DENVER, Colo. — We know the pandemic hurt students’ math and reading scores across the country, but research is showing half of our students were at a disadvantage even before COVID hit.
From elementary school all the way to graduate degree programs, girls are outperforming boys.
In every state in the country, more women have college degrees than men, and more girls graduate high school on time than boys.
Richard Reeves, an author and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has spent years researching why this is happening and how communities can address this gender education gap.
Reeves’ new book Of Boys and Men addresses his findings.
“I think the irony is that the education system was always structurally better designed for girls and women than boys and men,” said Reeves.
He’s found that girls outperform boys in reading by almost half a grade level in every state. In 10 states, girls are more than a full grade level ahead of boys.
“Boys do develop all of these skills later than girls. And it's not cognitive skills, it's not that they're not as smart as girls. It’s the non-competitive skills. It is organization, deferring gratification, thinking to the future. Turn your homework in,” said Reeves.
Reeves said there are three big reasons boys are behind.
First, a boys’ prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that helps you organize, complete tasks and pay attention, develops 1-2 years later in boys than in girls.
Second, there are fewer male teachers in schools. Studies have shown boys learn better learning with male teachers, but only 24% of K-12 teachers are men. In elementary schools, only 11% are men, and in kindergarten, it’s just 3%.
Third, research shows boys learn better in hands-on learning environments than in traditional lecture-style classrooms.
The question is now: what can we do to help?
Reeves said step one is compassion.
“As a parent myself, I would sometimes just get frustrated and be like, ‘Why can’t you, do this?’ And then you see that their female friend is doing it easily, and that's a mistake because then the blames them, and it's not their fault,” Reeves said, referring to raising his own sons.
Reeves said three changes in schools could make a big difference.
First, more physical activity throughout the day for boys in school. Second, he believes schools should start later in the day. Research shows this can help girls achieve higher, too. Third, Reeves believes boys should start school one year later than girls.
“A 16-year-old boy’s got a better chance against a 15-year-old girl because their brains are still developing, so you’re actually leveling the playing field,” said Reeves.
Reeves also believes we can get more male teachers in the classroom by creating scholarships for men, and by decreasing the stigma around teaching as a woman’s job.
For parents, Reeves said helping support your son to turn in his work on time and get to school—that’s the first step in making sure he doesn’t fall behind.
“If you're worried about how your boy is doing in school, then he's probably doing ok, because like anybody if you're aware of it, it probably means you're taking the necessary steps to help,” said Reeves.
Reeves said it is important for people to realize that just because we do more for boys doesn’t mean we do less for girls.
“It's a big part of the argument: we've got to be able to think two thoughts at once,” said Reeves.
He says we can help both genders at once—it just takes parents, teachers and policymakers being intentional to help both girls and boys.
“To be complacent in the face of those trends is actually to do a disservice to all of us,” said Reeves.
For more information on Reeves’ work, click HERE.