Why Boys Fail

Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That's Leaving Them Behind

 Why Boys Fail

Author: Richard Whitmire
Pub Date: September 2011
Print Edition: $15.95
Print ISBN: 9780814420171
Page Count: 256
Format: Paper or Softback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814420362

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What Parents, Educators, and the Government Can Do To Close the Education Gender Gap

Actions for Parents:

• Volunteer for a reading tutoring program. Struggling readers need extra help and encouragement from adults. Book Buddies and HOSTS (Help One Student To Succeed) are two highly-targeted tutoring/mentoring programs credited with having a major impact on boys’ achievement. If your local school lacks such a program, lobby the principal to start one. Then, urge friends, relatives, and colleagues to join your volunteer effort.

• Welcome boy-friendly books. Many boys are only interested in books that girls (and Moms) find silly, too violent, or just plain gross. If your son prefers Captain Underpants to Bridge to Terebithia, don’t worry. Giving your son boy-friendly books will help him become not only an early and proficient reader, but also a voracious one.

Actions for Educators:

• Experiment more with K-12 reading programs. Consider the success of the Comic Book Project. Elementary school teachers wrap comic books and graphic novels into their reading curriculum, pressing students to analyze the text and pictures for mood, tone, and character development. Now in 860 schools around the country, this creative approach works, getting boys excited about breaking down a novel into its working parts.

• Focus on phonics. Reading experts overwhelmingly agree: Boys need phonics instruction more than girls. Boys are less adept at intuiting the structure of language, which means teachers need to make it more explicit for them. Besides letting boys sound out words, phonics lends itself to being taught in computer labs, with video-game-style hand controllers that boys thrill to using.

• Intensify literacy instruction in middle and high schools. After the elementary grades, most schools make a gradual transition from literacy to literature, leaving behind legions of weak readers, most of them boys. For boys to catch up on literacy, middle and high schools must embrace a collaborative effort to turn every teacher into a reading teacher. Reading and writing assignments should be standard in all subjects, including math.

• Make high school more relevant. Giving boys a reason to care about high school will get more of them to stay until graduation. California High Tech High charter schools keep boys by combining hands-on learning with a college-prep curriculum. Career academies, like Braden River High School in Bradenton, Florida, help students see the relationships between the skills they need to earn a living and the academics in the classroom.

Actions for Government Leaders, Community Activists, and Policymakers:

• Collect the numbers on boys (and use the numbers for school accountability). Most school districts remain oblivious to how much worse boys are doing than girls, mostly because no one requires them to pay attention. Gender breakouts are available in federal tests, including the SAT, the ACT, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Yet, they’re often missing at the state and local levels. Adding gender data to the No Child Left Behind formula, among other measures of teacher accountability, would likely generate lively debate in local schools. At the same time, targeting boys would go a long way towards keeping entire schools off “needs improvement” lists.

• Strike a deal with national feminist leaders. Reaching out to help young men will in the long run help young women as well. Anyone who doubts that needs to sit down and have a chat with Oprah about the damage the looming gender gaps have inflicted on the African-American community. If national feminist groups change their position, so will the two national teachers unions. Once a truce is declared, education decision-makers can take a fresh look at why so many boys arrive in 12th grade unprepared for college work and why so many young men who do go to college drop out before earning degrees.

• Launch a federal inquiry (and base the rationale on global competitiveness). Hardly a month goes by without another advocacy group reminding us of the perils the U.S. faces if we don’t prepare more of our young people to earn college degrees and compete in the new world economy. Only one action will send educators, legislators, think tankers, and business leaders in the right direction: a federal probe into why boys are falling behind. Teachers deserve federal research to pinpoint the source of the problem and fund experimental remedies. With his sensitivity to the plight of black boys, President Obama is the ideal president to launch such a research initiative.

Adapted from WHY BOYS FAIL: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind by Richard Whitmire (AMACOM 2010).

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