Why Do Girls Do Better In School?
Why do girls get better grades in elementary school than boys—even when they perform worse on standardized tests? ScienceDaily reports:
“New research from the University of Georgia and Columbia University published in the current issue of Journal of Human Resources suggests that it’s because of their classroom behavior, which may lead teachers to assign girls higher grades than their male counterparts.
‘The skill that matters the most in regards to how teachers graded their students is what we refer to as “approaches toward learning,”‘ said Christopher Cornwell, head of economics in the UGA Terry College of Business and one of the study’s authors. ‘You can think of “approaches to learning” as a rough measure of what a child’s attitude toward school is: It includes six items that rate the child’s attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility and organization. I think that anybody who’s a parent of boys and girls can tell you that girls are more of all of that.’
The data show, for the first time, that gender disparities in teacher grades start early and uniformly favor girls. In every subject area, boys are represented in grade distributions below where their test scores would predict.
The authors attribute this misalignment to what they called non-cognitive skills, or ‘how well each child was engaged in the classroom, how often the child externalized or internalized problems, how often the child lost control and how well the child developed interpersonal skills.’
Research about gender differences in the classroom and beyond has grabbed headlines recently. Titles like Hannah Rosin’s The End of Men and the Rise of Women and Kay Hymowitz’s Manning Up have spent months on best-seller lists and inspired countless discussions in the media.
‘We seem to have gotten to a point in the popular consciousness where people are recognizing the story in these data: Men are falling behind relative to women. Economists have looked at this from a number of different angles, but it’s in educational assessments that you make your mark for the labor market,’ Cornwell said. ‘Men’s rate of college going has slowed in recent years whereas women’s has not, but if you roll the story back far enough, to the 60s and 70s, women were going to college in much fewer numbers. It’s at a point now where you’ve got women earning upward of 60 percent of the bachelors’ degrees awarded every year.’
But despite changing college demographics, the new data may not be reflecting anything fundamentally new.
‘My argument is that this has always been true about boys and girls. Girls didn’t all of a sudden become more engaged and boys didn’t suddenly become more rambunctious,’ Cornwell said. ‘Their attitudes toward learning were always this way. But it didn’t show up in educational attainment like it does today because of all the factors that previously discouraged women’s participation in the labor force.'”
Readers, what do you think? Has something changed for boys, or are girls simply being rewarded now for the behavior they’ve always exhibited? Also: Is this a problem, and if so what should we be doing about it?
For a contrasting view, read this excerpt from a review of Rosin’s book by The Nation‘s Katha Pollitt:
“One problem with Rosin’s optimistic picture is that every fact she cites in support needs about a dozen asterisks after it: women may be taking more than half of college degrees, for example, but both men and women are going to college in greater numbers than in previous decades; men still dominate in science, math, engineering and IT (where the good jobs are); women need a college degree to earn as much as a man with a high school diploma and, in any case, are sandbagged in the workforce by discrimination, as well as by childcare and eldercare responsibilities men are able, still, to slough off onto their wives or sisters. That women earn 20 to 30 percent less than men in nearly every occupation from salesclerk to surgeon is not a detail, and suggests that gender reversal is hardly around the corner, no matter how well girls do in school.” (Read more here.)