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Do We Need Affirmative Action for Boys?

kids-faces-sky

Christina Hoff Summers argues that America needs to fix the way we educate boys.

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. Why? A study coming out this week in The Journal of Human Resources gives an important answer. Teachers of classes as early as kindergarten factor good behavior into grades — and girls, as a rule, comport themselves far better than boys.

The study’s authors analyzed data from more than 5,800 students from kindergarten through fifth grade and found that boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted.

The scholars attributed this “misalignment” to differences in “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently. As most parents know, girls tend to develop these skills earlier and more naturally than boys.

[...]

In 1985, boys and girls took Advanced Placement exams at nearly the same rate. Around 1990, girls moved ahead of boys, and have never looked back. Women now account for roughly 60 percent of associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees and have begun to outpace men in obtaining Ph.D.’s.

There are some who say, well, too bad for the boys. If they are inattentive, obstreperous and distracting to their teachers and peers, that’s their problem. After all, the ability to regulate one’s impulses, delay gratification, sit still and pay close attention are the cornerstones of success in school and in the work force. It’s long past time for women to claim their rightful share of the economic rewards that redound to those who do well in school.

As 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?

A few decades ago, when we realized that girls languished behind boys in math and science, we mounted a concerted effort to give them more support, with significant success. Shouldn’t we do the same for boys?

[...]

[I]mproving the performance of black, Latino and lower-income kids requires particular attention to boys. Black women are nearly twice as likely to earn a college degree as black men. At some historically black colleges, the gap is astounding: Fisk is now 64 female; Howard, 67 percent; Clark Atlanta, 75 percent. The economist Andrew M. Sum and his colleagues at the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University examined the Boston Public Schools and found that for the graduating class of 2007, there were 191 black girls for every 100 boys going on to attend a four-year college or university. Among Hispanics, the ratio was 175 girls for every 100 boys; among whites, 153 for every 100.

[...]

WHAT might we do to help boys improve? For one thing, we can follow the example of the British, the Canadians and the Australians. They have openly addressed the problem of male underachievement. They are not indulging boys’ tendency to be inattentive. Instead, they are experimenting with programs to help them become more organized, focused and engaged. These include more boy-friendly reading assignments (science fiction, fantasy, sports, espionage, battles); more recess (where boys can engage in rough-and-tumble as a respite from classroom routine); campaigns to encourage male literacy; more single-sex classes; and more male teachers (and female teachers interested in the pedagogical challenges boys pose).

This is something of a hobby horse for Summers, who’s been writing about our society’s failing boys for two decades. But the trends would seem to be bearing her out: boys are falling further and further behind with serious consequences. As Summers notes, this is especially true among blacks, Hispanics, and the least affluent, where the achievement gap is exacerbating longstanding social problems; college educated women don’t marry men who dropped out of high school.

The use of more “boy-friendly” assignments and additional opportunity for play strike me as reasonable steps. But these should be part of a much more fundamental reform of our primary and secondary educational system, which are relics of a far different society and economic system. We’re still running schools as if we’re training people to work in factories and operating on a a calendar designed around crop cycles. Relatively few households still have stay-at-home moms and yet the school schedule and policies (such as inclement weather closures) are still built around the notion that it’s the norm.

Even though I was a successful student from my earliest days, I found sitting there being quiet difficult. I was getting A’s in my academic subjects and C’s in deportment throughout primary school. How much of that was a function of boyish traits and how much was being bored with subject matter that I grasped easily, I can’t say. But, even three decades ago, it was silly to have our school system give so much emphasis to sitting in one’s seat being quiet rather than, say, learning.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Just Me says:

    The educational system is run by women and is designed to maximize girls’ success, although nobody would ever admit this.

    When I was a child I had gym every day and recess twice a day (a morning 20ish minute one where kids who wanted a snack could have one and an afternoon half hour recess).

    Now in most elementary schools kids are lucky if they have gym more than once a week and recess at our elementary school has been shortened to 25 minutes (but the last 5 of that 25 is lining up so they have play time for 20).

    There is also a bad habit of taking away recess for classroom behavior issues, which means the kids who often need recess the most don’t even get that.

    Also interesting-in the last 8 years there has been one male valedictorian at the high school my children attend. There have been 2 male salutatorians. The rest have been girls.

    I think the current education model is designed so that boys struggle to succeed and I think this leads to a lot of boys not caring about education-they sort of just give up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

  2. Tsar Nicholas says:

    What percentage of all K-12 teachers are female? Further, what percentage of public money K-12 teachers are female? Further, what percentage of female public money K-12 teachers are unionized? Further, what percentage of female unionized public money K-12 teachers are liberal Democrats? Further, to what extent does the percentage of female unionized liberal Democrat public money K-12 teachers exceed the corresponding percentage of female unionized liberal Democrats in the public at large?

