Posts tagged ‘David Brooks’

February 12, 2013

Even if boys score better than girls on standardized tests, they get lower grades

by Grace

Boys score as well as or better than girls on most standardized tests, yet they are far less likely to get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college….

The sometimes controversial Christina Hoff Sommers wrote about this problem of “Boys at the back” in our public schools, illustrated in this chart posted by Mark Perry.

20130210.COCBoysGenderGap1

Boys score as well as or better than girls on most standardized tests, yet they are far less likely to get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college. Why? A study coming out this week in The Journal of Human Resources gives an important answer. Teachers of classes as early as kindergarten factor good behavior into grades — and girls, as a rule, comport themselves far better than boys.

The study’s authors analyzed data from more than 5,800 students from kindergarten through fifth grade and found that boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted.

The scholars attributed this “misalignment” to differences in “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently. As most parents know, girls tend to develop these skills earlier and more naturally than boys.

That last sentence, which I’ve highlighted, may hold a key to one reason for the gender gap in school performance.  Girls have the edge over boys not only in earlier development of certain social and organizational skills, but also in reading and writing.  Over time schools have pushed down more rigorous academic and organizational requirements to younger grades, making it more likely for boys to develop early gaps that often persist to the upper grades and college.

A related reason for the gender gap may be what David Brooks called the lack of cultural diversity.

… The education system has become culturally cohesive, rewarding and encouraging a certain sort of person: one who is nurturing, collaborative, disciplined, neat, studious, industrious and ambitious. People who don’t fit this cultural ideal respond by disengaging and rebelling.

Far from all, but many of the people who don’t fit in are boys….

I wrote about this last year.

Brooks is describing what is often called the “feminization” of public schools.  This term is distasteful to some, probably because it reinforces gender stereotypes.  Whatever the label, it does appear that schools have become “culturally homogeneous” in a way that hurts boys more than girls.  It starts in elementary school when an early reader is told that he got the wrong answer because he picked “mad” instead of “sad” to describe how the boy in the story feels after he doesn’t get the bike he wanted for his birthday.*  It continues through high school where group discussions in history class only allow expressions of compassion for victims of war but no praise for brilliant military maneuvers.  The message is clear – only certain types of behaviors and thoughts are welcome in the classroom.

There’s no doubt that students do need to be ”studious and industrious” to perform well academically.  It just seems that public schools are misguided in the methods they use in trying to develop those qualities in all students, particularly in boys.

Suggested reforms

Sommers points out that this gender gap should motivate schools to find ways to promote boys’ academic achievement, as they have done for girls in recent cases when the gender gap has been reversed.  She suggests some changes that the British, the Canadians and the Australians have implemented.

… These include more boy-friendly reading assignments (science fiction, fantasy, sports, espionage, battles); more recess (where boys can engage in rough-and-tumble as a respite from classroom routine); campaigns to encourage male literacy; more single-sex classes; and more male teachers (and female teachers interested in the pedagogical challenges boys pose).

One example of how poor noncognitive skills can create a misalignment between grades and test scores

I know of a case where a middle school boy consistently earned almost perfect test scores in his social studies class and who reached the finals in his state’s geography bee contest.  However, his average grade was significantly lowered by his poor class notes, likely due to a deficit in “noncognitive skills”.  Because of his grades, and because “behavior and work habits” counted so heavily in the admissions process, he was shut out of his high school’s social studies honors track.  If not for his parents’ intervention to override the school’s policies and allow him to enroll in the honors course, he might have languished in courses that were too easy and boring for him.  As it happened, he went on to graduate with honors and enroll in an elite university.

Related:

July 10, 2012

Public schools are not diverse enough for boys

by Grace

Do our public schools penalize boys (and girls) who are not “nurturing, collaborative, disciplined, neat, studious, industrious and ambitious”?  David Brooks thinks that the lack of cultural diversity in our schools is part of the problem in the gender achievement gap.

The education system has become culturally cohesive, rewarding and encouraging a certain sort of person: one who is nurturing, collaborative, disciplined, neat, studious, industrious and ambitious. People who don’t fit this cultural ideal respond by disengaging and rebelling.

