The Gender Gap-Revisited

by Toby Glick on February 13, 2010

Toby GlickIn the past when the “Gender Gap” was discussed it usually pertained to the discrepancy between boys’ and girls’ achievement – with girls not doing as well academically. However, all that has changed and the main concern now is that boys (in all socio-economic levels) are in trouble and falling behind in their achievement test scores and in their graduation rates from college. This has been brewing for about twenty years and there is apprehension that if the trend continues, there will be a negative economic and cultural impact. There’s already a social impact as demonstrated on the front page of last week’s (2/7/10) Sunday/Styles section- The New Math on Campus – no men.

In trying to understand how this developed, Richard Whitmire has just published a new book called “Why Boys Fail.” His thesis, in a nutshell, is that as schools have put greater emphasis on verbal skills –reading and writing in every subject area- the unintended consequence was that many boys became turned off to school and to striving to do well. They were no match for their female peers. He states that as a society we need to focus our efforts on this problem, see where boys are succeeding and failing and make the changes that are needed. Mr. Whitmire blogs on the topic of”Why Boys Fail” at Education Week.

Many of us who work with children in the schools have witnessed this “gender-gap” and are convinced that one of the main problems is not so much the emphasis on verbal skills but the push for literacy into kindergarten and even pre-kindergarten classes. Kindergarten children are expected to do more seat work than in the past, copy from the board, and have basic reading and writing skills before entering first grade.

While this works well for some, it is stressful and discouraging for those youngsters (often boys) who just can’t sit for extended period of time, don’t yet have the fine motor control to copy letters and aren’t ready for the sound/symbol associations needed for reading. It’s no wonder that many boys end up feeling discouraged about learning basic skills which they could master easily at a later date. Many more boys than girls are referred for evaluations due to learning or behavioral problems and some of these referrals are certainly due to unrealistic expectations.

We seem to have forgotten that there’s a great deal to be learned from play, from circle games and from free time –for all children. I liked the approach of my son’s kindergarten teacher – she asked “Who wants to learn to read?” and most of the girls in the class ran to her – the boys continued playing with blocks. It made no difference in their ultimate reading competence.

Parents are now waiting eagerly for the decisions from Firm Schools. It’s essential to keep in mind that not every school or every program is right for every child. It’s important to match the child with the school and if a child isn’t ready for a rigorous academic setting, then it’s not the right place. In the long run he’ll feel better about learning and about himself.

About the Contributor: Toby Glick is a regular contributor to the NYC Firm Schools Blog in the area of families with special needs.

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