Study explores why boys are falling behind girls in school

May 15, 2006

Thirty years ago, boys, not girls, were the high performers in schools. Today, test scores, grades and dropout rates show boys are achieving at levels far below girls, and an international study that includes the University of Florida is yielding insights that may explain why.

In the United States, girls capture more academic honors, outscore boys in reading and writing, and score about as well on math at the fourth- , eighth- and 12th-grade levels on the National Assessment for Educational Progress exam. Internationally, fourth-grade girls significantly outperformed boys in the eight leading industrialized nations that took part in the 2001 Progress in International Literacy Study. And 15-year-old boys have been surpassed by 15-year-old girls among the 28 countries involved in the 2000 Program for International Student Assessment.

According to a UF College of Education researcher engaged in a joint project examining male underachievement in public education across cultures, there are many factors involved in why boys are falling behind.

“Brain research has shown differences in male and female brains that can affect preferred learning styles and communication,” says Mary Ann Clark, UF associate professor of counselor education and principal investigator. “It has been suggested that public school curriculum may not be teaching ‘to the boys’ and that teaching styles are more suitable for girls.”

To examine the factors that lead to male underachievement and the measures needed to raise the achievement of boys, Clark and two doctoral students from the College of Education at UF have teamed with other teacher education and school counselor faculty and students from universities in England and Australia on an “Internationalizing the Curriculum” project. The research is supported by the International Center at the University of Florida.

The study, which is under way with results expected by this summer, includes focus groups, interviews and database analyses. Undergraduate and graduate students in the colleges of education at Nottingham University in England and Wollongong University in Australia are comparing findings across their schools and discovering themes or factors that may contribute to the gender achievement gap.

“It is our hope that pre-service educators will use their findings to develop some interventions to use with their students in schools that will help in their work as teachers and counselors,” Clark says of the university students’ work on the project.

Preliminary study results were reported recently in ASCA School Counselor, the journal of the American School Counselor Association.

Heather Adams and Erin Oakley – the two UF students working with Clark – have a personal interest in the topic. Adams says she is intrigued by the differences in the male and female brains and their development, as well as in the socialization of males and females in society.

And Oakley says that through her clinical work at the Gainesville Wilderness Institute, a Florida Department of Juvenile Justice program for young offenders, she has seen that teaching and counseling styles that work with girls don’t necessarily work for boys.

“We need approaches that address boys’ special needs and that meet them where they are, rather than expecting them to fit some predetermined mold of what ‘good’ students should be,” Oakley says.

Clark says although the study is still in progress, one major issue already has become clear: the need for awareness of the special needs of students with regard to gender. Many “school success skills” such as compliance and organization seem to be more easily applied to girls, says Clark, adding that teachers, administrators, school counselors and even parents should be trained in strategies for providing a positive view of learning and studying that targets all students.

“Curricular materials, particularly reading, may need to be more inclusive with regard to male interests. The use of physical space and need for movement should be taken into consideration,” Clark says. “We also need to recognize that developmental stages differ between males and females, with females maturing earlier, cognitively as well as physically.”

Source: University of Florida

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not rated yet Jul 29, 2008
Males are falling behind in greater numbers each year both academically and economically. Our society is still playing out the nineteenth century belief Males should be strong and Females should be protected. This belief allows much aggression toward Males to make them tough. Any sign of weakness or displaying work that is considered more feminine is a negative in the eyes of society that will only react with more aggression toward such Males. Only Males who have been taught from a young age to not value those physical areas sufficiently and who are valued more so for so-called feminine qualities such as patience, understanding, ease of nature, kindness, mildness, and goodness will be able to also develop other information age skills society still feels is feminine such as mental, emotional, social, and academic skills. You see, all of those skills require more patience, ease of nature, and "low average stress along with proper pace and intensity in approaching those mental areas". Since society's belief, Males should be strong allows much more aggression toward Males from day one, Males are operating with much higher average stress that makes learning information age skills much more difficult (and creates more active behavior). Also Males are not given (positive attention) mental, emotional, social, and academic support, knowledge and skills (unless by accident). Society in its ignorance considers such attention and support as coddling the Male child. Society still holds that Males should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