    When did K-12 education noticeably and irrevocably shift to the political left? How does that correspond to when boys noticeably and irrevocably began falling behind girls in various metrics of education?

    For how many decades has the political left fought tooth and nail against such items as school vouchers, charter schools, reining in education unions and fiscal education reforms?

    In any event, since obviously the obvious dots won’t be connected, even if we used a puppet show, suffice it to say that boys within the current K-12 education systems already are and will continue to be consigned to long and hard lives. Unemployment and underemployment will be rampant and systemic. Many never will retire. They’ll be dragging themselves to offices, shops, plants and job sites, etc., long after they’re old and gray. Europe West with much higher crime rates and even worse demographic schisms is not a platform from which prosperity can flourish. Especially for boys-to-men.

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  3. scott says:

    I do think the school system (and it really doesn’t make a difference whether it is public or private) is designed for girls. The best teachers are making accomodation for boys by designing more active classrooms but those lessons require more time, planning, and supplies. There are many forces against the boys: increased classroom size which required more regimentation, emphasis on academic learning time which pushes for more classroom time and less recess and PE, less parental support at home to help the student stay organized, the list goes on.

    @Tsar Nicholas: Really? Viewing this issue from a narrow political lens is truly myopic and unhelpful. This issue crosses political lines, income lines, teacher gender lines., small town/large city. It doesn’t matter. It is common across the US whether there are unions or not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  4. Fiona says:

    @Just Me:
    Physical education and the arts are among the first subjects to be cut when school budgets get shrunk. There’s no vast conspiracy to disadvantage boys.

    That said, I agree with James that we need to rethink the structure of our entire education system. We’re using a late 19th century model inappropriate for today’s world. High school, in particular, has become a vast holding cell for kids who aren’t going to college.

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  5. Mikey says:

    @Fiona:

    I agree with James that we need to rethink the structure of our entire education system. We’re using a late 19th century model inappropriate for today’s world. High school, in particular, has become a vast holding cell for kids who aren’t going to college.

    Absolutely. We’re stuck in a system that was appropriate 100 years ago.

    We could do a lot just by instituting more flexible scheduling and eliminating the long summer break, which is an artifact of a farming-oriented nation.

    We’ve also made college attendance so paramount that other valid career entry paths, such as technical apprenticeships, have all but vanished. Much of what is done in the IT fields doesn’t really require a college degree, yet in many places you won’t get a job unless you have the degree. So we end up with a lot of bright kids stuck in career paths to nowhere.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  6. Mikey says:

    Relatively few households still have stay-at-home moms and yet the school schedule and policies (such as inclement weather closures) are still built around the notion that it’s the norm.

    Well, around here (NoVA) a lot of times if school’s closed, nobody’s able to get to the office anyway because the roads are impassable.

    I know for you it must be challenging as a single parent, figuring out how to schedule all this…isn’t one of your daughters about kindergarten age?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. JKB says:

    I found this graph from the study to be very interesting. Boys have higher test scores than girls in math and science but receive lower grades.

    Back in the mid-1970s when I was in high school they dropped shop class. At my school, you could still take such but only by choosing not to take the college track level of classes as it required bussing to the vocational school for half the day. The vocational school is not longer there. And now we have a shortage of graduates skilled in the manual arts and an excess of graduates in the fine arts. Perhaps that has something to say about how much very costly to the tax payer “public” art looks like it was made by a drunk plumber or deranged welder?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. Just Me says:

    The best teachers are making accomodation for boys by designing more active classrooms but those lessons require more time, planning, and supplies.

    Not to mention they have to have the support of the administration and in the current “must pass the test” culture more creative teaching methods are just as likely to get a teacher in trouble with supervisors as rewarded for creativity.

    Physical education and the arts are among the first subjects to be cut when school budgets get shrunk. There’s no vast conspiracy to disadvantage boys.

    Please don’t put words in my mouth. I didn’t say it was a conspiracy.

    My point is that opportunities for physical movement have been vastly reduced and that this has an adverse affect on students.

    Shoot the emphasis on testing isn’t really some kind of conspiracy, the people who push testing believe that what they are doing is good for the students, but this push has turned classroom performance into a high pressure environment.

    Another trend in education that I think was introduced because it is seen as being beneficial, but I think has a negative impact is the push for a more intensive reading and writing curriculum in kindergarten.

    School is putting a lot of demands on the very young, and some kids who developmentally aren’t ready for it,, end up failing when they simply needed more time.

    Failing to challenge kids and challenging them before they are developmentally ready are two ways to invite classroom disruption into the setting and to create students who may give up.

    I actually don’t think most of what the educational system does is a conspiracy to harm kids-I think most of it is done with the belief that it is good for the kids.

