Dear Commons Community,
Christina Hoff Sommers, the author of The War Against Boys, has an opinion piece in today’s New York Times focusing on the inequalities that exist in our schools in grading practices for boys and girls. Specifically, she observes:
“Boys score as well as or better than girls on most standardized tests, yet they are far less likely to get good grades, take advanced classes or attend college. Why? A study coming out this week in The Journal of Human Resources gives an important answer. Teachers of classes as early as kindergarten factor good behavior into grades — and girls, as a rule, comport themselves far better than boys.
The study’s authors analyzed data from more than 5,800 students from kindergarten through fifth grade and found that boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted.
The scholars attributed this “misalignment” to differences in “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently. As most parents know, girls tend to develop these skills earlier and more naturally than boys.
…That boys struggle with school is hardly news…Over all, it’s likely that girls have long behaved better than boys at school (and earned better grades as a result), but their early academic success was not enough to overcome significant subsequent disadvantages: families’ favoring sons over daughters in allocating scarce resources for schooling; cultural norms that de-emphasized girls’ education, particularly past high school; an industrial economy that did not require a college degree to earn a living wage; and persistent discrimination toward women in the workplace.
Those disadvantages have lessened since about the 1970s. Parents, especially those of education and means, began to value their daughters’ human capital as much as their sons’. Universities that had been dominated by affluent white men embraced meritocratic values and diversity of gender, race and class. The shift from a labor-intensive, manufacturing-reliant economy to a knowledge-based service economy significantly increased the relative value of college and postgraduate degrees. And while workplace inequities persisted, changing attitudes, legislation and litigation began to level the occupational playing field.’
Here at the CUNY Graduate Center in our Ph.D. Program in Urban Education, several students are doing work on issues similar to those that Sommers raise. Todd Feltman is examining the appropriateness of reading materials for 4th and 5th grade boys. And Joseph Nelson is studying Black boys’ identity in a single-sex school for boys of color.
In sum, what happens early on in education is critical and is shaping the roles of men and women in college and in their careers.