Boys are doing very badly these days, relative to girls. Now, a new study helps us identify the main culprit. It’s our schools.
The study points out that, while boys get worse grades than girls in school, they do about as well as girls on standardized tests (better in math and science, worse in reading). Statistically speaking, they get much worse grades, relative to girls, than their test scores would predict.
Why the disparity?
Behavior and attitude, according to teachers’ assessments. You know, boys don’t sit still as well as girls. They are less likely to hand in their assignments on time. They’re disruptive. They don’t pay attention.
It should surprise no one that boys are way worse in behavior and attitude than girls are. If you think back to your own childhoods, you’ll recall that way more boys than girls had these issues.
What’s new, though, is that schools are far less accommodating than they used to be to kids with these issues. Consider two of the major differences between schools today and schools of decades ago:
less recess: Decades ago, an hour or more a day of unrestricted recess was the norm. In conrast, a 2005 study reported that 73% of first graders have less than 30 minutes of recess a day. In addition, many districts have severe restrictions on recess like “no ball playing” or “no touching.”
more homework: Do you remember having homework back in elementary school? I certainly don’t. Today, most elementary school children have homework, and at some schools, even kindergarteners are getting nightly homework.
Of course, less recess is most problematic for kids who have more trouble sitting still – i.e. boys.
In addition, more homework is most problematic for kids who aren’t organized and conscientious about schoolwork – i.e. boys. My second grade son, Marco, consistently scores in the 99th percentile on standardized math tests, yet his teacher has placed him in a middle math group because he hasn’t handed in as many worksheets as many other students. He doesn’t take home math homework, but most of his classmates do.
So, you might say, this is progress. Perhaps less recess and more homework are good for kids, so boys should just “suck it up” and get with the program.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that schools do not reduce or eliminate recess, and that recess be free and unstructured. Recess, the AAP claims, has a big positive impact on kids physically, emotionally, and cognitively.
As for homework, the definitive survey of academic research on its effects concludes that it has zero impact on academic performance in the early elementary years, and a very small positive impact, if any at all, in the later elementary years.
So, schools have made fundamental changes – reducing recess and increasing homework – that aren’t good for students in general, but hurt boys more than girls. As a result, boys are getting lower grades, relative to girls, than their standardized test scores would predict.
Grades are more than just letters written on a piece of paper. They become self-fulfilling prophecies, to some extent. They determine who gets into higher tracks in a given class (witness Marco’s math class), they determine who will get into gifted programs, and who will get into elite high schools and colleges. And more fundamentally, they help kids develop a self-concept of their abilities.
I’ll say it again. Schools are failing our boys.
We need to stop this now. A boy’s mind is a terrible thing to waste…