Advantages for Boys

Click HERE to watch Matt Lauer interview Dr. Sax on the TODAY show, discussing "The Truth About Boys", July 31 2007

According to the cover story for TIME Magazine dated August 6, 2007, boys today are doing just great, "better than ever," and anyone who says otherwise is misinformed.

Please click here to read Dr. Sax's detailed refutation of the TIME magazine cover story.

On July 31 2007, the TODAY show invited Dr. Sax, author of Boys Adrift, to offer his perspective on the TIME Magazine cover story. Click here to watch Matt Lauer interview Dr. Sax on the TODAY show Tuesday July 31 2007.

What about white boys with college-educated parents? They're doing fine, right? Professor Judith Kleinfeld has been studying gender issues in education for more than two decades. She is also founder and director of the Boys Project, an interdisciplinary, nationwide effort to develop gender-equitable solutions to the "boy problem." In June 2006, Professor Kleinfeld was a featured speaker at the White House Conference on Helping America’s Youth. Her remarks at the conference provide a concise and well-documented summary of the "boy problem." You can read the full text of Professor Kleinfeld's remarks by clicking here.

Does single-sex education work for boys?
You'll occasionally hear people claim that single-sex education is "good for girls, but not for boys." In fact, recent research has demonstrated that single-gender classrooms benefit boys as well -- particularly for subjects such as reading, writing, art, and music. Researchers at Cambridge University (in the UK) examined the effects of single-sex classrooms in schools in four different neighborhoods, including rural, suburban and inner-city schools. They found that "using single-sex groups was a significant factor in establishing a school culture that would raise educational achievement." For example, at Morley High School in Leeds, only one-third of boys had been earning passing grades in German and French prior to institution of the program. After the change to single-sex classes, 100% of boys earned passing grades. Click on the link to read the full story.

The Cambridge study is not unique. Graham Able, of Dulwich College (in London, England) studied the performance of girls and boys in 30 single-sex and coeducational schools in England. He found that while both girls and boys did better in single-sex schools than they did in coeducational schools, the single-sex advantage was greater for the boys than it was for the girls.

This report was widely publicized in British newspapers: see for example Alison Gordon's article for the Daily Mail, "In a class of their own: boys benefit even more than girls from single-sex schools, A-level grades study reveals," June 11 2000. But, as near as we can tell, this study has never been reported or even mentioned in any American newspaper or magazine.

Here's a quotation from Graham Able's report:
The unsubstantiated mythology of the educational establishment has been that girls do better in single sex schools but that boys are "brought on" by the more studious girls in a co-educational environment. This mythology has never been supported by any objective evidence, and any policy derived from it must presumably sacrifice the advantages to one sex in order to promote the cause of the other. . . [Our] results suggest that single sex schools give an even greater academic advantage to boys than for girls. This directly contradicts the popular educational myth that boys do better in the classroom if girls are present to set them a good example. One could reasonably conclude from this study that both boys and girls are academically disadvantaged in co-educational schools, but that the disadvantage is greater for the boys.
If you'd like to read Graham Able's report, you can obtain a copy by contacting us.

A "before-and-after" experiment right here in the United States also suggests that single-sex education may be more beneficial for boys than for girls, at least in the elementary school age group. Six years ago, Benjamin Wright -- then principal of the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, a public school in a low-income area of Seattle, Washington -- segregated his school by sex. Nothing else changed: the class sizes remained the same, the teacher salaries remained the same, etc. The only change was that the classes were now single-sex. That simple change had a dramatic effect. As Mr. Wright described it in May 2002, "In the [coed] environment that we had before, we spent most of our time taking care of crises. Now we're actually teaching kids. In terms of bullying: we've almost completely stopped that. Once we split the classes, the boys went from the 10th percentile to the 73rd percentile [on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning]. The girls remained pretty stable. They stayed in the same percentile that they were in." In this case, the single-sex environment was dramatically effective for boys, but apparently had little effect -- at least in terms of standardized test scores -- for the girls (keep in mind that the girls were already scoring substantially higher than the boys). Mr. Wright subsequently left to assist the Philadelphia public school system, but the school has maintained its high academic achievement since his departure -- as well as the single-sex classroom format.

So what makes single-sex education so effective for boys? The advantages of single-sex education for boys fall into two basic categories: (i) teachers can custom-tailor their teaching style to the boys; and (ii) the all-boys classroom promotes a more diverse and well-rounded educational experience (that may seem paradoxical, but it's true; see below).
Let's look at each of these in turn.

A more diverse and well-rounded educational experience
If you've visited many coed public schools, you've certainly encountered many rigid gender stereotypes, particularly with regard to boys. A boy at most coed public high schools can be either a "geek" or a jock, but rarely both. When's the last time you heard about a star high school football player who was also the class valedictorian? When's the last time you heard about a star high school football player who would even talk to the class valedictorian? At most coed high schools, if you're a boy, you're either a "geek" or a jock, but not both.

