How Boys and Girls are Doing in School

As we continue with our blog series on gender, we take a moment to assess how both boys and girls are currently doing in school. We've talked about the STEM gender gap, but what other gaps need attention?

By Momentous Institute | May 28, 2018
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In a recent blog post, we wrote about how to help girls get more involved in STEM-related education. It is widely accepted that male students tend to perform higher in STEM subjects than their female peers. This awareness of – and attention to – gender differences in this area of education has helped. When it was noticed and accepted that girls needed additional support in areas related to STEM, additional efforts were placed there, and this gap has started to close.

However, as one gap begins to close, others remain open. We must continue to pay attention to disparities in education and identify areas where some students are being left behind. In looking at the data, interesting trends appear. The truth is, in many ways, boys are falling behind academically.

Let’s look at how boys and girls perform across their entire educational experience.

Starting from a young age, boys and girls have different outcomes. As early as Kindergarten, boys begin to fall behind girls in reading, while it’s not until first grade that we see girls start to fall behind boys in mathematics.  

As boys and girls move through middle school and high school, disparities continue. Girls are higher represented in advanced placement programs and talented and gifted programs. Meanwhile, boys are significantly more likely to face disciplinary problems. In fact, over 70% of expulsions are male students. Boys are also more likely to repeat a grade than their female peers.

What about college? More girls graduate from high school, go on to higher education, and enroll in the highest levels of education.

What does all of this data suggest? There are many factors that influence a child’s educational experience. Certainly, a child’s socioeconomic, cultural, racial and familial contexts have an incredible impact on how a child performs long-term in an academic setting. But among those factors is another that is not always discussed: gender.

This data raises more questions than solutions. It causes us to reflect on important questions such as, how are schools tailoring learning to the unique ways that boys and girls learn? What standards are we using to measure success? What standards are we using to determine discipline referrals? Are these standards equitable across genders? What support and messages are male and female students receiving regarding higher education? Are schools and districts tracking gender disparities? Is this data being used to inform future practices?

The STEM gender gap has received a lot of attention because evidence of the gap is everywhere. Educators, administrators, parents all know that there is a disparity between boys and girls in STEM fields. But for many, research showing how boys are currently falling behind in school may come as a surprise. Efforts to boost the involvement of girls in STEM-related fields have helped, but this improvement hasn’t happened on its own. Dedicated professionals from a variety of disciplines have focused efforts on improving this huge disparity in education – and the work is ongoing. This same awareness, intention, and effort must also be placed on helping boys excel academically.