The new achievement gap

By Naya Clifford | Apr 19, 2013

Recently, my husband and I attended a National Honor Society induction at a local high school. As we sat there, we noticed that only two of the 14 inductees were boys. Later, we learned that only four members of the Honor Society in the school were male after the induction ceremony. We wondered, “Where are all the high-achieving boys?

In the beginning of my professional career, I spent many years working as a special education teacher with children of varying abilities, helping to assure equal access to education in the environment that was the least restrictive to meet their needs. As a teacher, I observed that many more boys than girls were considered “behavior problems.” Now in my second career as a clinical social worker, I have become acutely aware of the crushing push to diagnose primarily boys with ADHD, and or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Moreover, these diagnoses are often made without looking to other environmental stressors, or attempts at other alternative treatment prior to medication (see "Ritalin Nation," by Richard DeGrandpre, 2000 for an interesting view of this phenomenon).

While those diagnoses exist, more often these days in practice, I have discussions with concerned parents and well-meaning teachers that the behaviors that concern them are in line with “normal development.” The presenting behaviors often can also be attributed to issues in either the school environment itself, or the children’s lives outside of school and should be addressed with environmental, educational and parental behavior modification, rather than diagnosed as an organic biological disorder that can be cured with a pill.

Since when did boyhood become a diagnosable disease?

As evidenced in a recent and excellent piece of research, released in March of 2013, "The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools," we have in effect reworked our schools to encourage achievement for girls. And girls have excelled. Now, more women than men graduate from high school. More women than men attend college, more women than men go to medical school. Women earn more college degrees than men. In the recent recession, more men were unemployed than women.

In our societal quest to make things equal, we have swung the pendulum so far as to make it unequal and disenfranchise the group we believed to be creating the inequality. Two wrongs certainly don’t make a right. Some people being “more equal,” as Orwell portrayed in "Animal Farm," does not create equality for anyone. Swinging the pendulum in favor of any perceived minority group only creates a counter-imbalance later in time.

The question remains: How do we truly create opportunity and access for our children? How can we take this crisis in our schools that is appearing all over the country, and rework it to encourage achievement in all of our children, so that they become leaders willing to achieve in all aspects of their lives?

We are reaping the culture of what we have sown. The cautions of Dan Kindlon and Micheal Thompson in their prescient book, "Raising Cain," released in 2000, regarding how we educate and raise our boys have come true. Our boys and our men deserve an equal opportunity as much as our girls do. Now we have to get to work and figure out how to make it happen. As a community we need to truly build families, schools and communities that reflect and encourage our shared American values. We need to find ways to improve our understanding and acceptance of gender differences, celebrate those strengths, and create equal opportunity to pursue happiness and success to achieve the future society we want our country to become.

See also: "The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools. Published 2013." Available at : https://www.russellsage.org/publications/rise-women.

See articles regarding gender gap at: http://stateofopportunity.michiganradio.org/post/meet-newest-school-achievement-gap-one-between-boys-and-girls and http://www.education.com/reference/article/gender-academic-achievement/.

Naya Clifford earned a master of education degree and is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. She resides in Waldo County.

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