first grade."


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