This year, women will comprise more than 56 percent of students on American college campuses, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Some 2.2 million fewer men than women will be enrolled in college this year. Over 60 percent of college graduates are now females. By 2026, the department estimates, the gap between male and female college graduates will widen even more.
The achievement gap between boys and girls is real. Boys are struggling more in school than girls, and are typically a year and a half behind in reading and writing. Boys are more likely to be suspended, retained in grade or placed in special education. They are less likely to graduate from high school or enroll in and graduate from college. Boys from low-income and working-class families are hit the hardest.
Accounting for the achievement gap is problematic. Does it indicate an inherent bias in favor of girls?
The school system is an institution controlled by government. Government is controlled by politicians. Politicians are “influenced” monetarily and intellectually by politically- motivated interest groups. And many of the politically-motivated interest groups that choose to get involved in “education” are anti-traditional male.
This began in the 1960s, but reached full momentum in the 1990s in what was dubbed “the hidden crisis among the nation’s girls.”
Carol Gilligan, Harvard University’s first professor of gender studies was instrumental in promoting the idea with her publication of In a Different Voice. Gilligan’s work promoted the narrative that America’s adolescent girls were in crisis, “As the river of a girl’s life flows into the sea of Western culture, she is in danger of drowning or disappearing.” Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia (1994), was also a very successful girls-in-crisis book.
During the 1990s, in response to an organized political movement to address a perceived bias against girls in US education, laws and regulations (particularly at the Federal level) were written to correct what were believed to be profound injustices.
At the time, it was felt girls needed and deserved special consideration. “It is really clear that boys are Number One in this society and in most of the world,”– Patricia O’Reilly, a professor of education and the director of the Gender Equity Center, at the University of Cincinnati.
“Schools shortchange girls,” — the American Association of University Women.
Suddenly, girls were considered an “under-served population” which led Congress to pass the Gender Equity in Education Act in 1994. Millions of dollars in grants were awarded to figure out how to counter bias against girls in school. At the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in1995, members of the U.S. delegation presented the educational and psychological deficits of American girls as a human-rights issue.
Politics dressed up as science
Unfortunately, most of this was not true.Further studies had proven that much of the claimed bias against girls had been overstated, or was just plain wrong.
In her studies, University of Pittsburgh professor Roberta Simmons, a professor of sociology(described by Science News as “director of the most ambitious longitudinal study of adolescent self-esteem to date”), noted that there really was no substantial gender gap, “Most kids come through the years from 10 to 20 without major problems and with an increasing sense of self-esteem.”
1998 Judith Kleinfeld, a psychologist at the University of Alaska, published a thorough critique of the research on schoolgirls titled The Myth That Schools Shortchange Girls: Social Science in the Service of Deception. Kleinfeld exposed a number of errors in other studies, concluding that it was “politics dressed up as science.”
What other studies found instead was that by the 1990s, girls had already established academic dominance over boys. Not only were girls more successful in school, but is was found that boys were falling even further behind, with many ultimately just rejecting school completely.
Critics such as Christina Hoff Sommers contends that “misguided feminism” accounts for some of the gap—part of a social war, an effort to civilize boys by diminishing their masculinity or as Gloria Steinem said, “Raise boys like we raise girls.”
Within the collective unconscious of American education, is feminizing the culture the metanarrative?
Is there really a bias against boys? Not so fast.
A new report by Sara Read reviewed the data on boys’ and girls’ achievement and educational attainment showed that boys weren’t really falling behind. In fact, boys were doing better than ever on a range of educational indicators. But girls’ achievement was improving faster, causing girls to pull ahead of boys. Also, another report from the Brookings Institution, finds that boys are starting to close the reading gap in the elementary grades. While high school girls today read about as well as they did in 1971, high school boys have improved since the early 1970s.
But what about higher education?
Based on Department of Education estimates, women will earn a disproportionate share of college degrees at every level of higher education in 2017 for the eleventh straight year (since 2007 when women first earned a majority of doctoral degrees). Overall, women in the Class of 2017 will earn 141 college degrees at all levels for every 100 men (up from 139 last year), and there will be a 659,000 college degree gap (up from 610,000 last year) in favor of women for this year’s college graduates (2.26 million total degrees for women vs. 1.6 million total degrees for men). By level of degree, women will earn: a) 164 associate’s degrees for every 100 men, up from 154:100 last year (female majority in every year since 1978), b) 135 bachelor’s degrees for every 100 men (female majority since 1982), c) 140 master’s degrees for every 100 men (female majority since 1987) and d) 109 doctoral degrees for every 100 men, up from 106:100 last year (female majority since 2007).
Over the next decade, the gender disparity for college degrees is expected to increase according to Department of Education forecasts, so that by 2026, women will earn 150 college degrees for every 100 degrees earned by men, with especially huge gender imbalances in favor of women for associate’s degrees (187 women for every 100 men) and master’s degrees (140 women for every 100 men).
