Discrimination in Punishment by Schools Against Boys Increases Education Gap

June 27, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Yesterday I dealt with an article in the National Review by Mona Charen. She discussed why men’s participation in the workforce is declining and rightly pinned much of the blame on being raised by single mothers.

While growing up in single-parent homes handicaps both girls and boys, it’s more devastating for boys. They lag in school, are less ambitious, and are less likely to be gainfully employed when they reach adulthood. A significant number also commit crimes and wind up in prison.

Just why boys suffer the lack of a father more than girls is a subject for debate, but the fact of the matter is not. Some have suggested that single mothers may not give their sons as much time and attention – like reading to them – as they do their daughters. But certainly the lack of a father tends to damage boys’ ability to control impulses, respect personal boundaries, etc. That affects their performance in school early on and may impact young men’s level of college enrolment.

Now a new study reported on here adds a new dimension to the issue of boys lagging in school (Forbes, 6/22/16). Conducted by sociologist Jayanti Owens of Brown University, it finds that boys’ behavioral problems are treated more harshly in schools than are girls’. Astonishingly, it also concludes that that very fact accounts for some 50% of the educational gap between boys and girls.

Boys are more likely to see their education suffer as a result of behavior problems in early childhood, according to a new study.

The effect is compounded by teachers taking a harsher view of behavioral issues in boys than in girls, making school a less positive experience for boys.

And researchers concluded that the differences in behavior and the way it is handled by schools explains more than half the gender gap in education, which sees girls get better grades and have a greater likelihood of going into higher education.

The study followed 1,661 children born in the U.S. in the 1980s into adulthood, shedding light on the long-term effects of behavioral problems in early childhood…

“When I compared four and five-year-old boys and girls who had the same levels of behavior problems… I found that boys were less likely to learn and more likely to be held back at school,” said sociologist Jayanti Owens, of Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

Part of the reason behavioral problems affect boys more than girls lies in the way schools deal with them, contributing towards making school a negative experience for some boys.

“The way schools respond to boys’ behaviors plays a significant role in shaping their educational outcomes years later,” said Professor Owens.

“Stereotypes about boys’ bad behavior may cause educators to take more and harsher actions against male students,” she added. “This process may lead to a compounding and cyclical relationship between boys’ behavior problems and lower achievement.”

Boys are significantly more likely to report exposure to negative environments and peer pressure at elementary school, the study found. In high school, they are significantly more likely to have to repeat grades and have lower educational expectations that girls…

“My findings are broadly consistent with the notion that many school environments are not conducive to boys’ success.”

In short, even when boys’ and girls’ behavioral problems are roughly the same, schools treat boys more harshly. That discourages them from experiencing school as a positive place, which in turn tends to result in poorer educational achievement.

Of course, nothing about Prof. Owens’ study focused on children of single parents, but those kids are well-known to have higher levels of behavioral problems than do their peers living in dual-parent homes. So children of single parents are more likely to behave badly in school, resulting in the very response Owens describes.

Indeed, Owens gets very close to saying as much herself.

“Supportive home and school contexts that proactively encourage the early development of self-regulation and social skills and help make school more relevant to pre-existing interests can do a lot for boys’ long-term success,” Professor Owens added.

Those “supportive home contexts” she refers to surely must include having two parents to care for children. Too much science on the subject exists for it not to.

Meanwhile, here’s some extra data to corroborate what Owens says about the differential treatment of boys and girls by school authorities (Human Rights Watch, 2008). It’s data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights indicating the use of corporal punishment. On average, over 78% of the children paddled for misbehaving in school are boys. In every state, far more boys than girls receive corporal punishment.

Single-parent families contribute to that as well.




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