Far from all, but many of the people who don’t fit in are boys. A decade or so ago, people started writing books and articles on the boy crisis. At the time, the evidence was disputable and some experts pushed back. Since then, the evidence that boys are falling behind has mounted. The case is closed. The numbers for boys get worse and worse.

By 12th grade, male reading test scores are far below female test scores. The eminent psychologist Michael Thompson mentioned at the Aspen Ideas Festival a few days ago that 11th-grade boys are now writing at the same level as 8th-grade girls. Boys used to have an advantage in math and science, but that gap is nearly gone.

Boys are much more likely to have discipline problems. An article as far back as 2004 in the magazine Educational Leadership found that boys accounted for nearly three-quarters of the D’s and F’s.

Some colleges are lowering the admissions requirements just so they can admit a decent number of men. Even so, men make up just over 40 percent of college students. Two million fewer men graduated from college over the past decade than women. The performance gap in graduate school is even higher.

Some of the decline in male performance may be genetic. The information age rewards people who mature early, who are verbally and socially sophisticated, who can control their impulses. Girls may, on average, do better at these things. After all, boys are falling behind not just in the U.S., but in all 35 member-nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But the big story here is cultural and moral. If schools want to re-engage Henry, they can’t pretend they can turn him into a reflective Hamlet just by feeding him his meds and hoping he’ll sit quietly at story time. If schools want to educate a fiercely rambunctious girl, they can’t pretend they will successfully tame her by assigning some of those exquisitely sensitive Newbery award-winning novellas. Social engineering is just not that easy.

Schools have to engage people as they are. That requires leaders who insist on more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp.

The basic problem is that schools praise diversity but have become culturally homogeneous. The education world has become a distinct subculture, with a distinct ethos and attracting a distinct sort of employee. Students who don’t fit the ethos get left out.

Brooks is describing what is often called the “feminization” of public schools.  This term is distasteful to some, probably because it reinforces gender stereotypes.  Whatever the label, it does appear that schools have become “culturally homogeneous” in a way that hurts boys more than girls.  It starts in elementary school when an early reader is told that he got the wrong answer because he picked “mad” instead of “sad” to describe how the boy in the story feels after he doesn’t get the bike he wanted for his birthday.*  It continues through high school where group discussions in history class only allow expressions of compassion for victims of war but no praise for brilliant military maneuvers.  The message is clear – only certain types of behaviors and thoughts are welcome in the classroom.

There’s no doubt that students do need to be “studious and industrious” to perform well academically.  It just seems that public schools are misguided in the methods they use in trying to develop those qualities in all students, particularly in boys.

* This example of using of whole language to teach reading is a related problem in the gender achievement gap.

Related:

May 14, 2012

Harvard online learning: ‘five years from now will look very different from what we do now’

by Grace

Last week Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced their new partnership, known as edX, will offer free online courses.

Harvard’s involvement follows M.I.T.’s announcement in December that it was starting an open online learning project, MITx. Its first course, Circuits and Electronics, began in March, enrolling about 120,000 students, some 10,000 of whom made it through the recent midterm exam. Those who complete the course will get a certificate of mastery and a grade, but no official credit. Similarly, edX courses will offer a certificate but not credit.

Coursera and Udacity, two other MOOCs (massively open online courses) from elite universities have also recently been announced.  This online thing seems to be taking off, accompanied by ardent predictions from educators.

“My guess is that what we end up doing five years from now will look very different from what we do now,” said Provost Alan M. Garber of Harvard …

“Online education is here to stay, and it’s only going to get better,” said Lawrence S. Bacow, a past president of Tufts who is a member of the Harvard Corporation.

President John Hennessy of Stanford summed up the emerging view in an article by Ken Auletta in The New Yorker, “There’s a tsunami coming.”

Online learning is not brand new, but David Brooks makes a point about the recent entry by the most selective institutions:

But, over the past few months, something has changed. The elite, pace-setting universities have embraced the Internet. Not long ago, online courses were interesting experiments. Now online activity is at the core of how these schools envision their futures….

What happened to the newspaper and magazine business is about to happen to higher education: a rescrambling around the Web.

Rescrambling.  Makes me think of this.

You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.

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