Closing the gender achievement gap

By Gary Knepp

“We collected a great deal of data and what we saw was there was a significant achievement gap between boys and girls and that seemed to grow as students went from first grade to seniors in high school.”

This quote is from Ms. Nancy House, Director of Secondary Curriculum & Instruction for the Milford school district, in a June 2010 video produced by Clermont County Today (found here on YouTube, and another video from 2011 found here on YouTube).  It refers to work done over a period of about three years total through a committee of community members, parents, teachers and administrators in the Milford school district.

This committee originated when I became concerned about gender learning differences, sparked by a book review of Peg Tyre’s The Trouble with Boys.  After reading the book from cover to cover, I began to collect research papers on the subject and review statistics from the U.S. Department of Education.  They bore out Ms. Tyre’s conclusion that there is a crisis in boy’s educational achievement.  Based upon several months of research, I recommended to the Board of Education that a committee be established to study this issue at Milford.  The Board approved that recommendation and the committee was established.

We studied the issue for three years, reading research reports, reviewing Ohio Department and U.S. Department of Education statistics and studying data from Milford.  It clearly showed that Milford’s experience reflected the national experience.  The results of the Milford study were presented at a Board meeting and some of it was displayed on the district’s website.   After reviewing the Milford study, Dr. Farrell admitted that it was a little embarrassing that this initiative came from a non-professional.

The district conducted a professional development day on this topic and altered the English reading lists to include more boy-friendly books.  The district also has decided to track male achievement results as it does other school population segments.

In no way does this research say boys are inferior to girls, or that boys cannot be high achievers.  But the evidence is very clear that, as a general rule, there is a significant gap between boys’ and girls’ achievement levels.  As Ms. House continues in the Clermont County Today video, “We now have a great deal of very good information, and now it’s beginning to pose questions to how do we decrease the gap in achievement… We want more students across the board challenging themselves and taking rigorous classes.  And we need to close that gap as well.”

This does not mean single-sex classes:  it means figuring out how to serve boys, just as we work to reach other categorical groups of students, such as gifted, special needs, etc.  Our charge is to educate all our students:  so why would we let half of our student body fall behind, simply because we are not necessarily approaching their education in an effective way?

I do believe same gender classes would be appropriate for physical education.  Many young people are very self-conscious of their physicality.  Adding members of the opposite gender to the physical education classes is very awkward and distracting.  For many years, Milford had same gender physical education classes.  I have been told that we moved away from them because of costs.

This issue, as all other issues I support, follow the agenda I have followed since I first became involved with Milford Schools, an agenda that has been very clear and transparent:  to provide a quality education at a reasonable cost.  Anyone who looks at my record and the evidence will see the truth of this statement.

Gary Knepp is a candidate in the November 5, 2013 school board election. Visit his website at kneppbradyforschoolboard.com.

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