    I will add that I think that women tend to less tolerant of boys in the classroom, and the lack of male role models in the educational setting is harmful-but even this isn’t intentional. Most women are drawn to careers in education and not very men are. No conspiracy, but I still think it isn’t the best thing for boys.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. Just Me says:

    We’ve also made college attendance so paramount that other valid career entry paths, such as technical apprenticeships, have all but vanished.

    I think this is a great point.

    I think back when tracking was done away with (and it was a program that should have been) schools started to emphasize college for all (shoot our politicians emphasize this) and they started to cut vocational programs.

    Our local high school used to have a full votech program back in the 70′s and now they have one intro wood shop course.

    I often think something a little more like the British model where only students who want to attend college stay in school after age 16 and other students get vocational training. Not a huge fan of making kids test into the college track, but if a student wants to be a plumber or an electrician, why not let them begin on that track rather than having them sit in a high school classroom?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  10. scott says:

    @Just Me:

    School is putting a lot of demands on the very young, and some kids who developmentally aren’t ready for it,, end up failing when they simply needed more time.

    True. Many parents are pushing back by keeping their kids out of kindergarten for an extra year. Both my younger kids were born in Aug and I’m sure glad we kept them out. Unfortunately, many parents just can’t wait to get their kids into school so they can save on daycare or they mistakenly think earlier is better.

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  11. michael reynolds says:

    Many good suggestions above. None of it works so long as school is entirely test-driven. No Child Left Behind was the exactly wrong answer to a problem that was being badly exaggerated. The very last thing we needed was to turn schools into test-prep centers.

    We have the technology right now to teach students as unique individuals. In the end it would probably be cheaper than what we do now. But it will be resisted by parents and teacher’s unions and government.

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  12. Just Me says:

    Unfortunately, many parents just can’t wait to get their kids into school so they can save on daycare or they mistakenly think earlier is better.

    Or they don’t realize just how much school has changed since they were kids.

    Kids in kindergarten are doing what used to be first grade work. For some kids this is great, but there are a lot of kids, especially boys who developmentally just aren’t ready for that kind of academic expectation.

    My sister’s kids were all summer birthdays and after a disastrous experience in preschool with her older son (and the advice of a very astute teacher) she decided to keep him back an extra year. She ended up deciding to hold her second and third children out the extra year as well and doesn’t regret it at all.

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  13. Mr. Prosser says:

    I work in middle school and notice many of the boys do read a lot of sci-fi, mostly novelized video games such as Halo. All of them know how to play the most complicated video games and excel at Minecraft and other building games. They can work out the system of these games without ever using the cheats found on-line. The worst at deportment or most defiant are either tranq’ed to the gills or suspended or sent out of the classroom to sit in the hall or the office. Along with schedule changes I would agree with more physical activity, a look at their diets (Behavior seems worse after lunch) and more kinesthetic learning on computers or other devices these kids use all the time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  14. Just Me says:

    We have the technology right now to teach students as unique individuals. In the end it would probably be cheaper than what we do now. But it will be resisted by parents and teacher’s unions and government.

    I think probably more objections from teacher’s unions than parents. I think a lot of parents, at least the ones who care, are already sick of the test driven educational system.

    I think the education system is also very resistant to change from the current model-and resistant when it comes to creativity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  15. JKB says:

    @Just Me:

    The real problem is “vocational training”. The assumption that we are teaching a trade. When in reality all kids, headed to college or not would benefit from training in the manual arts. Learning how to take what is in their heads and express it with their hands in some way other than writing.

    Art class, as in fine arts, doesn’t satisfy this as it doesn’t impose the discipline of having to create something that is functional in the objective sense. Woodworking is probably the simplest to implement. Heck, even class in basic tool skills would be useful.

    The goal is not to train plumber or welders, but to train the mind and hand to work together. A decent teacher would be able to incorporate the abstract learning in earlier classes into the the functional learning in a manual arts class. Woodworking takes a good deal of math and science to do well. In literature there are many scenes that are better understood if you have some appreciation for the manual skill required to accomplish what is described.

    The problem isn’t that our schools were designed to create factory workers, well perhaps elementary school. Rather the problem is that secondary schools are laid out to put the student on the Ph.D track with little consideration most will not go to the end of the line. In fact, starting in middle school, we see the winnowing beginning. When a student hits a snag, they fall off the track and are put in maintenance until they are old enough to kick out the side door. We need better preparation for the many stopping points along the way, high school, undergraduate, etc. Especially now that there is little employment for those who ride to the end of the line and achieve a Ph.D. In the past, if you slipped along the up or out track to “academic”, you could find your way in the world. However, more and more, students are pushed to stay on the higher ed high speed train to the end of the line. Unfortunately, if you reach the end, you more often than not find there are no more jobs there than there were along the way. And also, that you’d probably have a better income had you took the diversion to vocational training back in 9th grade.

