Girls Have the Advantage in the Classroom
The American Psychological Association recently released findings that girls are outperforming boys academically at every grade level and in every subject. The comprehensive report looked at over 308 studies conducted from 1914 to 2011, in 30 countries. The results were consistent: girls are receiving better grades, test scores, and overall GPAs than their male peers. Interestingly, the report did conclude that recent claims of a “boy crisis” are false, and that girls have been continuously out performing boys for decades. In other words, there is in fact a boy crisis in the classroom, but it’s nothing new.
Why Are Boys Falling Behind?
So what is causing this issue? There has been a growing amount of research on the topic and educators and psychologist alike agree: girls’ advantage in the classroom starts early. Studies have found that even as early as infancy, girls are slightly more advanced in sensory and cognitive development. They develop memory, smell, vision, and hearing more quickly and acutely than boys between infancy and two years old.
According to Michael Gurian, author of “Boys and Girls Learn Differently,” by the time children are of the preschool age, girls have developed stronger verbal and communication skills and are already able to stay seated and focused longer than boys. Boys on the other hand are more active and tend to engage in activities involving action and running. Thus boys’ gross-motor skills develop faster than girls. However, girls have significantly stronger fine motor skills and are better able to do things such as use a pencil, crayon or scissors.
As children enter elementary and middle school, these differences continue and new ones develop. The “Literary Skills for the World of Tomorrow” developed by UNESCO studied elementary aged children and found that 67% of girls read for pleasure, compared to only 45% of boys. Additionally, a study conducted in Britain by the National Literacy Trust found that 42% of girls read daily compared to 28% of boys. From an early age, this gives girls an advantage in the traditional school setting, which emphasizes reading and writing.
Outside of their academic skill set, there are a few behavioral tendencies that give girls the advantage. A study published by The Journal of Human Resources and conducted by researchers at Columbia University, found that teachers are more likely to consider girls as engaged, attentive, organized, focused, and better behaved. The study also found a direct correlation between the way teachers perceive students and the students’ final grades.
Boys Outperform Girls on the SAT
The news isn’t all bad for boys. Studies have found that boys typically perform higher on the SAT than girls. The difference is minimal in reading and writing, with an average variance of 10 points (out of 800). However, the difference is much more pronounced in math, where boys on average score 30 points higher than their female counterparts.
This difference isn’t explained by boys taking more math classes than girls. Though researchers have found the smallest difference between genders in math and science; girls are still out performing boys on average in the classroom.
However, the difference can be explained by how the two genders approach academics and tests in general. Another study published by the American Psychological Association found that from first grade on, girls tend to write out math problems whereas boys are far more likely to plug in answers and use strategies to solve problems quickly.
Leveling the Playing Field
In a world where 70% of high school valedictorians are female, many have argued that the classroom needs to be redesigned to level the playing field for boys. The good news is that many new developments in education are going in that direction. Research has found that individualized and interactive learning is most beneficial for students of all genders, and the American classroom is slowly gravitating away from the lecture-based approach. Many teachers are incorporating more collaborative projects and discussion-based classes into their lesson plans.
While this is a start, many worry it is not enough. From elementary to graduate school, girls are making honor roll and dean’s list, earning top scores, and outperforming the males in the class.