Boys fall behind in education

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DENVER, Colo. — We know the pandemic has hurt student math and reading scores across the country, but research shows that half of our students were at a disadvantage even before COVID hit.

From elementary school to graduate programs, girls outperform boys.

In every state in the country, more women have college degrees than men, and more girls graduate from high school on time than boys.

Richard Reevesauthor and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has spent years researching why this happens and how communities can close this gap in gender education.

New book by Rives Boys and men turns to his findings.

“I think the irony is that the education system has always been structurally better designed for girls and women than for boys and men,” Reeves said.

He found that girls outperformed boys in reading by nearly half a grade level in every state. In 10 states, girls are more than a full level ahead of boys.

“Boys develop all these skills later than girls. And it’s not about cognitive ability, it’s not about them not being as smart as girls. These are non-competitive skills. It’s organization, delaying gratification, thinking about the future. Do your homework,” Reeves said.

Reeves said boys are falling behind for three reasons.

First, boys’ prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that helps you organize, complete tasks, and pay attention, develops 1 to 2 years later in boys than in girls.

Second, there are fewer male teachers in schools. Research has shown that boys learn better with male teachers, but only 24% of K-12 teachers are male. Only 11% are male in primary school, and only 3% in kindergarten.

Third, research shows that boys learn better in hands-on learning environments than in traditional lecture classrooms.

Now the question arises: how can we help?

Reeves said the first step is compassion.

“As a parent, sometimes I would just get frustrated and say, ‘Why can’t you do this?’ And then you see their girlfriend make it easy and it’s a mistake because then they blame them and it’s not their fault,” Reeves said, referring to raising his own sons.

Reeves said three changes in schools could make a big difference.

First, more physical activity during the day for boys at school. Second, he believes that schools should start later in the day. Research shows that it can also help girls achieve more. Third, Reeves believes that boys should start school a year later than girls.

“A 16-year-old has a better chance against a 15-year-old girl because their brain is still developing, so you’re actually leveling the playing field,” Reeves said.

Reeves also believes we can get more male teachers in the classroom by creating scholarships for men and reducing the stigma surrounding teaching as a woman’s job.

For parents, Reeves said, helping support your son to turn in his work and go to school on time is the first step to making sure he doesn’t fall behind.

“If you’re concerned about how your boy is doing at school, he’s probably doing well because, like anyone, if you’re aware of that, it probably means you’re taking the necessary steps to to help,” Reeves said.

Reeves said it’s important for people to understand that just because we do more for boys doesn’t mean we do less for girls.

“That’s a big part of the argument: We have to be able to think two thoughts at the same time,” Reeves said.

He says we can help both sexes at once — we just need parents, teachers and politicians to be intentional about helping both girls and boys.

“To be complacent in the face of these trends is to do us all a disservice,” Reeves said.

For more information on Reeves’ work, click HERE.

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