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  16. Andre Kenji says:

    @Fiona:

    Physical education and the arts are among the first subjects to be cut when school budgets get shrunk. There’s no vast conspiracy to disadvantage boys.

    It´s not a conspiracy. The problem is that Women are a big majority of teachers. That creates a very feminine work environment( Even Male Teachers feels marginalized sometimes) and classes that are subtly aimed at girls. There is too much activities that requires repetition and manual work, for instance, too little activities that requires competition.

    Diversity is good in every work environment, that should include schools.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  17. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds: Ironically, the way to get a kid taught as an individual is to get him/her into some form of special education. Kids with identified learning disabilities are required under the IDEA Act to get an Individual Education Plan set up that addresses their specific needs. They get extra assistance based on how their particular disability affects them, accommodations to their specific learning style, and so on.

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  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “Boys will be boys.”

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  19. scott says:

    @Andre Kenji: The problem is not that teachers are primarily women. Teachers have always been primarily women in elementary school (at going back to my days in the late 50s and early sixties). What has changed is that school is far more intense than 50 years ago, the curriculum has more to cover, and the schools and classrooms (even elementary) are bigger and less personal. The necessity to accomplish all these things is driving classrooms that are less tolerant of disruption and movement and to the detriment to certain children (mostly boys but some girls too) that have different learning styles.

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  20. Dave Schuler says:

    We might think about not diagnosing normally developing boys as ADHD and medicating them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    We’re still running schools as if we’re training people to work in factories and operating on a a calendar designed around crop cycles.

    And uhhh, James? No we aren’t. If we were school would be out in the Spring (planting time) and the Fall (harvest time). As is, school is out in the Summer (praying for rain time). The present school schedule is a relic of the pre-airconditioner days (the IT IS TOO GOL-DURNED HOT TO SIT IN A CLASS ROOM AND DO MATH days)

    Either way, it is a relic that needs to be tossed into the dust bin of history.

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  22. Franklin says:

    @michael reynolds: You won’t get any objection from me. My kid is smart, but our district’s goal is to “narrow the gap”, so they have to make damn sure he doesn’t get any smarter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. scott says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: It won’t be easy to go to year round schools. People don’t realize how much of our economy is geared to the school year. Think theme parks, camps, tourism, etc. Here in Texas, school districts are not allowed to start the school year too early because the Six Flags and resorts want teenage workers available.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. Mercer says:

    ” operating on a a calendar designed around crop cycles. ”

    Wrong. If this were true schools would be closed in planting and harvesting seasons. They are closed in summer because of the heat. Schedules were set before the advent of air conditioning.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: My oldest just turned four and my youngest is 19 months. It currently doesn’t inconvenience me much when schools close, since I need daycare when I’m at work, anyway. But every time we close school when there’s 1/4 inch of snow out, I wonder what they expect people to do with the kids. Especially hourly workers who can’t make it up.

    @OzarkHillbilly: @Mercer: Interesting. I always thought summer closing was an agrarian leftover.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds:

    We have the technology right now to teach students as unique individuals. In the end it would probably be cheaper than what we do now. But it will be resisted by parents and teacher’s unions and government.

    Here in Seattle, we recently had teachers on strike in part because they were opposed to the new curriculum’s emphasis on standardized tests.

    I didn’t follow the story, because I don’t have kids, and hope to be dead before we let today’s kids take charge (if they can’t stay off my lawn now, how they they ever learn to run the world?), but you’re wrong to immediately assume the teachers unions would resist change away from all-testing-all-the-time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. michael reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    It’s not the move away from standardized testing that I think would get the unions upset, but rather my belief that technology can start cutting into employment for teachers.

    We’re already on the cusp of a genuine revolution in higher education with the advent of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses.) I expect employment at the university level will be decimated over the course of the next decade or two. It’s harder to bring the same savings to high schools, but I think the potential savings and improvements in results will force the hands of school boards.

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  28. Jeremy says:

    Two words: school choice. Man.

    Right now, I don’t see any incentives in the current public education system to fix the problems we’re seeing. The unions sure as hell don’t have any incentives. The teachers and administrators don’t have any incentives. And with parents stuck in a system that is basically designed to be, as someone noted, a holding cell for kids (whether they want to go to college or not), well, without any real options to get away from that, parents don’t have much incentives to fix anything either. The only incentive I can see is from a purely-budget cutting perspective, but while I do think there can be a lot trimmed off from education budgets (most of that money is not going to help the kids), simply cutting budgets is not the answer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  29. Jeremy says:

    Also, I don’t see going to year-round school and extending the length of school days–as many people, both here and elsewhere, suggest–helping anything. If it does anything at all, it would only make students more restless and annoyed. They can barely put up with the BS as it is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  30. JohnMcC says:

    In Ms Summers Op-Ed she has a pretty generous amount of ink devoted to the NYC Aviation High School. Every student must take the basic academic core courses and get a ‘B’ or better. Then they spend 1/2 the day actually working on Cessnas and jet engines. That is the change that would work. Try to find room for that in the average American school budget! We love educating our kids to the maximum of their potential. Unless it costs too much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  31. anjin-san says:

    No Child Left Behind was the exactly wrong answer to a problem that was being badly exaggerated.

