Do You See What I See

31 May 2008

Two data points does not a trend make, I realize; but, I still find the information interesting. (Click on the image for a larger view.) Light blue circles represent gender performance at the school, red diamonds show district information, and the dark blue triangles show statewide data.

With two years worth of data to look at, the third grade girls at my school have achievement that mirrors what is happening elsewhere. But the boys? It's not looking good, is it? It's downright eye-catching...and not in a good way. Fourth and fifth grade pictures are not a whole lot rosier when you put up the gender info side by side.

Do you want even more food for thought? While 75% of the school's third grade males met the standard in math in 2006, this same cohort only had 40.9% pass when they were fourth graders in 2007. Fifth grade data will be available in the fall. Wanna bet their scores are not improved? In the areas of fourth grade Reading and fifth grade Science, not a single boy in the whole school exceeded the standards (Level 4). This is especially interesting because not a single fourth grade girl in the school was at a Level 1 in Reading.

With only two years of data to consider, it's already starting to feel like something isn't quite right. There is no grade or subject area in the school where boys increased their achievement. Ouch.

I haven't shown this information to the staff yet. They are working on plans for next year and have done a bit of data work. The school tends to focus things at a classroom level, but I'm thinking it's time to pull back and look at things more holistically. My hunch is that discipline data will reveal that boys spend a lot more time in the office than girls. Are our expectations that unfriendly to males, I wonder? Should we be concerned? What will we do to make things more gender equitable?

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That's What I Want

09 May 2008

Two disconnected articles recently caught my eye as I paged through my RSS feeds. The first one, Male Call: Recruiting More Men to Teach Elementary School, was of interest not just because I am spending my days in an elementary which has only one male teacher...but also because I wondered if anything had changed since I blogged about this very same topic three years ago. The short answer is "no." The interesting part of the more recent article was found in the comments. Many of the commenters blamed low pay as the reason few men are attracted to the profession. It makes me wonder if that is because of some sort of societal expectation that is different from what I posted about in days of yore. Is the pressure on men to perform financially so great that teaching isn't an appealing career option?

Education Week had a different take on things, not confining the pay issue to a particular gender, although they recognize The Teaching Penalty.

Back in 1960, women teachers were paid 14.7 percent more than other women with similar educations. But that trend reversed, and by 2000, women teachers were being paid 13.2 percent less than their educational peers in other fields. Indeed, over the past 10 years the latter trend has accelerated; the pay gap that was a 4.3 percent shortfall in 1996 became a 15.1 percent chasm for all teachers by 2006—a growth of 10.8 percentage points. Teachers were bypassed by the strong wage growth of the late 1990s and, more recently, continued to lose ground while college-graduate wages stagnated.

The rising pay gap will make it difficult to recruit teachers—and present an even more daunting challenge in retaining them. For teachers starting their careers—those between the ages of 25 and 34—the 12 percent pay penalty today is only 0.5 percentage points larger than that of their peers in 1996. But for women who are experienced teachers—those ages 45 to 54—the pay deficit has grown by 18 percentage points over the same period.

Sure, some say that teaching is such a unique profession that it is impossible to compare it with other occupations. But our study took pains to account for the special circumstances surrounding teachers’ pay and benefits. Because teachers’ annual work schedules are different from those of other professions, we compared wages earned for a week of work, rather than the entire year.

Since teachers may receive relatively generous health insurance and retirement benefits, we took total compensation into account—and found that it narrowed the pay gap by just 3 percentage points in 2006. In other words, the 15 percent weekly pay disadvantage based on wages alone translates to a 12 percent disadvantage when you factor in benefits. That’s not enough to transform the big picture, or the big point: Teaching just doesn’t pay nearly as well as the alternatives.

I haven't seen an article which takes a look at the pay issue this way, but I like the approach. It makes sense to include benefits as a factor. Either way, the results aren't pretty.

Maybe it isn't a matter of gender specific issues in terms of what both attracts teachers to the profession and what makes them stay. It is the concrete rewards in terms of money (and what it can provide) and recognition.

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The Problem With Hodgepodge

14 April 2008

The field of education is replete with "educationese": all manner of terms which make us feel special and enlightened. They are the pretentious secret handshake of the profession. It was with great relief that one of the terms associated with grading is not nearly as precious as "transparent" or "capacity." It is darned plain. The word is "hodgepodge," and it is used to refer to a single grade which represents both learning and student behavior (e.g. on-time work, effort...).