The huge gender inequity in higher education for the Class of 2017 is nothing new — women have earned a majority of US college degrees in every year since 1982 and since then have earned an increasingly larger share of college degrees compared to men in almost every year, so that men have now become the “second sex” in higher education. Despite the huge and growing “degree gap” over the last 35 years in favor of women, there are still almost 200 women’s centers on college campuses around the country (list here), some receiving public funding, most with the stated goal of “promoting (or advocating) gender equity” and promoting “women’s success.” Here are some examples:
-The University of Minnesota’s Women’s Center advances equity for women students, staff, faculty, and alumnae across identities by increasing connections for women’s success, cultivating socially responsible leaders, and advocating for organizational culture change toward excellence for all.
-The University of Virginia Women’s Center educates U. Va. students in how to create change in self, community, and the world by providing programs and services that advocate gender equity.
-The Duke University Women’s Center is dedicated to helping every woman at Duke become self-assured with a kind of streetwise savvy that comes from actively engaging with the world. We welcome men and women alike who are committed to gender equity and social change.
-The mission of the University of Idaho Women’s Center is to promote and advocate for gender equity on campus and in the community through programs and services that educate and support all individuals in building an inclusive and compassionate society.
-The University of North Carolina Women’s Center (The Center for Gender Equity) strives to be a leader on efforts and initiatives related to gender equity.
Even though the publicly stated goal of almost every Women’s Center is “gender equity,” there seems to be a very selective concern about what gender equity really means, with no concern at all about the inequities at every level of higher education favoring women to the point that men have clearly become the “second sex” in higher education. There is also apparently no willingness for any of these women’s centers to close down even though gender equity in higher education was achieved 35 years ago (for college degrees), and there is no question that women are now much more successful than men in terms of both completing college and earning degrees at all levels from associate’s degrees to doctoral degrees.
How bad is it?
Professor Christopher Cornwell at the University of Georgia has found that a heavily feminist-driven education paradigm systematically favors girls and disadvantages boys from their first days in school. Examining student test scores and grades of children in kindergarten through fifth grade, Cornwell found that boys in all racial categories are not being “commensurately graded by their teachers” in any subject “as their test scores would predict.”
According to Cornwall, part of the answer lies in the way teachers, who are statistically mostly women, evaluate students without reference to objective test scores. Boys are regularly graded well below their actual academic performance.
Boys are falling significantly behind in grades, “despite performing as least as well as girls on math tests, and significantly better on science tests.”
After fifth grade, he found, student assessment becomes a matter of “a teacher’s subjective assessment of the student’s performance,” and is further removed from the guidance of objective test results. Teachers, he says, tend to assess students on non-cognitive, “socio-emotional skills.” This has had a significant impact on boys’ later achievement because, while objective test scores are important, it is teacher-assigned grades that determine a child’s future with class placement, high school graduation and college admissibility.
Eliminating the factor of “non-cognitive skills…almost eliminates the estimated gender gap in reading grades,” Cornwell found. He said he found it “surprising” that although boys out-perform girls on math and science test scores, girls out-perform boys on teacher-assigned grades. In science and general knowledge, as in math skills, the data showed that kindergarten and first grade boys’ grades “are lower by 0.11 and 0.06 standard deviations, even though their test scores are higher.” This disparity continues and grows through to the fifth grade, with boys and girls being graded similarly, “but the disparity between their test performance and teacher assessment grows.”
These disparities are “even sharper for black and Hispanic children” with the “misalignment of grades with test scores steadily increases as black and Hispanic students advance in school.”
The study, he said, shows that “teachers’ assessments are not aligned with test-score data, with greater gender disparities appearing in grading than testing outcomes.” And the “gender disparity” always favors girls.
In Defense of a Thug Life
As a boy that somehow survived his “education”, I and many of my friends were keenly aware of this disregard and disrespect of who we really were. We weren’t good boys, I will admit that; with long, greasy hair and smelly flip flops, skateboards, we always sat at the back of the room, which was a mutually agreeable situation for all involved. If we bothered to go to school at all, the surfboards were strapped to the roof of the car, and if the WRV surf report (which we listened to in the smoking area on a transistor radio) sounded promising, we usually just left. It’s almost laughable today to see “professional” educators groveling for more respect (and money), when me and my boys always knew if they had an opportunity, they would have made us wear orange jump suits and chained our ankles together.
Of course, we all know that most teachers are wonderful people and dedicated professionals. If you ask any teacher (we have for this article) if they treat boys and girls the same, they will answer yes. I believe they are being honest about this. However, according to the NEA, whether or not a teacher “believes in” their students and expects them to succeed has been shown to affect how well that student does in school, particularly among disadvantaged students. But educators should be aware that those expectations can be influenced by their own implicit biases.
“Our belief here is that we all have implicit biases,” said Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The consequences of this bias, even unintentional, has been less than optimal for some boys. Becki Cohn-Vargas, the co-author of Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn, notes that unequal treatment may also fuel the school-to-prison pipeline. “This is not about blaming or pointing fingers,” she said.
It is clear that the decisions made by teachers affect children’s life trajectories. Is it time to accept that it is possible that an implicit bias against boys might exist?