    The mantra at my old high school is something along the lines of “where every student is college bound.” Right. I think the mantras are part of the problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  32. Andre Kenji says:

    @scott:

    The problem is not that teachers are primarily women.

    I know about that, I´ve worked in schools. There are lots of dedicated female teachers, but the problem is that the number of females is so big that it´s difficult for male teachers to enter many discussions. In fact, there are situations that border sexual harassment. The same thing happens inside the classroom, there are lots of activities dealing with collages and things alike, even on High School.

    Diversity is good. It´s good for everybody.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  33. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner:

    But every time we close school when there’s 1/4 inch of snow out, I wonder what they expect people to do with the kids. Especially hourly workers who can’t make it up.

    I think there’s some flexibility–at least, I notice when schools are closed (whether it’s weather or a scheduled closure like “teacher work days”) traffic is noticeably thinner, which leads me to believe people are either working an alternate schedule or just taking vacation days.

    Hourly workers might just be getting screwed. Fortunately we haven’t had much in the way of “snow days” the last couple years–in fact, here in Fairfax they actually let the kids out for summer a couple days early last year, because they hadn’t used ANY of the snow days.

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  34. JKB says:

    @Mercer:

    Well, my schools started to boilers well before it got cool, much less cold, and kept them going until well after it was hot. That in itself was enough to turn me off of centralized control schemes.

    In fact, when I was stationed in DC, I took an apartment well outside the District for individual control of heat and air. Those apartments I could afford inside the city were the old mid-century Soviet style with centralized heating and air. Not to mention, ugly as is common with centralized planned construction, especially from the 1950-1985 period.

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  35. Mikey says:

    @Dave Schuler: Absolutely, we don’t want normally-developing boys misdiagnosed.

    For boys and girls who actually have ADHD, diagnosis and treatment are quite important indeed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  36. JKB says:

    @Jeremy:

    We could do something radical like return control of the schools back over to the local boards without all the strings that come with government funding. Then the independent districts could experiment with many different approaches and those that succeed could be used to inform those districts whose schemes fail.

    Instead we have standardized testing and coming a standardized curriculum with little room for innovation by those with the most information. We do have many massively credentialed technocrats who’ve read all the research making decisions that incorporate little diversity of thought.

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  37. Just Me says:

    Along with schedule changes I would agree with more physical activity, a look at their diets (Behavior seems worse after lunch) and more kinesthetic learning on computers or other devices these kids use all the time.

    After working at the elementary level for 6 years and now the middle school level, I actually think more would be done if less time were spend in school. The current norm is to cram as much academics into as long a day as possible, and I think the kids are always difficult after lunch.

    I often think having a shorter day with a snack, with students (especially the elementary aged kids) getting out around 1 would probably lead to better learning and less behavioral problems. Parents would object though because it would require after school care, but I really think the school day is too long for most kids to developmentally sit there.

    One other thing I notice with the focus on testing is that schools tend to really focus on the kids who are below grade level, and give kids at grade level what they need but they leave the above grade level kids unchallenged and bored. Right there is another prescription for behavior problems, and once gain this may leave some very bored boys more at a disadvantage.

    Also, I don’t think there is any kind of intentional conspiracy against boys, I just think an artifact of who our educators are and how we educate is that boys often end up being left behind or categorized as behavior problems when they struggle to succeed in the current education model.

    And kids who do have ADHD are even more miserable with the current education model. Kids, but especially those with ADHD, need opportunities for physical movement. They need to have a creative teacher who will often change things up-rather than constantly using the same classroom style. And kids in general need a chance to shine with their learning style.

    The best teachers are those who allow some creativity. My kids’ high school Egnlish teacher often has project with a large variety of options for students to choose from. Some a little more creative and others more pencil and paper style. Kids can choose the project type that interests them most. I wish more teachers were open to this kind of project.

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  38. Rob in CT says:

    I’m pretty far removed from this stuff at this point, since I don’t have kids in school right now (and I don’t have a boy) and I haven’t been in public school since 1994, but the extremely mundane “more recess” strikes me as a good idea. Young boys (generally) really need to get their energy out somehow, if they’re going to be required to focus.

    I’m also all for more “hands on” projects in the classroom.

    I think there is a growing sense that the standardized testing has gotten out of control. It’s a useful tool – at some point, you do need a metric by which you judge performance (of both students and teachers), but everything can’t revolve around it.

