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Gender and Underachievement: A question of which boys and which girls?. Dr Wayne Martino & Dr Goli Rezai-Rashti Faculty of Education The University of Western Ontario. Sources.

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gender and underachievement a question of which boys and which girls

Gender and Underachievement: A question of which boys and which girls?

Dr Wayne Martino & Dr Goli Rezai-Rashti

Faculty of Education

The University of Western Ontario

  • AAUW (American Association of University Women) (2008) Where the girls are: The facts about gender equity in education. Washington, DC.

  • TDSB Research Report (2006) Grade 9 Cohort Study 2000-2005, Toronto.

  • Mead, S. (2006) The truth about boys and girls. Washington, DC: Education Sector.

  • Quebec Ministry of Education Report (2004) Boys’ Academic Achievement: Putting the findings into perspective.
  • Martino, W. & Rezai-Rashti, G. (2006-2009) Investigating the influence of male elementary school teachers as role models in elementary schools. SSHRC funded Project 410-2006-1158.
introduction beyond a distorted view of the achievement gap
Introduction: Beyond a Distorted View of the Achievement Gap
  • More informed understanding of boys’ underachievement than that which has been presented in the popular media and by policy makers – which groups of boys and which groups of girls are most at risk?
  • “The so-called boy crisis also feeds on a lack of solid information. Although there are a host of statistics about how boys and girls perform in school, we actually know very little about why these differences exist or how important they are” (Mead, 2006, p. 14).
  • “There are many things-including biological, developmental, cultural, and educational factors - that affect how boys and girls do in school. But untangling these different influences is incredibly difficult” (Mead, 2006, p. 14).
  • “The lack of solid research evidence confirming or debunking any particular hypothesis has created fertile ground for all sorts of people to seize on the boy crisis to draw attention to their pet educational, cultural or ideological issues (Mead, 2006, p. 14).
  • There is a need to disaggregate data in terms of multiple and intersecting characteristics such as gender, class, race, sexuality, ethnicity and geographical location as opposed to seeing boy as a homogenous group.
knowledge about which boys and which girls are underachieving
Knowledge about which boys and which girls are underachieving

