While black, Hispanic and low-income children again lagged far behind others on statewide mastery test scores, another group of students also remained mired in a chronic – though often less noticed – achievement gap.
Boys continued to trail girls by substantial margins in reading and writing on the annual Connecticut Mastery Test. The pattern has persisted since Connecticut first started keeping track of scores by gender in 2000, and is consistent with longstanding patterns on national tests. [...]
In writing, “Boys of every ethnic and socioeconomic group are falling far behind girls of similar backgrounds,” Kleinfeld wrote in a recent paper for the White House Conference on Helping America’s Youth. [...]
“It’s a huge problem,” Kleinfeld said. The literacy gap between girls and boys “has been very large since the beginning of time,” she said. “Think back to Tom Sawyer and Becky.”
So wait, which is it – are boys currently falling behind, or has it always been this way?
Also, as I’ll show below, the evidence from the Connecticut Mastery Test shows that the boy crisis does not exist among “boys of every ethnic and socioeconomic group.” On the contrary, the results are consistent with my belief that without racism and poverty holding them back, boys do just as well as girls.
Most boys develop verbal skills later than girls do and may not be ready for the intensive reading instruction that some schools are now demanding as early as kindergarten, she said.
For boys who lag, she said, one strategy would be to “keep them in kindergarten for two years, or keep them out of school until they’re ready.”
In addition, Kleinfeld and others say, boys’ reading habits are geared more toward non-fiction – subjects such as sports or adventure – while girls often prefer novels and short stories.
1) Notice, once again, the boyhood-as-disability theme, which is common in “boy crisis” writings. This expert actually suggests that boys should be kept back a year or two – which means, except for those boys who manage to skip ahead at some point, boys wouldn’t graduate high school until they’re 19 or 20. That’s a pretty radical proposal. Has anyone considered that if boys have to wait until the age of 20 to graduate, the result might be more boys dropping out before graduation?
2) I don’t know what data Kleinfeld is using (and I doubt her work for the White House Conference on Helping America’s Youth was put through a rigourous peer-review process). But this is an article about the results from the Connecticut Mastery Test, and it’s not true that Connecticut Mastery Test found that “Boys of every ethnic and socioeconomic group are falling far behind girls of similar backgrounds.”
At this website, you can look at the Connecticut Mastery Test results for boys and girls from different towns. (To keep things simple for myself, I’m just going to report the results for 8th graders, but as far as I could tell by spot-checking things are similar at every grade level).
Let’s first check out Bridgeport, a town in which few families have much money, and the majority of students are either hispanic or black (or both). In Bridgeport, 45% of boys and 46% of girls are proficient in math, a basically identical result. But for reading, 45% of boys and 53% of girls are proficient. And in writing, 55% of boys and 75% of girls are proficient – a 20% difference. That’s pretty huge.
Poking around the site further, I can see that 88% of eighth graders in Bridgeport are black or hispanic, and 97% are poor enough to qualify for the discount lunch program.
Now let’s look at the results from Westport, a town in which 94% of eighth graders (or, at least, of eighth graders who took the Connecticut Mastery Test) are white, and less than 3% qualified for the discount lunch program.
In Westport, 97% of both boys and girls are proficient in math, 96% of boys and 97% of girls are proficient in reading, and 97% of boys and 99% of girls are proficient in writing. There is effectively no difference between Westport’s boys and girls, according to the Connecticut Mastery Test.
As it happened, I spent my 8th grade attending public school in Westport.1 All the boys read fiction (we read To Kill A Mockingbird that year, I think), and I can’t imagine that has changed – because I think Westport parents would scream bloody murder if the schools tried to shortchange their boys’ education that way. What the “boy crisis” mavens are proposing would not only fail to help boys, it would deprive them of an education in literature.
3) As I wrote in an earlier post, it’s clear there is a real crisis going on here. But it’s not a “boy crisis,” and there’s nothing deficient in boy’s brains that makes them biologically incapable of doing as well as girls, or of reading fiction.
There are way too many boys from indian, black, hispanic and low-income families who are not benefiting enough from school, and whose future is needlessly dim; it’s a tragedy for those boys and for our entire society if things keep going the way they’ve been. I wish I had the solution, but I don’t. Nonetheless, wrong analysis leads to wrong solutions. The people who are focusing on nonexistent inherent deficiencies in how boys learn, and pretty much ignoring class and race, are coming up with solutions that will be expensive and unhelpful at best, and actually harmful to boys at worst.
4. Finally, as big as the 20% difference in reading achievement between Bridgeport boys and girls is, let’s not overlook the much larger differences in achievement between children in Bridgeport and children in Westport. That’s the real crisis, and that should be our main focus.
[Crossposted on Creative Destruction, a dark and forbidding place avoided by wise hobbits.]
- Yes, I admit it, I grew up in Westport. The shame will follow me forever. [↩]