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  39. grumpy realist says:

    @Andre Kenji: Well, being a schoolteacher used to be one of the very few professions open to women. So the school system got some fantastic people at really cheap salaries. Some of my teachers were absolutely brilliant and if they hadn’t been stuck in the school system would have been running corporations. That’s where the whole lopsidedness came from.

    (That’s the major problem–you’re not going to get an average fantastic teacher unless you either get a collection of self-sacrificing individuals (nice if you can do it), or pay sufficient that they don’t go elsewhere. Unfortunately, we want great teaching but aren’t willing to pay for it….)

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  40. grumpy realist says:

    P.S. I’m one of those who think that the major problem is a lack of physical activity. If we think about it, kids used to go to school after doing all sorts of physical work–milking the cows, feeding them, stacking hay, etc. Walking to school or walking to the bus stop, running around at recess, then afte school is out running around playing with other kids on bikes, etc. As a rural kid I spent a lot of time climbing trees and exploring the woods behind our house. Can’t help but feel that has a lot to do with it.

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  41. Dave Schuler says:

    @Mikey:

    According to the CDC’s reports more than 11% of boys are diagnosed with ADHD as opposed to just over 4% for girls. When stressed-out parents, both of whom have jobs, look at their daughter, playing quietly or reading a book, they like it. Then they see their son who turns everything into a gun or a sword and get worried.

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  42. Mikey says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Unfortunately, we want great teaching but aren’t willing to pay for it

    Something a teacher friend of mine wrote just today: “Money is scarce, and that is widely understood. So, why is all of that money going into places like testing, where it is proven not to work in the long term?”

    We Americans tend to be highly results-oriented rather than process-oriented. In most contexts, that has served us very well, but in certain and often very important areas, like teaching, it is not the best orientation.

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  43. Gromitt Gunn says:

    The town where I lived in high school still houses the regional technical-vocational high school: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nashoba_Valley_Technical_High_School It was widely understood in my town that if you were planning to go to college or the military, you stayed in the regular high school, and if you would rather work in a trade, you went to Nashoba Valley. And why not? There’s no reason to saddle an aspiring electrician or plumber or hair stylist with unneccesary student loans when they can exit high school as a journeyman or with their professional license and the beginnings of a professional and customer network.

    I’ve been in Texas for a while now, and I still don’t understand why we don’t have technical high schools here. It is just the weirdest thing to me – Texas seems to insist that if you want a tradeskill, you have to not only go through but pass all of the high-stakes tests required for a college prep education, and only once you have a diploma can you go to a community college and get an AAS in your trade. How does that help anyone succeed?

    It seems odd that “freedom-loving” Texas has more restrictive process for acquiring a trade that requires teenagers to sit through four years of what seems like tedium on the taxpayer dime, and then another two-plus years of a taxpayer-subsidized associate’s degree in order to get on their professional path. We really are backwards here.

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  44. george says:

    @Just Me:

    Kids in kindergarten are doing what used to be first grade work. For some kids this is great, but there are a lot of kids, especially boys who developmentally just aren’t ready for that kind of academic expectation.

    Oddly enough, though I can’t speak for kindergarten, I’m told by high school and university physics and math teachers (and professors) that the level has dropped dramatically. If you gave a ’70′s grade 12 algebra or physics test to a current class, you’d fail 90% of the class.

    I’ve been told this has been tried by a few professors – one at I think UBC took out a 1970′s quantum mechanics test (the course material went up to about 1945 or the Dirac equation), and gave it to the fourth year class as a midterm. The class average was about 35%, and only two of thirty some students received an A.

    Of course, the lag between kindergarten and 4th year college is almost a generation, so perhaps that no longer will be the case when the current kindergartner’s are in college. But the trend has been going on for awhile, and its pretty common among STEM teachers to say that standards have dropped consistently and dramatically for several decades.

    Something seems to be going wrong with the way we educate our children (both boys and girls), at least in science and math.

    I think Michael Reynolds got it right above, we can now tailor our education on a per child basis.

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  45. Just Me says:

    I think there is a growing sense that the standardized testing has gotten out of control. It’s a useful tool – at some point, you do need a metric by which you judge performance (of both students and teachers), but everything can’t revolve around it.

    I don’t think the problem is standardized testing on occasion but the fact that they are now high stakes and the schools have to get high performance or be punished in some way. When I was a kid we took a standardized test every year. The point of the test was to measure individual growth and performance-school funding or intervention from state officials wasn’t riding on the results. There was never any teaching to the test. It wasn’t a big deal.

    Now schools are giving kids practice questions daily for test prep, they are changing curriculum to meet test standards, and spending tons of money on teams of upper level supervisors who come in and teach the teachers how to teach (basically the tests have introduced a whole new level of bureaucracy to education and these people are paid at or more than teacher salaries). The tests have become the focus rather than the students and their learning.

    If we think about it, kids used to go to school after doing all sorts of physical work–milking the cows, feeding them, stacking hay, etc. Walking to school or walking to the bus stop, running around at recess, then afte school is out running around playing with other kids on bikes, etc.

