It has been so long now, you may want to go back and read Part 1. Here’s a quick recap:
- The Center for Education Policy issued a report that shows that boys consistently lag behind girls in reading as measured by standardized tests.
- An AP story says that fart books may be the solution to this problem.
- A Wall Street Journal editorial takes issue with that solution
Please read the comments in Part 1, if you are so inclined. Thomas Spence, author of the WSJ editorial weighed in with some clarifications to my take on his piece. The sticking point for me remains the article’s conclusion:
I offer a final piece of evidence that is perhaps unanswerable: There is no literacy gap between home-schooled boys and girls. How many of these families, do you suppose, have thrown grossology parties?
Mr. Spense responded to my offense (which, to be fair, was probably over-stated):
I think it’s safe to assume that very few homeschooling parents give their sons “gross-out” books to read. Since those boys do not lag behind their sisters in reading, there must be other ways to get boys to read than by appealing to their basest interests.
Mr. Spence also references the work of Judith Kleinfeld, a psychologist at the Univ. of Alaska, Fairbanks as the source of the finding that there is no gender gap between boys and girls who are home schooled. Using Google Scholar, I was unable to find a peer-reviewed article by Dr. Kleinfeld over the past five years that publishes the reported findings. The inability to locate anything may be entirely due to my feeble research efforts, so I won’t comment further on her findings.
Leaving that aside, however, I am unwilling to make the same assumptions as Mr. Spence. The logic seems to be that since there is no gap in the home schooled cohort, then they must not resort to gross-out books to bridge the gap. To play devil’s advocate, another interpretation with equal support would be that the home schooled group resorts to fart books earlier and more effectively than their traditionally schooled colleagues. I need to know more. Moving on…
One of the things that I wanted to do in Part 2 of this series of indeterminate length and enthusiasm is take a closer look at the Center of Education Policy’s report that kicked off this debate. I was curious to know what exactly the report said and did not say, so I read it. While I have no reason to doubt the authors’ integrity, I will note that the report was put out by the CEP and does not appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The authors results do show a consistent gender gap on reading proficiency scores in elementary, middle, and high schools. The size of the gap varies between states from minimal (1-2%) to as high as 16% in some grade levels. There are no states with available data that show no gap or boys outperforming girls. Here in Georgia the gap is 6% in elementary school, 5% in middle school, and NA (no data available) for high school scores. Using the same methods for math proficiency scores, the results are much less one-sided and provide overall better news for boys. While I have questions about the underlying data and some of the statistics used, the reading gender gap appears to be very real and universal.
These findings raise several questions. While there is a difference, is this really a big problem? The authors note:
Although tests of general intelligence suggest no overall difference between males and females, large differences by gender are apparent in scores on specific cognitive tasks: males tend to do better atcertain spatial and visual tasks while females tend to excel verbally (Dee, 2005).
Some observers have also pointed out that gender gaps on NAEP are far smaller than gaps between racial/ethnic or income groups (Mead, 2006).
I don’t have answers to these questions, but they do provide some context for the gender gap discussion.
Stay tuned for Part 3.