You'll sometimes hear critics say, "Maybe boys do better academically in single-gender schools, but surely boys do better in terms of social adjustment at coed schools." Maybe not. Educators at a conference in Sydney, Australia heard several speakers present evidence that boys who attend single-sex schools may do better in terms of maturity and social adjustment, than boys who attend coed schools. Dr. Bruce Cook, principal of the Southport School on the Gold Coast, told the audience that boys educated in single-sex schools end up being more confident around girls. "In coed schools, boys tend to adopt a 'masculine' attitude because girls are there," he said. "They feel they have to demonstrate their emerging masculinity by gross macho over-reaction." Boys in single-sex schools "become more sensitive men," and they're more polite, according to an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald .

Historian Steven Millies shared with us how attending a single-sex high school changed his life. "I began high school more shy than most adolescents," he recalls. "But I did take the enormous step of joining the speech team, and that opened a new world to me. It led me to other activities, and eventually to writing a column for the school paper. The capstone came during my senior year when I debated a fiery teacher about the Vietnam War in front of four history classes. The event drew so much attention that other people wanted to attend. By the end of the day, we had been seen by practically everyone in the school. These experiences were an awakening. I strongly believe that they made possible the development of interests and skills that led me to undertake a PhD in history. When I think back on the catalyst -- joining the speech team -- and I consider the fact that forensics in Illinois is dominated by girls, about 70/30, I cannot imagine that I would have joined the team in a coed school. Even leaving shyness out of the question, it would have been a 'girls' thing.' Knowing the south side of Chicago as I do, I have to believe that any boy who joined the team would have been making himself a target. I needed the chance to explore my own potential without worrying about looking foolish in front of the girls."

Boys at single-sex schools have more diverse role models of their own sex. Andrew Hunter, a school principal who has taught at both coed and single-sex schools, says that "there is a subtle pressure toward gender stereotyping in mixed schools. In boys' schools, boys feel free to be themselves, to follow their interests and talents in what might be regarded as non-macho pursuits: music, arts, drama." We've heard from many young men who have shared how their interest in poetry, or history, etc. only began after they enrolled in a single-sex school. In the single-sex environment, they didn't feel any embarrassment in showing an interest in those "non-macho" activities.

Brian Walsh, who has been a principal at private boys' schools and private coed schools in New England, made this observation: "Boys ordinarily do not even try to sing in a coed school, whereas they love choral singing in a boys' school; in the coed setting they make fun of French pronunciation, whereas in the single-sex setting they enjoy becoming fluent in French; in drama, they muck up or clown around to avoid seeming imperfect in a coed setting, whereas they excel at drama when by themselves."

Custom-tailored instruction
A nationwide study by Marcia Gentry and her associates, published in 2002 in the Journal of Educational Psychology, confirmed what many earlier studies had suggested: at every age, boys in coed schools are less enthusiastic about school than girls are. This finding holds whether you're looking at urban schools or rural schools, affluent schools or schools located in low-income communities. And, as boys get older, the "enthusiasm gap" widens. The older boys get, the more they tend to perceive doing well in school as "geeky." Boys perceive the coed school as an institution run largely by women and run largely according to women's rules: sit still, don't make too much noise, don't be disruptive. They see that the top students are girls, and the "teacher's pet" is either a girl or a "feminized male" (to use Patricia Cayo Sexton's rather derogatory term). So, boys come to devalue academic excellence. If you're a boy at a coed school, being an "A" student does not raise your status with other boys. At most coed schools, being an "A" student will lower your status with other boys.

Source: Marcia Gentry, Robert Gable, and Mary Rizza, "Students' perceptions of classroom activities: are there grade-level and gender differences?" Journal of Educational Psychology, volume 94, number 3 (September 2002), pages 539-544.

Boys' schools can tailor the curriculum to the way boys learn. Experienced teachers know that the best way to get boys energized to learn is to keep the classroom loud and lively. The teacher never stops moving. A boy never knows where that teacher will be 20 seconds from now. The teacher roams the class, speaking in a loud voice, involving every student. "Mr. Taylor! Tell us please what your opinion is on this matter!" The experienced teacher at a boys' school always addresses his students as "Mr." -- even in third grade. "If you treat them as men, they're more likely to behave as men," one teacher told us.

Most boys will perk up and show some interest if you talk about things that are dangerous, or immense, or "yucky." The boy who was bored by biology at the coed school will be interested if you bring in some black garden snakes. The boy who fell asleep in chemistry class will be energized if you give him an assignment to do a PowerPoint presentation on dynamite, with lots of pictures of things blowing up. Most boys enjoy blowing things up (or at least imagining blowing things up). The high school boy who says he doesn't like to read might enjoy The Hot Zone (a non-fiction book about an Ebola-like virus isolated near Washington, DC several years ago).

The first task of any teacher who hopes to teach boys is to get the boys interested. As recent research shows, that's no easy task. Boys' schools have a natural advantage, because they can tailor their curriculum to topics that interest boys, and teach those topics in ways that keep the boys engaged.



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