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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Boys Bear the Brunt of School Discipline

From U.S. News & World Report

By Lauren Camera
June 22, 2016

Early behavioral problems more negatively impact high school and college completion rates for boys than girls.

The way schools respond to boys’ behaviors plays a significant role in shaping their educational outcomes years later.

In fact, behavioral problems in early childhood have a larger negative effect on high school and college completion rates for boys than girls, according to a new study from Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

They’re also less likely to learn, and more likely to be held back in school.

“It suggests that something is going on in the school context that makes boys bear the brunt of school sanctioning,” says Jayanti Owens, assistant professor of sociology and public affairs at Brown and author of the report, published Wednesday by the American Sociological Association and the Sociology of Education.

The study compared 4- and 5-year-old boys and girls who had the same levels of behavioral problems, including difficulty sustaining attention, regulating emotions, delaying gratification, and forming positive relationships with teachers and peers. The national sample of children were born to women in their early to mid 20s in the 1980s and followed into adulthood.

What Owens found was that boys’ higher average levels of early behavior problems help explain the current gender gap in schooling by age 26 to 29.

Owens didn’t originally set out to study the impact of early behavior on the academic achievement of men. She stumbled on the phenomenon upon the beginning stages of research about the reversal in the college completion gender gap over the last few decades.

The idea was to explain why college completion rates have surged among women, but she soon came to realize that the flip side of the coin was perhaps even more revealing – that education achievement levels have actually decline for men.

“One of the big things that jumped out in the study was the fact that the same behavior problems in boys and girls were penalized a lot more in boys than girls,” Owens says. “So in addition to the fact that boys come to school on average having more problems, they also get penalized more for having these behaviors.”

Among many other finding, for example, the study showed that in elementary school, boys on average report significantly greater exposure to negative school environments and peer pressure compared to girls. And in high school, they report significantly higher rates of grade repetition and lower educational expectations.

Those findings, Owens says, are largely in line with the rhetoric about schools not being set up for boys’ education attainment.

Owens’ research joins a growing list of papers focused on the education challenges facing boys and young men, including a large number of studies on male students of color. The focus has fueled an uptick in state and federal programs, including the Obama administration’s hallmark My Brother’s Keeper initiative, that aim to address drop-out rates among male students of color.

Recently, some education policy experts have pushed back on the tendency to focus more heavily on challenges facing male students.

“Too often we’re in a space where we as scholars and as the public compare the experience of boys to girls,” says Monique Morris, president and CEO of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute and author of “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools.”

“Once we do that, because girls typically have contact with disciplinary authorities and get into trouble at rates that are lower than their male counterparts, we tend to think that girls are OK because their numbers look better than the boys,” she says. “That’s a big mistake.”

For female students who struggle to graduate high school, Morris’ research has shown that their challenges take root during the very early learning years.

“That’s not to say that boys are not disproportionately impacted, particularly black boys and boys of color,” Morris says. “But we must also understand that when black girls represent 20 percent to of those enrolled in pre-K but 54 percent of girls receiving one or more out-of-school suspension, that that also impacts their ability to complete school.”

To be clear, Owens’ research does not factor in race, but she agrees with Morris. Owens underscores that people should not take away from her study that girls aren’t negatively impacted by discipline or held to their own double standard.

“Boys are cut a little bit of a break and girls get rated more negatively for behaviors that are objectively less severe,” Owens explains. “So what that may mean is that girls face this reality in which any amount of deviation from what is considered appropriate for girls may be perceived as a lot worse than it is.”

The study taps into a larger and timely conversation about school punishment and disciplinary practices, for which the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recently published a behemoth data set.

So what can schools do?

For one, Owens suggests, teachers should incorporate specific learning materials that are more relevant to their students’ existing interests. New curricula, like NBA Math Hoops, which helps students learn algebra while playing basketball, or Rhymes with Reason, which uses popular songs to teach student vocabulary, have proven beneficial.

“The idea out there that, ‘Oh, we just need to have more recess and that’s the best way to help boys who are overactive do well in schools,’ I think we can do more than that,” Owens says. “I think we can make the content of learning also more relevant and tap into things that boys, and especially boys of color, are already interested in.”

Other ideas include placing an emphasis on recruiting more male teachers, male teachers of color, and teachers whose experiences mirror those of the students in the classroom, as well as training school staff to be more empathetic to students’ challenging life circumstances.

For example, alternative school discipline methods, such as restorative justice or social and emotional learning, have recently gained popularity in the wake of a mountain of new research about the spike in suspension rates, especially for students of color, over the last decade.

“Overall, I show that high school completion, college enrollment, and barriers once enrolled consistently present formidable bottlenecks on boys’ path to college completion,” Owens says. “This points to the need for schools and families to help boys who want to complete college learn strategies to successfully navigate key educational transitions that currently thwart college completion.”


Lauren Camera is an education reporter at U.S. News & World Report. She’s covered education policy and politics for nearly a decade and has written for Education Week, The Hechinger Report, Congressional Quarterly, Roll Call, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. She was a 2013 Spencer Education Fellow at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, where she conducted a reporting project about the impact of the Obama administration’s competitive education grant, Race to the Top.

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