Former teacher Liam Day examines the achievement gap in education that is leaving boys behind.
There are two academic achievement gaps in this country. One, the racial achievement gap, has received a great deal of attention from media and public policy experts. Rightly so. Unfortunately, the other, which is no less dire, is less commented on.
By almost any measure of academic performance, girls in this country outperform boys. The proportion of students enrolled in a 2 or 4-year college in the United States who are male is roughly 43%. So too the proportion who go on to graduate from college.
The gap in high school graudation rates is similarly significant. 74% of girls graduate, only 67% of boys.
But the gender achievement gap isn’t unique to the United States. The data appear to be consistent with trends in the United Kingdom, where a new study from the Center for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics has just been released. The study identifies as a possible culprit for boys’ poor academic performance a lack of male teachers.
In the UK, only 25 percent of all teachers are male. In primary schools, that percentage falls to 15%. Here in the United States the proportion is only slightly higher. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 18% of all elementary and middle school teachers are male.
Frankly, none of this comes as a shock. All one has to do is walk into an elementary school anywhere in the country to see the imbalance. When I taught 6th grade in a grade 5-6 building, I was one of 9 males out of a total of 70 faculty and staff. A good friend who has served as a recruiting officer for both Teach for America and a charter management organization complains about the proponderance of young white women he interviews for teaching and administrative positions in predominantly black and Latino schools.
Of course, there are historical reasons – both pernicious and persistent – for this. 60 years ago, education was one of the few professions it was acceptable for an educated woman to pursue. Today, the gender stereotype lingers at the elementary level.
Neither should we be surprised at the potential damage this imbalance is wreaking. Yes, it is only one study and more research needs to be done, but there’s existing data that help tell part of the story. For instance, boys in grades K-3 are four times more likely to be identified with a learning need of some kind and placed on an individualized education plan. Do boys really have neurological or physiological problems at rates four times higher than girls? I can’t imagine.
Anti-intellectualism isn’t a new strain of the American male psyche. There has always been the perception of a divide between those who do and those who think, the jocks and the nerds, the freaks and the geeks, for those of you who remember the too-short lived TV show.
This perceived divide is at least partly due to the belief that doing well in school is somehow to be feminine, to act like a girl, and I can’t help but wonder whether this belief isn’t due to the preponderance of female role models in our elementary schools. When you’re 6, 7 or 8 years old and all your teachers are women, it isn’t exactly unreasonable to assume that school is for girls.
What do you think? Is it “girlie” to achieve in school these days? How can we change this male:female teacher ratio to help boys get back on track?
Photo courtesy of hoyasmeg