Hodgepodge was the first word to come to mind when I read the piece in the WaPo on Do Grades or Standardized Test Scores Make the Student? The mother writing in is distraught because even though her son is topping out on AP tests, the SAT, and other standardized indicators---he is having trouble getting into college because his GPA is only a 3.275. Why is there the disparity? Because her son doesn't do his homework. He knocks the top off the classroom tests---he shows that he knows the information---but he doesn't play the game. Therefore, his teachers average in a lot of zeros. Their grades represent the hodgepodge problem. If they only considered learning, the child would have a 4.0.

This is very common with secondary school teachers---there is plenty of research out there documenting just how very unwilling they are to let go of hodgepodge grading. The primary reason cited is that teachers believe that work ethic behaviors are important. I agree with this, but I don't agree that they belong with a grade for learning. They should be reported separately. As a teacher, do you care more that the student has learned the material...or that he learned it in exactly the way you prescribed at the specific moment in time you prescribed it?

It is my suspicion that hodgepodge grading tends to play "Gotcha!" with boys (especially gifted boys) more than any other population. (This would be another great research project for someone.) I've had any number of young men over the years who refused to do their homework, but could ace any test. Punishment by zeros was in no way motivating. They had their own learning goals and that was that. I sense a similar attitude in the young man described in the WaPo article and also in something happening to Ms. Bees (read Part I and Part II of "Wonder Mother"). A young man turned in a project late: "He received a 248 out of 250 before the 50% penalty. The note I left him on his project indicated how disappointing it was for me to have to give such a low mark to such a good project, and that I hoped he would manage his time better in the future." Guess what? Mom is upset now---as she should be. In this case, Ms. Bees is only applying the grading practice set forth by the mentor teacher she is paired with, but one hopes that this lesson becomes more instructive about best practices in grading rather than parent dodging---because frankly, the practice (long-standing or not) is indefensible.

I would love to relegate the word "hodgepodge" to the same dustbin in which other educationese terms belong, but I don't see that its application is going to disappear anytime soon. As long as teachers---and colleges---continue to value grades more than learning, hodgepodge will be part of the classroom.

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Separate, but Fair?

01 March 2008

I love this series of pictures by Michele Asselin:


The first fits our traditional sense of what annual class pictures should be. There are neat rows, still hands, and studious gazes. But the second? Those are real second graders with personality to spare. This is how I like to think of students. When I close my eyes and remember visiting an elementary classroom in the last few years, this second picture best represents the kids I conjure up in my mind. The time on the clock in both pictures is a reminder of just how quickly context and energy can change in a classroom.

You may have noticed something else about these pictures: all of the subjects are male.

The pictures were taken as part of an article in the New York Times Magazine on single-sex classrooms.

Separating schoolboys from schoolgirls has long been a staple of private and parochial education. But the idea is now gaining traction in American public schools, in response to both the desire of parents to have more choice in their children’s public education and the separate education crises girls and boys have been widely reported to experience. The girls’ crisis was cited in the 1990s, when the American Association of University Women published “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America,” which described how girls’ self-esteem plummets during puberty and how girls are subtly discouraged from careers in math and science. More recently, in what Sara Mead, an education expert at the New America Foundation, calls a “man bites dog” sensation, public and parental concerns have shifted to boys. Boys are currently behind their sisters in high-school and college graduation rates. School, the boy-crisis argument goes, is shaped by females to match the abilities of girls (or, as Sax puts it, is taught “by soft-spoken women who bore” boys). In 2006, Doug Anglin, a 17-year-old in Milton, Mass., filed a civil rights complaint with the United States Department of Education, claiming that his high school — where there are twice as many girls on the honor roll as there are boys — discriminated against males. His case did not prevail in the courts, but his sentiment found support in the Legislature and the press. That same year, as part of No Child Left Behind, the federal law that authorizes programs aimed at improving accountability and test scores in public schools, the Department of Education passed new regulations making it easier for districts to create single-sex classrooms and schools.

I have to admit that I haven't paid a lot of attention to the gender studies as they relate to the classroom---but I do feel like I've been seeing more and more articles in the general media about the move by schools to offer more single-sex education opportunities. I find myself neither for nor against it. Instead, I am simply curious about what the research will show in a few years. What will be the long-term effect on student achievement? For families who opt into single gender classrooms for their children, what happens to these kids when "mixed" classrooms become the only option later in school? Will this type of education turn out to create the kind of magic we need to close the achievement gap? If schools are indeed full of "soft spoken women who bore boys," what changes to teacher education and/or professional development might be helpful?