    There are some really good studies that show students with ADHD are more focused and perform better if they are given free play/time in an outdoor, nature setting (eg being in a grassy, tree filled area vs just running around on pavement surrounded by buildings).

    I know my son (who has ADD) often comes home, gives our dog a walk along the snow mobile trail, comes home and does his homework. He is far more focused on his work after walking the dog than on days where he just tries to do the work. Anecdotal, but our experience is supported by research.

    According to the CDC’s reports more than 11% of boys are diagnosed with ADHD as opposed to just over 4% for girls.

    There are also a lot of girls with ADD who go undiagnosed, because they can play quietly and don’t show symptoms quite as obviously as the boys. There is really more that goes into ADHD than just being hyper. At times the hyper parts are the easiest things to deal with (extra physical activity helps, but the lack of executive function and just watching my kid struggle to focus isnt’ so easily dealt with).

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  46. Just Me says:

    Oddly enough, though I can’t speak for kindergarten, I’m told by high school and university physics and math teachers (and professors) that the level has dropped dramatically. If you gave a ’70′s grade 12 algebra or physics test to a current class, you’d fail 90% of the class.

    This isn’t based on a study, but observation from working in schools at elementary and middle school and seeing my kids work their way through the schools (my oldest is a college sophomore and my youngest is in grade 8 with 2 between them).

    I think we have made elementary school harder-in that we put high pressure to perform on very young kids who aren’t developmentally ready for it. Many of those kids have frustration tantrums, and many of them decide they are “stupid” and start to give up and won’t really try.

    At the same time, out of some motivation to make kids feel good about themselves we have lowered the standard for what work meets an 8 as kids enter middle and high school.

    Kids can do very little work and get an A or a B-they are rewarded for just trying rather than quality. I am not sure if this is a result of the social promotion movement or the movement that believes everyone is a star and should get a trophy, but kids can do very little work and still do well and move on to the next grade level.

    This isn’t to say that smart kids arent taught standards but there is a sort of squishy middle now where kids who try a little get a much higher grade than they truly earned.

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  47. george says:

    @Just Me:

    That sounds quite plausible – it certainly would explain harder elementary years and falling standards at higher levels.

    One of my thesis advisor’s other students came from Japan. His statement was that getting into a good university like U of Tokyo was brutal, so that to be accepted you needed the skills and knowledge of your typical North American BSc at entry. And then they coasted the next few years, having achieved the goal (entrance into the elite), and ended up with still about the same level of skills as a North American BSc at graduation. I’m sure he was exaggerating (it was entertaining the way he explained it over beers). Sounds kind of similar to what you’re describing.

    But again, that sounds like we’re failing both boys and girls in their education. Coaching children for sports sounds more systematic (and geared to the individual) now than school is – and that is sad (not that its done in coaching, but that its not done in school).

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  48. Just Me says:

    Well from my perspective I think we are failing both boys and girls, however the girls have been encouraged to seek college, and the girls, because they don’t behave like boys, are getting higher grades while a lot of boys simply give up. Once kids give up putting any effort into school work, they essentially remove themselves from the potential of going to a good college. They definitely remove themselves from the potential of merit aid scholarships-basically our education system makes the boys miserable until they do not care anymore.

    Girls are failed differently, but I think it is really the high level learners who get failed and both boys and girls get caught in this one, and the lazy students whose laziness is reinforced.

    I have a daughter who is a senior and she spent her entire physics class this year extremely frustrated because she is in Calc 2 but the physics was algebra based and several of the students in the class could do some of the basic math used in physics (either because they hadn’t had algebra 2 or forgot). She sat bored through many classes while the teacher had to teach basic math.

    I think the best solution here since physics isn’t required for graduation is to have students test into the class (basically take a math test) or ask students who don’t have the math to leave the class and choose a different science class.

    But having half the class sit around bored while the rest of the students learn something they should already know seems like a giant waste of time and actually ends up holding back the smarter students.

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  49. steve says:

    Education and grading has changed over the last 30 years to favor girls. There is much more emphasis on homework and working in groups. Up until about 8th grade there are non stop projects, really arts and crafts. These favor girls.

    My son’s roommate last and this year are South Korean. I have gotten a chance to talk at length to them about their schooling. First, they are not BSc ready. They are incredibly committed to studying. They complain about the rigidity of their schooling and expectations after they graduate high school.

    @george. Few US high schools even taught calculus in the 70s. The useful half life of physics knowledge is about 5 years (son is a physics major), so if kids took that exam they might get stuff wrong because so much has changed. When I asked a physics prof to compare students now with when I went to school, he claimed students now are much brighter and better prepared. The competition to get in is much stiffer.

