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Two Studies Show One Cause of Boys’ Educational Failure – Their Teachers

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March 15th, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Everyone in western civilization seems to know about the crisis in the educational performance of boys except those with the authority to do something about it.  Three years ago, the creation of a White House Council on Men and Boys was proposed to the Obama Administration that met the idea with great enthusiasm.  Nothing happened.  Back in the 90s, then assistant secretary of education Diane Ravitch wondered aloud when, given the growing majority of women in colleges and universities, the educational establishment would decide that women had at last attained equality in education.  Christina Hoff Sommers quoted Ravitch saying, “When will it be fair?  When women are 60% or 75% of college enrollments?  Perhaps it will be fair when there are no men at all.”

But Democrats bow to the women’s vote that likely wouldn’t object to government’s actively addressing the decline in the educational achievement of boys and men.  The problem is that women’s adovactes in the Democratic Party oppose that, would raise a stink about it and encourage the idea of a Democratic War on Women.  Accordingly, everyone knows something must be done, but no one has the political will, and certainly not the human decency, to do something.

The causes of the decline in boys’ educational achievements are many, ranging from their over-medication, to the feminization of the classroom, to their being raised by single mothers, to their being told from birth by popular culture some version of the old T-shirt slogan “Boys are stupid.  Throw rocks at them.”  Now it turns out there’s yet another obstacle to boys’ learning – their teachers.  Read about it here (Today, 2/10/13).

A recent study published in the February edition of the Journal of Human Resources found an astonishing thing.  Although boys and girls score about the same on standardized tests, boys get lower grades than do girls.  Stated another way, the grades you’d expect boys to get based on their test scores were higher than what they actually received.  Girls, by contrast, received grades that were higher than would be predicted by their test scores.

“Boys get lower grades than what their test scores would suggest and girls get higher grades than what their test scores would suggest,” said Jessica Van Parys, a co-author of the study published this month in The Journal of Human Resources and doctoral economics student at Columbia University.

“It shows that the gender differences in education emerge very early and it points to one potential explanation for why girls are outperforming boys in years of schooling and academic achievement,” Van Parys said. “It’s a piece to a very big puzzle.”

Why the difference?  The authors conclude that teachers penalize boys for their sometimes obstreperous classroom behavior by giving them lower grades, while rewarding girls for sitting still and paying attention.

It’s a topic of concern to some moms who worry that their sons’ “boys-will-be-boys” sensibilities make them less successful in a rigid, traditional classroom setting. Now a new study finds that boys in elementary school earned lower grades than they would have based on test scores, mostly because their teachers held their classroom behavior against them…

According to the study, disruptive behavior may indeed be working against the wiggle worms of the world.

Van Parys and co-researchers analyzed data from the National Center for Education Statistics involving about 6,000 mostly white, black and Hispanic students from around the country who were followed from kindergarten through fifth grade, starting in the 1998-1999 school year.

Students were given tests in reading, math and science, while teachers also rated students’ abilities in all three areas, as well as rated them on classroom behaviors. The study found that when assessing kids’ academic abilities, the teachers factored in their classroom behaviors.

This ultimately helped the girls and hurt boys. The girls scored about 15 percent higher in behavior (also called ”non-cognitive skills”), which meant they earned better grades than boys, even though they didn’t score as high on the tests.

“Our point is that teachers take into account other factors, either consciously or unconsciously, when they rate the child’s ability on all kinds of subject areas,” Van Parys said. “It’s hard for teachers to be completely objective when they’re giving an assessment.”

Of course not everyone agrees.

Lisa Fiore, dean of faculty at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., agreed that teachers could potentially be biased against boys, but also said standardized tests have inherent biases that could be unfair to kids who lacked expected behaviors.

“My instinct is to say that maybe the test isn’t accurate,” she said. “Test scores are a lovely example of children’s knowledge and skills but they’re absolutely not the end-all, be-all. For me, a grade students would receive would take into account more than a single test score. … I’m wondering if a teacher’s grade is more accurate.”

Maybe she should be graded down for her reasoning.  No one is arguing that testing is “the end-all, be-all.”  The standardized testing was given to both boys and girls and, if it bears any relation to academic ability, it does so for each sex.  Therefore, a comparison of test scores and grades tells a lot, particularly if there’s a marked difference between the two according to the sex.  If that doesn’t tell Fiore something, it should.

Meanwhile, I wonder what she’d say about the fact that an entirely different study done on a different continent using different methodology arrived at a surprisingly similar conclusion.  Read about it here (Huffington Post UK, 2/16/12).  A study out of the United Kingdom found that female teachers grade male pupils more harshly than they do female students.

Female teachers mark male pupils more harshly than they do their female students, research has claimed.

Additionally, girls tend to believe male teachers will look upon them more favourably than female teaching staff, but men treat all students the same, regardless of gender.

The study, released on Thursday, told 1,200 students in 29 schools to place financial bets on who would give them higher grades: external examiners or their teacher.

Conducted by professors Amine Ouazad and Lionel Page, for the London School of Economic’s Centre for Economic Performance, the report said:

“Male students tend to bet less [money] when assessed by a female teacher than by an external examiner or by a male teacher. This is consistent with female teachers’ grading practices; female teachers give lower grades to male students.

“Female students bet more when assessed by a male teacher than when assessed by an external examiner or a female teacher. Female students’ behavior is not consistent with male teachers’ grading practices, since male teachers tend to reward male students more than female students.”

Additionally, the results showed the students’ beliefs tended to increase the gender gap in investment and effort. Having a male teacher increased the efforts of female students whereas a female teacher lowered the efforts of boys.

Given that over 80% of public school teachers in the United States are women, the discouragement of boys about education should come as no surprise.  It’s not their ability, their intelligence or their effort that matters; it’s their sex.

Remember, a lot of these are little kids of five, six, seven years old.  Can we not cease, even in the cases of those defenseless boys, our denigration of males?  Diane Ravitch asked “When will it be fair?”  The answer is “Not until primary school teachers develop the decency to treat boys and girls alike.

Thanks to Ron for the heads up. Back to Blog

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