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What Isn't Good for Ganders nor Geese

10 February 2008

When we think about all of the possible outcomes for balancing any gender-based inequities, we rarely talk about the unpleasant possibilities. Do we want auto accident rates for teen girls to reach the same levels as teen boys? How about drug, tobacco, and alcohol use? Shall we advocate for young women to use just as heavily as young men? An article in the Washington Post suggests that this is what is happening.

Teenage girls now equal or outpace teenage boys in alcohol consumption, drug use and smoking, national surveys show. The number of girls entering the juvenile justice system has risen steadily over the past few years. A 2006 study that examined accident rates among young drivers noted that although boys get into more car accidents, girls are slowly beginning to close the gap.

In the article, young women talked about feeling "empowered" because they can choose from myriad colleges and careers and about how that "freedom" extends to partying at clubs, drinking and smoking. Experts worry that those feelings, coupled with a teen's natural sense of invincibility, can be a potent and dangerous combination. One teen in particular remarked "In the past, people have had this angelic picture, but girls are just as bad as boys are. We do what we want to do, when we want to do it. I live for now," she said, a grin spreading across her face. "It's great to be a girl."

The article goes on to offer some possible explanations. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that girls have taken to heart a message that there aren't reasons why they can't do what boys do---both good and bad. Maybe the change in role models is having a great impact. Or, drugs and alcohol could be coping mechanisms for living with increased stress.

Whatever the reasons, we need to find ways to support both young men and women toward making healthy choices for their future.

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Hanging 10 on the Estrogen Tsunami

20 March 2007

The field of education is rife with X chromosomes. My office is no exception. There is one rooster in the henhouse---with three others loosely affiliated with Curriculum, but only present at random moments. Next year, the presence of testosterone will be even more diluted with the two female directors of Teaching and Learning (the principals' overseers) moving into our clutch. The thought of a bevy of Boss Ladies in one office is a bit daunting. A few of us are wondering if there might be some occasions to sell tickets for a cage match next year.

This district is particularly robust in terms of having women on top. Apart from the Supe, the directors are all women. Females run the union and occupy more than half of the school administration positions. Why are we not encouraging more men to take a leadership role? We could use a few more role models who have (more?) hair on their chest than our current regime. As it is now, we'll definitely be riding the estrogen tsunami next year. Surf's up!

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It's a Man's World

10 March 2007

A recent survey by MSNBC and Elle suggests that stereotypes about sex and leadership are alive and well. While more than half our 60,000 respondents said a person's sex makes no difference to leadership abilities, most who expressed a preference said men are more likely to be effective leaders.

The survey, conducted early this year, found a bonanza of stereotypes among those polled, with many using the optional comment section to label women "moody," "bitchy," "gossipy" and "emotional." The most popular term for woman, used 347 times, was "catty."

Women take care of others and nurture, while men are seen as taking charge and being assertive. The problem is, she says, when we map these attributes onto the workplace the male attributes are much more sought after.

“I call this the lack of fit,” Madeline Heilman explains, because the perceived attributes of women don’t fit the leadership mold. “When women succeed in areas they’re not supposed to they are disapproved of greatly, by everyone, men and women.”

Indeed, our survey found that about 33 percent of men and women would rather work for a man, while about 13 percent would prefer working for a woman. (The remaining 54 percent had no preference.)

And when asked who would be more likely to lead effectively, males were preferred by more than a 2-1 margin by both men and women---even though women got high marks for being problem solvers and providing more supportive work environments.

One thing that I've known about myself for a long time is that I would much prefer to work for a man. I was certainly not raised to think that gender should have a bearing on the workplace, although I don't doubt that there were strong surrounding cultural messages that not everything was equal. That being said, all but one of the best working relationships I have had with a boss have been with men. Not all of them were great leaders or had all of their poop in a pile---but they had a way of working with people that didn't seem as strained as having a woman in that role. And the one Boss Lady I enjoyed? She was a nurturing type. In addition to all of her strong leadership qualities, she was also someone who fostered and sponsored her teachers. I am guilty as charged with "mapping the attributes" of gender roles into the workplace.

I've thought about this a lot this week. Should I try to overcome my stereotypical views---or is it enough to be aware? What does this tell me about my own leadership roles within the district...how gender is influencing perceptions of me...and how to build a style which might positively impact what all of us expect about women on top (so to speak)?

There are some glimmers of hope. About 54 percent of those polled in our survey said they didn’t care if their boss was a man or a woman. And when individuals actually had experience working for a female boss, their preference for a women leader went up slightly. Younger workers 18 to 29 appeared to have a higher preference for female chiefs than those 30 and up, possibly pointing to a generational change.

