The Impact of Gender Responsiveness on Academic Achievement

Aug 1, 2011 by

Research shows that there are many differences in the way boys and girls are treated in the classroom, and that differences in treatment may be both conscious and subconscious on the parts of teachers and other school personnel. Teachers tend to pay more attention to boys than girls by having more interactions with them. They tolerate behavior in boys that is not tolerated in girls, and tend to provide boys with more criticism and praise.

Dr. Lynch is an Assistant Professor of Education at Widener University

Differences in the extra attention given to boys are due in part to the fact that boys simply tend to demand more attention, while girls tend to be quieter and more reticent. Boys not only tend to dominate classroom discussions, but also access and use computers and technology more often than girls.

Gender representation in textbooks and other educational material is also problematic.  This has improved greatly over the past 30 years, but is still a problem.  Educational materials still portray women as being more helpless than men, and stereotyping, tokenism and omission are still prevalent.

The types and levels of courses predominated by males and females continue to differ.   Boys are still more likely to enroll in mathematics, science and engineering than girls and are more likely to take advanced courses in these subject areas. This enrollment pattern is not true for biology, English and foreign languages, where girls tend enroll in more advanced courses. Overall, women are underrepresented in professions that center on mathematics, science, engineering, medicine, and business leadership.

There are those who believe gender bias no longer exists.  Proponents of this perspective contend that boys are not more accommodated than girls in the classroom. They suggest that boys’ needs are often overlooked, as they learn best when they have more frequent opportunities to get up and move around, and engage in classroom debates– classroom activities that are often discouraged.

There is also a strong focus on the fact that the gaps in education levels between boys and girls have virtually closed since 1970 and now, even though they still lag behind boys in mathematics and science, girls in high school do better than the male students in reading, writing and other academic subjects, earn more credits, are more likely to get honors, and are more likely to further their education at colleges or universities.

While it might be argued that it is difficult to see gender bias in schools, there can be no question that in terms of money earned there is a gender bias in the work force.  The average earnings of women with a high school diploma is 85 percent of that of men with the same level of educational attainment, and that figure drops to 80 percent for college graduates.  This means there is a level of gender bias, even if it is somewhat hidden in the school system. Gender bias is evident as students move into the workforce.  Men are more likely to be given jobs with higher status and higher salaries than women.

Single-sex education has often been mentioned as a remedy for the diminished self-concept girls must experience in schools where gender bias exists. Single-sex education is attained when a school or program teaches only one sex.  Although Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity, in 2006, the U.S. Education Department ruled this did not apply to single-sex education, as long as attendance at such institutions was voluntary and that students had access to coeducational classes and programs.

As a result, single-sex education has increased in popularity, although the existence of these schools is highly debated.  Many feel that girls would have more leadership roles and more opportunities in a single-sex school, yet others argue if regular schools were truly gender fair, there would be no need to separate girls from boys.  The latter group also fears separating the genders will promote rather than eradicate stereotyping.

Dr. Lynch is an Assistant Professor of Education at Widener University. Dr. Lynch is the author of three forthcoming books; Its Time for Change: School Reform for the Next Decade (Rowman & Littlefield 2012), A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories (Routledge 2012), and The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching (Pearson 2013). To read more of his work, please visit his blog at www.matthewsruminations.blogspot.com. He can be contacted at mlynch@mail.widener.edu

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