As a result, Males are not given the tools to develop vital mental, emotional, social, and academic areas. This greatly cuts down on their motivation to develop those skills. The combined effect of society only rewarding strength and power to face aggression; neglect in many social and academic areas; not rewarding but acting with more aggression toward Males who attempt to develop mildness, kindness, goodness, and care for others; not caring to reward and in some to many areas even showing more aggression toward Males who display mental, social, and academic knowledge and skills are hurting many Males. Over a period of years, this is leaving many Males grossly unable to compete in the information age. Instead, over those years many Males have sought out and developed over time those qualities that will provide them with a measure of love, honor, respect, and protection from society%u2019s aggression. In this case, we have the power images, body building, and other imagery the Male is seeking to provide them with feelings of self-worth. You see, persons experience feelings of self-worth based on the love, honor, respect, and support they receive from society. Males having been led completely away from those more valuable information age assets from an early age are turning toward those areas society will encourage, reward, and respect in Males. Over a period of years, this leaves Males far behind Females in mental, emotional, social, and academic knowledge and skills. Therefore, this is creating the ever-growing international Male Crisis that will only get worse for Males and then get much worse for Females when Males begin to react in collective ways against women and society. Society will continual maintaining this mistreatment of Males until that critical point is reached.

The truth is in today%u2019s world, little boys need just as much coddling as the girls and just as much mental, emotional, social, and academic support as the girls. While neglect of Male children and boys may have proved useful in the more physical nineteenth century, it is working opposite of need in the information age where it requires much more accumulated mental, emotional, social and academic skills acquired over time. In these areas, Males are being seriously shortchanged.

Yes, it is true girls mature faster than boys for the simple reason that mental, emotional, social, and academic support are seen as coddling the boys. Society has long believed in boys pulling themselves by their bootstraps in those areas. This is leaving many Males far behind girls in many social and academic areas. The increased aggression Males receive from day one, creates three bad things for Males academically, mentally, emotionally, and socially: 1. It creates higher average layers of mental frictions (redefined from higher average stress) which inhibit thinking, learning, and motivation in mental areas. 2. These higher layers of mental frictions also create improper pace and intensity in approaching mental work (apply too much effort when approaching new material) and higher tension that hurts motivation to learn. 3. It creates the Male ego or defensive cushion that the Male develops from an early age to protect them from the aggressions they receive from society. This Male ego or defensive cushion has the negative consequences of further alienating the Male from %u201Cany%u201D various mental, emotional, social, and academic supports they %u201Cmight just%u201D receive from society. When Males hear firm or hard words from others like teachers or others their minds are thinking defense and not thinking about learning and enjoying the learning process.

The combination of high layers of mental frictions and defensive cushion are working to create an impediment to learning that accumulates in harm over time for men. In society today, men are given love, honor, respect, and support or the essentials of their self-worth only on the %u201Ccondition of sufficient%u201D achievement, money, power, status or image. They must fight through the still present, nineteenth century confrontations allowed by society upon them from an early age to achieve those benefits and feelings of self-worth. Society has now created through prejudice and stereotyping, a form of Gender Cast System through mistreatment of Males and over support of Females where there is early training for Males to perform more menial or physical tasks while women are being prepared for white collar positions.

It is incorrect to view the Male Crisis on role models. The lack of role models is the result of the problem, not the cause. If you had a bag full of sand with a hole in the bottom, you would %u201Cnot%u201D say there is less sand in the bag; you would say there is a hole in the bottom of the bag. Indeed, we should fix the hole in the bag by providing Males with tools to develop long-term, mental/emotional stability so they can better compete mentally and emotionally in the information age. One professional was attempting to find more role models for Male children. He boasted that a Male child%u2019s esteem goes up when they have one positive role model. What he was unknowingly saying was that Males have such little attention that when they do receive that attention, they are very grateful. This creates the large rise in esteem. The fight for attention could be creating misbehavior in Male children.

I am afraid brain research may lead to misguided conclusions due to great differences in socialized treatment over time between and Males and Females that may lead to large differences in accumulated brain activity. Such large and even gross differences in social treatment could likely create more passive areas for Males where it may show more active processes for Females, etc.

Also the idea of having more Male teachers that will only provide more hardness and even abuse of Males is frightening.

The idea of just accepting the idea that boys are somehow just genetically predisposed to more activity and in need of differential instruction smacks of the cast system I was talking about. to not examine how high average stress and aggression from society are creating many problems in learning and motivation over time in different areas I find neglectful and if accepted, sociologically criminal neglect for Males in the future. I am a special ed teacher and I can tell you such differential training will "not lead" to the kind of mental, emotional, social, and academic training Males truly need: they are bound to fail in long-term mental growth if it is used.

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