The survey and article referenced are focused on relationships in the business world and I realize that education is a slightly different animal. It is a profession of women, by and large...one of a few which, up until the last few decades, held acceptable gender roles for women. Females should be well accustomed to working for other females in this area and yet the underlying siren song of culture still reaches our ears. Maybe it's just that change is slow, whether it's the norms of society or my own. If it appears to still be a man's world out there, then perhaps I need to change my lens.

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Table Rules

12 December 2006


Ah, junior high girls. Well, that's my assumption after reading the "Lunch Table Rules" that were drafted by a girl. How it ended up posted at "I Am Bored" is anyone's guess.

To see and read things like this makes me sad. The same sorts of mindgames girls played when I was in junior high (and no doubt there were versions in previous generations) are still around. I know that some would say that this is just kid stuff...so that makes it okay. But when does something like this make us take a more serious look. Are lunch table rules okay? Or, do they fit our 21st definition of bullying? I wonder what the teachers of these young ladies think about the behavior and if they said anything.

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Oh, boy!

25 September 2005

Gender differences aren't a new topic on this blog. I've mused about the Harvard President's comments earlier this year, the lack of male classroom teachers, and even the gap in our test scores. But is there really a reason for concern?

USA Today has printed two editorials about current gender gaps at the college level. The first, "Big (lack of) Men on Campus" points to a crisis. Fewer boys in college mean that more young men choosing something else, but what? It isn't the military. It appears that some are competing for jobs as general laborers, an area where there aren't enough jobs for them. Others are in prison: "Nearly as many men are behind bars or on probation and parole (5 million) as are in college (7.3 million)." And still more are "lost," meaning that they're just hanging out in their parents' basement after leaving school. The article goes on to point out some possible causes for the drop in male enrollment at college campuses.

Kim Gandy from the National Organization of Women has (surprise!) a different view of this situation. She argues that "dominant groups find ways to protect their members," meaning that if there are fewer pale males with college degrees, employers will find other ways to judge employees. Meanwhile, women are still doing the vast majority of "women's work" at home, which means that they can't put as much time into the workplace outside of the home. That doesn't look to change at any point in the near future. And finally, the glass ceiling still exists. "Women make up less than 15% of Congress and law-firm partners, 12% of big-city mayors, 9% of state judges, and 1% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Women and men have had equal levels of post-high school education for 30 years, but the gender (and color) of those in power hasn't changed much."

Who is more convincing?

I don't know if I see cause for alarm, but I can say that I am concerned about the classroom performance of boys. (And if I weren't, NCLB would certainly make sure that I took notice.) I don't know about your school, but I can look at the data and see that males and females are not performing similarly in math, reading, writing, and science. I don't know why---if it is how we're teaching, societal expectations, differences in cognitive "readiness," or what. There probably is not a single reason we can point to. I don't believe that much will change unless we have the same expectations for all students.

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A Little Unhealthy Competition?

08 July 2005

I must admit that I have rarely had students enter competitions. Educators know that opportunities abound for nearly every kid, but it seems like time and curriculum constraints often get in the way. I do encourage individual students to try their hands at some of the different options that come my way (especially if scholarship money is involved), but I don't make these things whole-class assignments. I do, however, play games with kids to review material. I'm not sure if that counts as "competition" or not.

A recent article in the American School Board Journal (ASBJ) claims that competition is bad because (in part) it "brands every kid a loser but one." Yes, competition does imply that there will be "winners" and "losers," but is that such a terrible thing? I don't hear anyone claiming that we should rid ourselves of athletic events because someone is going to have to lose. Isn't learning to be a gracious loser part of life (even for non-athletes)? Or is all of this worry a fall out of NCLB, which tells us that every kid must be an equal winner? Are we back to the whole "don't use red ink" thing because it makes kids feel bad?

The author of the ASBJ article does make a few good points.
  • Competition (in the classroom) focuses too heavily on extrinsic motivation.
  • When students are just acquiring new knowledge and skills, competition is counterproductive to learning.
  • Both high and low achievers can feel negatively pressured by competition due to teacher expectations.

As you might imagine, she goes on to stress the improved quality of learning occuring in "cooperative" classrooms. These would be represented by classrooms where there is "an investment of time in which students discuss the purpose of their lessons, how they plan to learn new material, and what they will do to produce high-quality work," with the "key [being] to plan ways to involve every student in learning, beginning with the first minute of every class."

