Dr. Mikala Rahn, CEO of Pasadena charter school Learning Works and a former member of the Pasadena Board of Education, says boys just aren’t hitting the mark.
“Boys are not achieving key indicators at the same rate as girls,” says Rahn.
Rahn says boys are not as kindergarten-ready, their achievement on standardized tests is generally lower than girls, boys’ GPAs are overall lower than girls’, boys are not staying in school at the same rate as girls, and the retention rate of boys in college is lower than girls.
As published in The New York Times earlier this year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a report about gender inequality in education.
As reported, “The study shows that six out of 10 underachievers in the OECD — who fail to meet the baseline standard of proficiency across the tests in math, reading and science — are boys. That includes 15 percent of American boys, compared with only 9 percent of girls. Also, across the board, girls tend to score higher than boys in reading, which the OECD considers the most important skill, essential for future learning.”
Journalist Richard Whitmire, author of “Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Education System That’s Leaving Them Behind,” says literacy skills are key, but boys and girls learn differently.
“When schools reconfigured for tougher standards, they ignored the fact that boys develop literacy skills later than girls. Boys fell behind, and then concluded that school was not for girls,” Whitmire says. “I’m not saying there aren’t other factors, but this one is huge, and correctable. For politically correct reasons, nobody wants to take that step.
“Schools are responsible … and parents have to hold them responsible for educating their sons as well as they educate their daughters,” he says.
In an interview with the journal Education Next, Whitmire said literacy learning is critical.
“Getting boys to read too young is part of the problem. It’s not asking them to acquire these literacy skills, but knowing how to do it. They assume they can push down from second grade to pre-K/kindergarten, the same literacy skills. With girls, they’ve been successful. With boys, they have to start doing something different,” he told the journal.
Whitmire says this problem hasn’t been around forever — just about two decades, according to research. Yet, since publishing his research in 2010, he’s seen no change.
“(Since 2010) nothing has changed, because the political dynamics are determined to block literacy interventions for boys similar to the stem interventions that worked so well for girls 15 years ago,” he says.
Rahn says she sees a high number of kinesthetic learners comprising a large portion of the male high school dropout population.
“I find with high school dropouts, boys tend to be kinesthetic or hands-on learners. This is the most difficult teaching style to master given the teaching conditions of high school: teacher ratios … lots of content to cover. With this style, the content becomes boring and not engaging, not applied.”
Rahn says “boy dislike” is also a contributing factor in the classroom.
“Boys who cannot sit still are not appealing to most teachers in the lower grades — and it does not get much better in the upper grades. Not being liked or annoying teachers takes a toll on boys’ self- esteem. They don’t get it, they talk too much, they can’t sit still … eventually they do not like school,” Rahn says.
Rahn also says socioeconomics contribute to boys’ failure to perform well academically.
“Socioeconomics always influences education outcomes. Socioeconomics is correlated with race in this country, as well. Low-income boys fare worse, as well as African-Americans and Latinos, Rahn says. “In Pasadena, there is a great socioeconomic divide that, of course, correlates with race. We have a huge achievement gap with white males compared to African American and Latino. We need to bridge the gap.”
Whitmire says that while socioeconomics do play a role the middle class is also hit by this problem.
“There are lots of articles out there about elite colleges accepting boys at higher ratios than girls — [colleges] have to dig deeper into the application pool to keep the mix from slipping beyond 60 percent female, 40 percent male, which is considered a danger point,” he says.
Whitmire says the solution is simpler that people realize: schools just need to decide they’re not going to leave any child behind.
“If you’re running an elementary school and you figure out a way for boys to not fall behind in literacy skills, it’s amazing what happens. It’s as simple as that,” he told Education Next.