Monday, March 9, 2009

Teaching to the Middle = Discrimination Against Boys

I don't have sons (yet?). I do have nephews and male friends, so I still worry about the disparities in academic achievement between boys and girls. Boys are more likely to drop out of school, have learning disabilities (or be treated as having such because of a high level of energy), and not go on to college. An interesting blog covering some of these issues is

I just started reading The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap by Susan Pinkler. She compares successful young men who had learning disabilities as children to women who did well in school but later chose to opt out of good careers. So far, the most interesting part of the book to me has been her graph of IQ variation between 80,000 Scottish males and females (located on page 15 if you have access to the book). The average IQ score is nearly the same--103.03 for boys and 103.19 for girls. However, the distribution of the IQ scores is the really interesting part. Girls outnumber boys in the 95-115 range, but boys outnumber girls in the 60-90 ranges and the 120-135 ranges. Basically, girls are significantly more likely than boys to have average IQ scores.

I turn next to the subject of the need for differentiated instruction in classrooms.* Although efforts are being made to help school teachers differentiate instruction to meet the various needs of an "inclusive, mixed-ability classrooms," how likely is it, with all the discipline, paperwork, and exam issues teachers already have to deal with, that they are going to be able to actually meet the very different needs of all their students? Not likely at all, unless they have long classes with a small number of students. So, teachers will probably end up "teaching to the middle" most of the time. After all, assuming a bell curve exists in mastery as well as intelligence, teaching to the middle makes the most sense statistically.

So, firstly, girls outnumber boys around the middle of the IQ score spectrum. Secondly, given their workload, teachers will likely "teach to the middle" most of the time, despite their necessary and well-meant attempts to differentiate instruction. Taking these two observations together, it's easy to conclude why girls tend to do better in academics than boys. Girls are more likely to be in the optimal target audience of most classroom instruction. Parents of boys should be aware of these issues so that they can take whatever measures (some homeschooling or tutoring, IEP's from the local schools, etc.) they need to make sure their sons are receiving instruction suitable to their level of ability.

* Ah, differentiated instruction. Just considering the term makes me feel even better about our decision to homeschool!

1 comment:

  1. In a book I wrote long ago (available online for free) I call that the "Procustean Method of Education". Because ideologically and doctrinally (certainly not in fact) "all men are created equal", then the duty of not-fact-based "educators" is that equal-ness is what it is all about. The intention is good, certainly, no doubt. Yet it fails, because anything that dies the laws of nature can only fail.

    (from WP) re:Procrustes (Προκρούστης) or "the stretcher [who hammers out the metal]", also known as Prokoptas or Damastes (Δαμαστής) "subduer", was a rogue smith and bandit from Attica who physically attacked people by stretching them or cutting off their legs, so as to force them to fit the size of an iron bed.