AAUW 2008 Report: Where the girls are

  • Data disaggregated by gender, race/ethnicity, and family income are not widely available.
  • “Gender differences in educational achievement vary by race/ethnicity and family income level as well… and cannot be fully understood without attention to race/ethnicity and family income level” (p. 11)
  • Race/Income gap in achievement is greater than the gender gap: “On standardized test such as the NAEP, SAT, and ACT, children from the lowest-income families have the lowest average test scores, with an incremental rise in family income associated with a rise in test scores. Race/ethnicity is also strongly associated with test score, with African American and Hispanic children scoring lower on average than white and Asian American children” (p. 10).
TDSB Research Report
  • The TDSB has tracked Toronto high school students through Ontario’s new four year curriculum according to race/ethnicity and family income of its student population.
  • Those students identified as being m are most at risk of dropping out of school are those born in English-speaking Caribbean, Central and South America/Mexico, and Eastern Africa.
  • Specifically those students speaking Portuguese, Spanish and Somali are at high risk of dropping out.
  • These groups of students are more likely to fail the Grade 10 Literacy Test, not middle-class boys.
  • At risk status was strongly related to family income. By the end of high school students in the lowest income grouping had a dropout rate of 33 per cent compared to 11 percent for students in the highest income grouping
Mead, S. (2006) The truth about boys and girls.
  • There’s no doubt that some groups of boys – particularly Hispanic and black boys from low-income homes – are in real trouble. But the predominant issues for them are race and class, not gender. Closing racial and economic gaps would help poor and minority boys more than closing gender gaps, and focusing on gender gaps may distract attention from bigger problems facing these youngsters (p. 3).
  • Educators, parents, and policymakers should therefore be sceptical of simplistic proposals aimed at fixing the boy crisis, such as expanding single-sex schooling, implementing gender-based instructional techniques, or funding new federal programs aimed at improving boys’ achievement. The close relation between the difficulties facing some boys and complex educational challenges such as racial and economic and economic achievement gaps, high school reform, and special education suggests that silver-bullet approaches are unlikely to solve the problems facing many boys. Each of these ideas may have a modicum of merit, but there is little sound research or evidence for their effectiveness (pp. 18-19).
Quebec Ministry of Education Report (2004)
  • Important to avoid generalizations: most boys do well in school
  • Boys are not a homogeneous group: environment has major influence
  • Strong correlation between adhering to sexual stereotypes and school failure
  • In some school boards and in some schools the gender gap is very narrow or negligible.
  • Conclusions drawn are consistent with statistical findings reported by AAUW and TDSB regarding achievement gaps along race/ethnicity and social class lines.
the need for both qualitative research and analytic frameworks
The need for both Qualitative research and analytic frameworks
  • Statistical analysis needs to be informed by both qualitative research and analytic frameworks that are capable of addressing the complex interconnections among characteristics such as gender, race, ethnicity sexuality, social class and their cumulative effect for targeted populations.
  • The research base is internally contradictory, making it easy to find superficial support for a wide variety of explanations but difficult for the media and the public to evaluate the quality of evidence cited - or the right kind of evidence – available to draw firm conclusions. As a result, there is a sort of free market for theories about why boys are underperforming girls in schools, with parents, educators, media, and the public choosing to give credence to explanations that are best marketed and that most appeal to their pre-existing preferences (Mead, 2006, p. 14)
  • Alloway et al (2002) argue that the ways in which boys engage with literacy, for example, is often determined by how they learn to relate to others and understand themselves which, in turn, is influenced by questions of culture and identity that cannot be reduced to biological sex differences.
brain sex research
Brain-Sex Research
  • Brain sex research and theories about biological differences between boys and girls have been used to support “unwarranted generalizations and gross oversimplification’.
  • ‘Common-sense’ and taken-for-granted notions about differences between boys and girls are explained as ‘biological givens’ without any attempt to engage with the fact that there are differences amongst boys as a group and that these differences cannot be accounted for adequately in terms of their sexed bodies.
  • Gilbert & Gilbert (1998): “Brain research does point to differences in features like brain size and structure in male and female brains, though it s conflicting and based on surprisingly small samples. There is also evidence that when men and women complete particular tasks, there are sex differences in the area of the brain involved. However, some quite large studies have found no significant sex differences in size, and some parts of the brain are larger in men and some larger in women. Some early claims about sex differences in brain structures have not been confirmed by later research. Further, it is misleading to refer to the brain as being connected in a particular way, as if brains operate in a similar manner to hardwired electronic devices. This denies the flexibility and interactiveness of the brain revealed for instance in the fact that particular functions can involve different parts of the brain at different times” (p 38).
Younger ands Warrington (2005) claim that uncritical and unreflective approaches to implementing a more boy-friendly curriculum have been grounded in theoretical perspectives which adhere to brain-sex differences in schools. This has been accompanied by a consultancy industry in boys’ education, they add, which promotes support for brain-based learning initiatives which stress the need to cater for boys’ distinctive learning styles, despite “the limited evidence base” (p 75).
  • “It is notoriously difficult to draw causal links between observations about brain structure or activity and human behavior, appoint that scientists often take great pains to emphasize. Just as correlation does not always signify causation in social science research, correlations between differences in brain structure and observed differences in male and female behavior do not necessarily mean that the former leads to the other”. (Mead, 2006, p 15)
does the gender of the teacher matter
Does the gender of the teacher matter?
  • There is a common sense belief that male teachers will make a difference for boys’ learning in schools.
  • Based on interviews with over 70 teachers, classroom observations of twenty teachers and interviews/informal discussions with students, we found that a teacher’s gender did not appear to have any direct influence on students’ evaluation of teacher effectiveness. Teacher quality and effectiveness cannot be explained by the gender of the teacher.
  • Teacher quality and effectiveness is described by students in terms of the following: an ability to relate to students in a warm, friendly manner, while being able to set firm boundaries for classroom learning and interaction; enthusiasm for subject matter and an ability to explain material and to present the curriculum in an interesting way though problem solving and engaging activities; the ability to relate the curriculum to the everyday lives and experiences of students.
  • Some evidence was found for positive effects for a teacher’s ethnic/racial affiliation with minority students. This, however, seemed to be more related to a question of representation given the nature of minority populations in inner city schools in a urban city like Toronto
  • A more informed approach to addressing the gender gap means disaggregating and disseminating performance data by gender, race/ethnicity, and family income.
  • A more informed approach to implementation of gender reform strategies for addressing boys’ underachievement:

“There are more differences from one boy to the next of from one girl to the next than there are differences between groups of boys and groups of girls. Thus seemingly innate gender-based characteristics cannot be attributed to an essentially heterogeneous group … in asking questions and seeking solutions, we must not resort to improvised strategies based on anecdotal evidence, or hastily adopt radical solutions, but instead relay on controlled experiments and initiatives in the spirit of sound research” (Quebec Ministry of Education report, 2004, p 16).

  • Some understanding of how the social construction of masculinities intersects with other characteristics such as race, ethnicity, sexuality and social class to influence boys’ achievement and engagement with schooling.
  • There are several things parents, educators, and policymakers could and should do. The first is not to panic. Boys’ educational achievement is improving overall, some gender gaps are less significant than press reports make them out to be, and many boys are doing fine despite the averages (p. 18).