NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Behavioral Differences Explain the Gender Learning Gap

February 12, 2013

A new study to be released soon in the Journal of Human Resources provides insight into the phenomenon of boys scoring as well or better than girls on most standardized tests while simultaneously being less likely to get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college, says Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

  • The study analyzes data from more than 5,800 students and concludes that, regardless of racial group or subject area, boys make lower grades than their test scores predict because of their classroom behavior.
  • Gender differences in noncognitive skills -- like the ability to sit still and work independently -- begin as early as kindergarten.
  • As women have achieved equality in the workplace, their educational outcomes have surpassed that of men so that now 60 percent of bachelors, masters and Ph.D.s are awarded to men.

Trends like the decline of recess, zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, the tendency to criminalize minor juvenile misconduct and the turn away from single-sex schools adversely affects boys' innate skills and characteristic sensibilities.

  • If boys start school with grade disparities, lifelong success may be reduced as the door to higher education, advanced classes, enrichment programs and honors societies is shut.
  • Globalization necessitates that the United States achieve the most educated workforce before other nations, which will only be possible if the problems with male education are solved.
  • Improving minority education is strongly correlated with improving male education because minority women are more likely to earn a college degree than minority men.

To address the problems of male underachievement, Sommers suggests following the British lead of indulging boys' tendency to be inattentive by assigning more boy-friendly reading assignments, offering more recess, creating more single-sex classes and hiring more male teachers.  She also highlights the success of vocational high schools in engaging male students. The Aviation High School in New York City, for example, has received incredibly high marks by providing an aeronautical education above and beyond the standard curriculum.

Acknowledging the gender gap and making efforts to reverse it will ensure that all of America's students receive an education that best endows them with skills for the future.

Source: Christina Hoff Sommers, "The Boys at the Back," New York Times, February 2, 2013.


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