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Why Are Boys Falling Behind the Girls in K-12 and College Achievement?

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Nationally, over 57 percent of college attendees are female when public and private school stats are combined. Females have been consistently edging ahead of their male classmates since the late 1970s when the percentages flip-flopped. Aside from all-female schools, there are others that have marked disproportionate numbers. Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena has nearly 96 percent females in attendance, and the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center in Memphis has over 93 percent. At Indiana University Northwest, located just outside Gary, 67 percent of the student population is female.

These statistics beg the question: What are K-12 educators doing wrong when it comes to preparing young men for a college education?

It Starts Before College

According to Dr. Leonard Sax, too many boys are struggling in schools today. Sax proposes that five factors are responsible for the decline in school performance among boys: video games, prescription drugs, endocrine disruptors, devaluation of masculinity in popular culture, and teaching methods.  Sax and many others believe that video games disengage boys from real-world pursuits. Mind-numbing keyboards and flashing images have a seductive effect on the brain.  Medication for ADHD may be damaging motivational centers in boy's brains, and the harmful effects of estrogens from food and plastic containers are upsetting the balance of boys' endocrine systems.  The athletic, scholarly male TV heroes of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s have been replaced with Bart Simpson. These and other shifts in modern culture are responsible for devaluing traditional masculine strengths.  Additionally, Sax claims that the ways in which children are being educated today simply turn boys off from schooling. 

Males who are completing a four year degree take longer than women to do so, and tend to socialize more in college, study less than women, and have poorer grades. The difference in male-female college/university enrollment reflects performance differences that are evident well before college attendance.

Money aside, there are other pitfalls in a disproportionate number of men going to college. Statistics show that marriages where the couples have differing education levels more often end in divorce than couples with the same educational achievements. And even before divorce is an option, women who set college educational goals may not want to settle for men with less motivation - at least when it comes to academics. If this trend continues, social dynamics may be impacted.

Minority Men Even Worse Off

The problem escalates when race is taken into account.  Recently, the Black Star Project published findings that just 10 percent of eighth-grade Black boys in the U.S. are considered "proficient" in reading. In urban areas like Chicago and Detroit, that number was even lower. By contrast, the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress found that 46 percent of white students are adequate readers by eighth grade, and 17 percent of Black students as a whole are too. The achievement gap between the two races is startling, but the difference between the NAEP report on Black students as a whole and the Black Star findings of just Black boys is troubling too. It is not simply Black children in general who appear to be failing in the basics - like literacy; it is the boys.

So, we must ask ourselves why boys seem to be falling behind academically. More importantly, what steps need to be taken in order to reverse this trend?

If you would like to invite Dr. Lynch to speak or serve as a panelist at an upcoming event, please email him at [email protected].

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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