They cannot stay organized. They finish their homework but then lose it. And they often have trouble focusing in class. In schools across the U.S. young boys are falling behind, while young girls are thriving. Once again, learning differences between the sexes have become a big issue for educators in American schools. |
In classrooms across the U.S., there is a new trend that worries educators. In every category and demographic group, boys are falling behind in school.
Anita Doyle is a learning specialist who works with kids who are having academic troubles at the private Episcopal High School outside Washington D.C.
"In this year's freshman class, I met about five girls and about 30 boys but I have continued to meet with the boys and I don't see any of the girls. All of the girls have kind of figured out how to do things and they are on their own. Between myself and another learning specialist we meet with about 20 other boys," she says.
Episcopal is an elite private high school that admits students based on standardized test scores and grades. Students are generally of similar academic ability.
Yet Anita Doyle still sees dramatic differences in performance between the sexes. "A 14-year-old girl is academically more mature than a 14-year-old boy. This makes a huge difference, especially in the high school years. Because, what you are asking of high schoolers is to keep track of five or six subjects, plan ahead for their long term projects, decide what is important to study, to review for tests, to prioritize. And many boys are not ready to do that task."
Recent scientific research suggests that many of these differences may be hard-wired in the brain. Boys mature a year or more later than girls, and are twice as likely to have a learning disability. They tend to fidget and lose focus easily. Brain studies suggest they process language and emotions less efficiently than girls. Boys in the U.S. bring home 70 percent of poor or failing grades and receive the bulk of school suspensions.
Twenty years ago, it was the girls who had fallen behind, and efforts to improve their academic performance included hiring more female teachers, who were sensitive to girls' needs.
That has had an impact on boys, says Alvaro Devicente, the Headmaster of The Heights School, a private all-boys school in the Washington area. "I think that in many cases boys are falling behind because there has been a process over the last 20 years, a process of education becoming more feminine," he said. "And I mean that in sort of a realistic factual sense. Because if you look at the statistics there is a majority of women teachers and a majority of girls in the school that everything gets tailored to the girls and the young women."
Armed with the latest statistics, many parents are abandoning the idea of gender equality in schools, acknowledging the differences between the sexes, and turning to same-sex education. The faculty at The Heights School is all male and caters to what Devicente says are the special learning needs of young boys.
"There have been studies, very interesting studies about how boys hear differently than girls," Devicente notes. "For a boy to really hear the tone, the volume has to be louder. So that if the teacher is speaking at a volume that is comfortable for girls, the boy is going to get distracted because it is like elevator music almost. You start looking around and you are surely going to find a distraction if you are 12-years-old in a classroom."
At the Heights school, boys are given four breaks a day. They are allowed to play tackle football, throw snowballs and vent all of their pent-up energy. Mr. Devicente says that improves their concentration in class.
"I think that one thing that may happen in other schools is that the way that they try to control boys is by thwarting their passion," he says. "Keeping a lid on them and getting them to do the right thing. And that is very dangerous because you can't ask a boy to fake it. You have to redirect his passion, and they are going to be passionate and they should be passionate."
Ms. Doyle, says it is a character flaw. "You have got to understand that the way boys behave is not a character flaw. It is who they are," she says. "So you have to start with that premise. You have to start at a situation where they can see what they are capable of. "
Most educators agree that a wholesale change of teaching practices in schools runs the risk of doing more harm than good. But many believe accepting that differences do exist between the sexes is a starting point for realizing the full potential of every student.