More boys than girls struggling in school, group finds

Committee discusses disparities in gender and education

Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Male, Native and poor - those are the three groups of students the Juneau School District is failing, according to members of a secondary education advisory committee.

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Even though there are only 2 percent more girls than boys in the Juneau school system, boys make up a disproportionate number of the poor performers.

"There's a higher percentage of academically at-risk boys in the district," said Philip Loseby, who conducts student achievement studies for the district. "There is an overrepresentation of males in the lower performing group of students."

On Tuesday, William Pollack, a faculty member of the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, spoke to Juneau educators, faculty members and parents about how to fix the problem.

Alaska ranks third in the country for educational gender inequality, said Pollack, author of the "Real Boys" book series, which documents performance disparity between boys and girls in school.

Boys accounted for 61 percent of the students who were not proficient in reading in grades three through 10, according to data released by the district. Students who were rated not proficient in school tests made up 10 percent of the Juneau student population.

Boys dominated the groups who weren't proficient in writing and math. In the school years 2004 to 2005, 75 boys dropped out of school, compared to 60 girls.

Until the 2004-05 school year, a greater percentage of girls dropped out than boys. Now the trend has reversed.

Pollack said there is no single main cause. Solutions can be found in making changes to allow for developmental delays and what he calls "boys' behavioral tempo."

Because boys tend to learn to write and read later than girls, punishing them for the inability to perform is counterproductive.

"And many boys tend to turn off because they saw they were no good at (reading and writing)," Pollack said.

This discouragement can carry on into other grades.

Educators need to create positive models for boys to emulate, rather than relying on a classic correction and punishment model. Pollack said teachers need to seek out boys to create stronger emotional bonds to those students.

He said boys with bonds to educators are four times more likely to succeed in school. Girls, he said, tend to seek out connections with others. Boys, by and large, are taught to be independent.

"Being independent is great, but if you do it all the time you're going to go under," he said.

Pollack supports many different educational models, including single-gender facilities, but more study needs to be done into single-gender education. He said parents need to find out what works for their child.

Carie Muirhead, a parent of a 13-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl, agreed.

"If studies show that separate-gender classrooms are effective, then that should be an option for parents to put their children into."

Changes need to be made soon. Presently, Pollack said, there are seven male college graduates for every 10 female graduates - something that will devastate national equality and diversity.

"Eventually, we will have a college system that is 60 percent female and 40 percent male," he said.

• Will Morris can be contacted at

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