'Why Boys Fail’ in school
A new book called “Why Boys Fail” makes the argument that boys are falling behind girls in American schools (and in other countries too) because kids are now forced to use literacy skills at ever younger grades and boys take longer to develop them.
The author, Richard Whitmire, says the solution will take a “politically incorrect” decision by Education Secretary Arne Duncan that will require the federal government to admit the problem for the first time.
I asked Whitmire about his argument, noting that it has long been known that boys develop literacy skills later than girls.
Whitmire, a longtime education reporter who also writes a blog called “Why Boys Fail,” said kindergarteners today are being asked to do what second graders used to do, thanks to the standards and accountability movement, and the "No Child Left Behind" law. And now, schools no longer give boys a chance to catch up.
Two or three decades ago, boys usually caught up in literacy skills by fourth or fifth grade, he said. Today, in most schools, they don’t.
Furthermore, he argues, literacy has become important in almost all subjects; once, math class used to focus on calculations, but now it includes a lot of word problems.
When it comes to writing skills, the gender gap is bigger than the racial gap," he said.
Here are some statistics that he says are not isolated but rather show a widespread phenomenon:
--Among recent college graduates, women accounted for 62 percent of the two-year associates degrees and 57 percent of the bachelors degrees.
--Recent scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress--a test often calld the "nation’s report card" because it is the only standardized test given to students in districts across the country--show a gender gap. Among high school seniors, nearly 23 percent of the white sons of college-educated parents scored “below basic” in reading skills, compared to 7 percent of their daughters.
--According to a 2006 survey of 11,500 high school students in 26 states, 55 percent of girls reported earning grades of A or B, compared to 41 percent of boys.
Whitmire notes that some people have placed the blame on the wrong culprits: video games, pop culture, even feminists.
He said that when the issue of boys' lack of academic progress was first raised, it was conservatives who did it, and they blamed feminists. It wasn’t true, he said, but “feminists then denied the boys were in trouble.
They argued that girls were finally doing better than they had in the past, and that improvement among females did not necessarily mean boys were failing.
Whitmire said he traveled to Australia, where educators discovered years ago that boys were in academic trouble and convened a national commission to address the problem.
The Australian government--concerned that boys were lagging behind girls from early primary to secondary school and were represented two-to-one in the lowest 25 percent of educational outcomes--financed new initiatives to help boys.
That’s what he wants Duncan to do: face the issue for the first time, however “politically incorrect,” and come up with solutions.
What solutions? I asked.
Whitmire profiles a few schools that do not let boys fail by focusing on literacy in the early grades and not giving up until the skills are absorbed. If one program doesn’t work with a particular child, another one is tried.
To read Whitmire’s blog and more about his book, click here.
What do you think of Whitmire's argument?
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| February 3, 2010; 1:55 PM ET
Categories: Education Secretary Duncan, High School, Learning, National Standards, No Child Left Behind | Tags: boys in school, gender gap
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