Hey, I'm all for this. Find me a teacher who wouldn't be thrilled to have every kid intrinsically motivated to be involved with their learning every day. I'm just not so sure that competition doesn't have it's place. I have to tell you that in my experiences over the years that I have found that boys (in general) very much enjoy competition. Too much touchy-feely cooperative stuff and they shut down. (I realize what a broad and sexist statement that is...just keep in mind it's anecdotal. But then, the author of the ASBJ article doesn't back up her claims with any data, either.) When I started teaching, everyone was still in the "make science 'girl friendly'" mode. I think we've gone a little too far with that. But even more importantly, one of the things that "play" teaches us is how to win and lose with the little grace...and understand that while we can't win all things all the time, we aren't losers all the time, either. It seems to me that's a healthy thing for any kid's self-esteem to have.

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(Wo)Men's Work

15 March 2005

When I was in grade 5, there was a student teacher doing his practicum for part of the year. Yes, I said "his." Until that time, I have no memories of a male influence within the school setting, other than the principal, of course. In fact, things didn't change all that much in junior high and in high school.

Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the number of males in America's classrooms is at an all-time low: a meager 21%. They cite three major reasons for the decline over the years: fear of sexual harassment lawsuits, low job status, and the view of teaching as "women's work."

I can understand the first reason. News stories are all too common these days about alleged improper teacher-student relations. (Although it does seem more typical at the moment for the media to report on a virago, rather than a lecher.) All it takes is a whiff of this sort of thing and your career could be finished. We work in a profession where if you say you "love children," someone will take it too literally and you'll end up in jail and have a pimp named "Buddha."

I consider myself to be a decent person. I would never consider pursuing anything other than a teacher-student relationship with a young man. This is not to say that there aren't some nice-looking boys that pass through our halls, but I'm just not interested. (I'm certain they aren't, either.) However, it never really crosses my mind that one of them might accuse me of something. How interesting that it does for many men...enough to keep them from teaching.

Low job status? Check. But that is of equal issue for both sexes. This time, I have to wonder what the women are thinking. If we know it's "low status," then why do we go into the profession while some men avoid it for the same reason? Is it a biological thing? Men with low status don't attract mates...women are looking for more security than a mere teacher could provide? Is it a competition sort of issue---men checking their status against other men?

And the last: teaching is perceived as "women's work." Please don't expect me to go off on a feminista rant here, because I'm just not going to. There are enduring stereotypes for both sexes in our culture. Teaching happens to be one of them. I don't think rehashing all of that will do anything about addressing the real issue: how do we get (and keep) more men in the classroom?

It's kinda funny. The article doesn't really mention what to do about that.

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Battle of the Sexes

24 January 2005

On Friday, I left the safety of my portable building to head inside and have lunch with my science colleagues. A discussion started around the comment made by the president of Harvard last week regarding women being less able to succeed in math and science because of "innate differences."

I'm not sure that President Summers is entirely off base. In fact, none of us were sure.

There is plenty of brain research out there to support the idea that males and females use their brains in different ways. Most recently was this article that included the following:

"Researchers say it is all down to differences in the reliance of the sexes on either grey matter or white matter in their brains to solve problems. They found that in intelligence tests men use 6.5 times as much grey matter as women, but women use nine times as much white matter. Grey matter is brain tissue crucial to processing information and plays a vital role in aiding skills such as mathematics, map-reading and intellectual thought. White matter connects the brain's processing centres and is central to emotional thinking, use of language and the ability to do more than one thing at once. "

But there are plenty of other studies and data sources that all point to men and women just being wired differently. For most of us, this news is greeted by a resounding "Duh."

How does this translate to the realm of the classroom? American schools have been so concerned with "equality" for girls over the last 30 years, that they have more or less forgotten that boys should continue to have the same opportunities. And it is starting to show. Who performs best on standardized testing? Who is most often at the top of a graduating class? Who is accepted to and completes college in higher numbers? It's the sistahs, doin' it for themselves.

I suppose it's a bit of "the pot calling the kettle black." Here I am---a woman of science, even with my inferior grey matter. I'm here because other women paved the way. But I look at the boys in my classes and I really have to think about the way I teach them. Cooperative learning? Not really a guy kinda thing. Reflective thinking...journaling? Making a puppet show about a cell organelle? Girl-friendly sorts of activities. And yet, these are the kinds of things which are promoted to teachers to use in the classroom.

How will I inspire my young men? How will I encourage them to achieve?

I'm sure that I will continue to ponder those questions. My guess is that Harvard's president will be pondering gender education, too.

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