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No Boy Left Behind?

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More boys are enrolled in kindergarten than girls, but fewer boys will graduate from high school. What happens in the years between to keep boys from being successful in school? Are our boys failing -- or are we failing our boys?

Picturing the Problem

In the beginning of life, boys and girls start out on mostly even footing. But not long after that, things begin to change.

For every 100 females ...

born ... 105 males are born

who are enrolled in kindergarten ... 107 males are enrolled

who repeat kindergarten ... 194 males repeat

who are suspended from public schools ... 215 males are suspended

who are diagnosed with a learning disability ... 276 males are diagnosed

who graduate from high school ... 96 males graduate

who are enrolled in college ... 78 males are enrolled

who have a master's degree ... 66 males have the same degree

* The picture is even worse when looking at only low-income and minority boys and men.

Why Is This Happening?

While the causes of boys' perceived underachievement in schools are no doubt myriad and complex, researchers and educators have pointed to a few key factors that are likely playing a role.

Zero-tolerance policies

Any violence or threats of violence or in many schools, simply talking about violence, earns most students a suspension. Boys are far more likely to be the perpetrators and victims of violence.

Of high school-age boys ...

40.7% engage in fighting

25.9% regularly carry weapons (whether to school or not)

Dearth of male teachers

Boys regularly encounter only female educators, meaning they spend the bulk of their days with people they may find it difficult to relate to.

Public school teachers

76% female

24% male

Natural differences in male and female development

Girls develop faster.

6 months earlier

The average girl is potty trained

2 years earlier

The average girl reaches puberty

Teaching to the test

With school certifications and teacher salaries tied to student achievement, the focus for many public schools isn't necessarily a broad, well-rounded education -- it's making sure their students can past a battery of standardized tests. This means there's little room for error.

Why There's Hope

Once boys reach a certain age, the natural differences between boys and girls begin to evaporate, as males catch up to females developmentally, and in some cases, surpass them.

Boys regularly outperform girls in science, technology and math.

These two students probably have the same ability to understand math and geometry:

12-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy

Mean IQ levels

Age 7

Girls: 100.6

Boys: 99.4

Age 11

Girls: 100.4

Boys: 99.6

Age 16

Girls: 99.2

Boys: 100.8

What Schools Can Do to Engage Boys

Keeping boys engaged in school and learning is vital to keeping them from dropping out -- or simply tuning out. Here are ways to hold boys' attention in the classroom:

  • Provide lessons that result in an end product (a booklet, comic strip or a model)
  • Structure lessons as competitive games
  • Require motor activity
  • Allow boys to address open questions or unsolved problems
  • Encourage a combination of competition and teamwork
  • Craft lessons that focus on independent discovery and realization



No Boy Left Behind?