Last night I attended an education symposium by a local education foundation entitled, “Why We Are Losing Our Boys?” I left the presentation with mixed feelings. On the positive side was the focus on the data that clearly shows how boys are not succeeding as well as girls in our schools. The facts: 80% of high school dropouts are boys, 75% percent of students diagnosed with learning disabilities are boys, nationally, of the children classified as emotionally disturbed, 84% are boys, boys account for the overwhelming majority of students receiving D’s & F’s and are far more likely to be suspended for disciplinary reasons. This information has been known for quite some time but it is still important to remind an audience ofteachers and youth workers of the hard facts about the gaps in achievement between boys and girls. In addition, important questions were raised. Can we continue to use the same methods for both boys and girls and close our eyes to the fact that many of the methods aren’t producing equal results? Should we encourage our schools and legislators to reconsider and modify zero-tolerance policies which are not working and cause collateral damage? Do we start formal education at too young an age?
The negative side was the lack of depth in the responses by the panel. There is a great deal of information available through books and research on gender differences in achievement in school and the biological and cultural factors contributing to those differences. The consequence of ignoring the literature was proposing solutions that were either off target or beyond the scope of a local community being able to implement. For example, all of the panelists agreed that increasing Physical Education and recess time would be helpful to boys, especially those likely to be labeled ADHD. Not that this is a bad idea for a number of reasons. However, changing PE requirements would take action by both local and state legislators. An upward struggle especially with the emphasis on testing and accountability throughout our nation’s schools. What was needed were suggestions that teachers can immediately implement in their classrooms that would alter the classroom environment in a way that allows boys to more successfully achieve at the same level as girls. Shortening assignments, restructuring instructional groups so that boys can take on more hands on tasks and allowing more freedom in choosing reading materials are just a few of the changes that indiviudal teacher’s can make in their classrooms.
Hopefully, the symposium did increase awareness of the problem of gender differences in school achievement and in the future focus more on immediate and practical interventions that create a level playing field in our classrooms.