    Steve

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  50. george says:

    @steve:

    @george. Few US high schools even taught calculus in the 70s. The useful half life of physics knowledge is about 5 years (son is a physics major), so if kids took that exam they might get stuff wrong because so much has changed. When I asked a physics prof to compare students now with when I went to school, he claimed students now are much brighter and better prepared. The competition to get in is much stiffer.

    Steve

    Don’t think I believe its true of 70′s high school – that’s my decade of high school, and I had a reasonable calculus course (up to simple differential equations). And that was pretty much the expected norm when I entered the physics program at university (it was a pretty good university though).

    And the basics of undergraduate physics hasn’t changed in many decades for the core courses (including QM, electro-magnetism, classical mechanics, applied math, general relativity) because it’s only well into graduate work that you run into current research – same thing as math. For instance, very few undergrad QM courses get past the Dirac equation, and that’s from the ’40′s. All that’s changed is the teaching method. The electives (nuclear physics, String theory etc) are changing, but most of those are almost descriptive at the undergrad level because the students lack the specialized maths to really handle them. At the graduate level the useful half-life decreases, but its still far more than five years for all but a tiny handful of areas, and even that only for very cutting edge research. Incredible as it might sound, Einstein’s relativity, Heisenberg’s uncertainty, and Maxwell;’s equations still rule the day in physics, unless they’ve become obsolete in the few minutes I’ve taken to write this.

    And I think the professor you spoke with is an anomally, its actually extremely common to hear collegues in the physics faculty complaining about the lack of preparation in most domestic (as opposed to foreign born) undergraduate students. The best of the best are still good, as they always were.

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  51. Dave Schuler says:

    @Just Me:

    There are also a lot of girls with ADD who go undiagnosed, because they can play quietly and don’t show symptoms quite as obviously as the boys.

    Yes. Again, according to the CDC, the presenting issue in girls tends to be inattention while the presenting issue in boys tends to be bad behavior.

    My point was to draw attention to the 11%. That’s getting perilously near to saying that anything beyond one standard deviation is aberrant. That’s absurd.on the face of it.

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  52. Just Me says:

    My high school in the 70′s and 80′s offered math through Calc I and physics.

    My daughter is in calc II and physics at her high school, although class size for the calc class is very small (and is dominated by boys although my daughter is probably the best student) physics had about 15 to 20 kids in it.

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  53. Just Me says:

    My point was to draw attention to the 11%. That’s getting perilously near to saying that anything beyond one standard deviation is aberrant. That’s absurd.on the face of it

    My point was mostly that since girls present differently, that the 4% may actually mean that girls are going undiagnosed rather than assuming boys are overdiagnosed.

    Also, having a son who is on the spectrum-a lot of boys on the autism spectrum are often misdiagnosed in early elementary because high functioning autism has a lot in common with ADHD. And more boys than girls are also on the spectrum.

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  54. Mikey says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    When stressed-out parents, both of whom have jobs, look at their daughter, playing quietly or reading a book, they like it. Then they see their son who turns everything into a gun or a sword and get worried.

    My wife is a stay-at-home mom and neither of us really cares if my son builds a gun out of Legos, or pretends a stick is a gun (or, really, whatever he finds that roughly has a right angle to it). And he already has more than one sword (made of wood, he’s 8), not to mention the rest of his mediaeval garb.

    If all there was to ADHD was “turn[ing] everything into a gun or sword,” man, what an easy life we’d have.

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  55. steve says:

    @george- Interesting. My high school offered calculus for the first time in 1972. My wife went to Girls High in Phila., at the time the top girls school in the city. They didnt offer it at all. She claims Central did not either. I have talked this over with others at work, and it seems as though most did not have calculus available until sometime in the 70s, but it appears there was more variability than I realized. I think you are also correct about the basic courses and I overstated (misstated) the case. Perhaps our prof is an anomaly and he was just trying to make us feel good about our son, but I am often left thinking this is just the “we walked uphill in the snow both ways” complaint. Would be interesting to have someone actually try the experiment. My bet would be on today’s kids doing ok.

    Steve

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  56. steve says:

    Oops, forgot. The one thing that gives me pause in my assumptions is the emphasis on group work and graded homework today. The emphasis on graded homework rewards mediocre students with good internet skills.

    Steve

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  57. al-Ameda says:

    We already had an affirmative action program for boys, it was in effect from 1776 to at least 2008.

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  58. Just Me says:

    The one thing that gives me pause in my assumptions is the emphasis on group work and graded homework today.

    My high achieving daughter mostly hates group work. Mostly because if she is assigned the group she often ends up carrying the dead weight and while she puts in more work they all end up with the same grade. She doesn’t mind group work where she chooses who she works with (other students who are reliable and will do their share).

    I did note when we visited MIT this summer that they focus on and encourage collaborative work, but at a school like MIT there is unlikely going to be too many lazy, dead weight group members.

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