Girls beating boys in classroom

Adria Barbour

The widening gap between boys’ and girls’ academic achievement levels has received a great deal of media attention.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s study “Trends in Education Equity of Girls and Women,” girls have fewer problems with school in the early grades than boys. It also shows boys are more likely to repeat grades in elementary school.

Averil McClelland, associate professor of cultural foundations and special services, said there have always been differences between boys’ and girls’ achievement in school.

The Culture of Learning

Psychology professor William E. Merriman said he wondered if the advances made by girls are being interpreted as a decline in achievement with boys.

McClelland said what really catches peoples’ interest is that there are more girls in college now than boys.

The Department of Education’s findings indicated girls have consistently outperformed boys in reading and writing since 1971. There were no gender differences in mathematics scores between 9 and 13 year olds.

In 1996, boys started to overtake the girls in mathematics.

“It is also still the case that girls are doing worse than boys in math and science, Merriman said. “Boys do worse than girls in the verbal skills and are more prone to social cognitive problems,”

The schools have a strong role in socialization that isn’t talked about, McClelland said. They influence socialization through their policies, the way they do things and how they define gender roles affects what is deemed appropriate behavior.

Gender differences in learning

Eunsook Hyun, professor of teaching, leadership and curriculum studies, said teaching methods need to be changed to better suit both genders.

A girl learns by hearing and talking while a boy’s learning style is more physical. They work with their body to understand the world around them, such as physically imitating what they see or hear. Because of this, boys find it hard to sit down and listen to the teacher talk.

The current curriculum is less conducive to a child who learns by movement than children who are more linguistically inclined, Hyun said.

“Perceptions are important in all of this,” McClelland said. “Our perceptions follow norms, they don’t cause them.”

Merriman contradicts the existence of these strong gender differences.

“There are more differences in the learning styles within the gender groups than between them,” Merriman said. “This tends to get distorted in the media accounts. I don’t want this to turn into an anti-girl thing.”

He also said educators should try to find the approaches that benefit everyone instead of trying to finger gender differences for the disproportionate achievement levels.

“Educators absolutely must find a way of educating everyone,” McClelland said. “However, understanding the differences is the first step toward finding ways to educate everyone.”

Contact public affairs reporter Adria Barbour at [email protected].