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Education Science

Why Girls Do Better At School 690

An anonymous reader writes "A new study explains why girls do better at school, even when their scores on standardized tests remain low. Researchers from University of Georgia and Columbia University say the variation in school grades between boys and girls may be because girls have a better attitude toward learning than boys. One of the study's lead authors, Christopher Cornwell, said, 'The skill that matters the most in regards to how teachers graded their students is what we refer to as "approaches toward learning." You can think of "approaches to learning" as a rough measure of what a child's attitude toward school is: It includes six items that rate the child's attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility and organization. I think that anybody who's a parent of boys and girls can tell you that girls are more of all of that.' Cornwell went on about what effect this has had now that education has become more pervasive: 'We seem to have gotten to a point in the popular consciousness where people are recognizing the story in these data: Men are falling behind relative to women. Economists have looked at this from a number of different angles, but it's in educational assessments that you make your mark for the labor market. Men's rate of college going has slowed in recent years whereas women's has not, but if you roll the story back far enough, to the 60s and 70s, women were going to college in much fewer numbers. It's at a point now where you've got women earning upward of 60 percent of the bachelors' degrees awarded every year.'"
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Why Girls Do Better At School

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  • by cslibby ( 626565 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @12:48PM (#42476463) Homepage
    When it comes to girls learning, their styles of learning tend to be more aligned with the school structure we have in our current education system. Boys have a tendency to "Like Learning" later in life, once they have a better understanding of their physical world. This does not mean Girls are smarter than Boys, or the other way around, but they are just Different from each other, just as a Apple is Different than an Orange, and we should not try to do a one to one comparison.
    • Perhaps you're right, but unfortunately this has some pretty vast social implications. If 60% of the degrees are going to women, and women and men are in a roughly 50/50 ratio, this means that there are going to be a lot of well paid, socially and economically powerful women who can't find equals as mates.

      As the father of a young, smart daughter, this makes me sad. It means most likely, if my daughter wants to have a family she's going to have to accept some low-life college dropout because he didn't find

      • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['kis' in gap]> on Friday January 04, 2013 @12:54PM (#42476565)

        Considering that through much of history men have married women with lower levels of educational attainment and income, and been able to be happy in those relationships without considering their wives "low-lives", I'm not sure why the reverse would be impossible.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:01PM (#42476671)

          It's because feminism has completely failed to address this part of the gender double-standard. They wanted equality, but on their own terms without any risk of role reversal. In the end, it's an Orwellian thing where all genders are equal but some genders and more equal than other genders.

          • It's because feminism has completely failed to address this part of the gender double-standard. They wanted equality, but on their own terms without any risk of role reversal. In the end, it's an Orwellian thing where all genders are equal but some genders and more equal than other genders.

            Er, no. Feminism in its general sense doesn't specifically tackle this. Individuals and some groups might, and I'd strongly disagree with any who'd want this kind of double standard. Don't invoke Orwell so lightly. Role reversal is rare, yet it does happen. I know two guys who stay at home to take care of the kids. With the latter, the guy's pretty much sponging off of her. She earns good money, yet still comes home to cook his dinner. With the former, while the two of them had good careers, hers had substa

            • by yurtinus ( 1590157 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @03:35PM (#42478823)
              The problem with this whole thread is that it frames the role of the homemaker in a negative light - that role reversal is something to avoid. That somehow the spouse who stays home is a lesser person than the breadwinner. It's not a good stereotype to keep up - because the social pressure will tend to push the good people (like the second friend in your example) back out to work and leave kids to be raised by school and TV with less involvement from the parents.

              You're exactly right - unlike AC's assertion, I don't see any backlash in feminism against role reversal in the home. Hell, gender equality is when we stop calling it "role reversal" and making assumptions on who does what. Who earns the income and who maintains the household should entirely depend on the people involved.

              Lastly, I'm certainly not saying that it's impossible for two-income households to spend enough time with their kids, just takes a great deal more effort and it saddens me that it's become the norm.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:36PM (#42477191)

          Being a lady-engineer, I have personal experience of being rejected by men for being "too smart". Fortunately, it made it easier to avoid sexist, control freaks.

          As for selecting a partner with lower education and income level, for me that was less of a concern than selecting a *partner* -- someone with similar interests who advanced the common prosperity of the partnership.

          And as my gentleman-engineer partner tells his co-workers who complain about their own under-achieving wives, "You could have found have married a smart girl, too, if you had been willing to risk your ego."

      • by HaZardman27 ( 1521119 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:01PM (#42476669)
        You don't need a degree to avoid being a "low-life." I don't have a degree (yet) and I make much more as a software engineer than most of my degree-holding friends.
    • by ranton ( 36917 )

      The problem they are pointing out has more to do with how students are graded, not how well they are learning. Since boys still have higher test scores (according to the article), it looks like they are still learning better in a school environment. The problem is how schools grade their students. If grades are too decoupled from the actual learning taking place, there is a problem.

  • I saw a documentary on this awesome (yet rarely mentioned) site called 'Naughty America' that covered how girls get good grades in detail. Must watch.

  • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @12:50PM (#42476499) Journal
    Last year my son (diagnosed with mild autism) was required to spend 1/3 of his time doing group work in math class and consistently was graded poorly for these activities. In my mind doing group work in pre-algebra is of questionable value and useless for boys.
    • by Cassini2 ( 956052 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:09PM (#42476809)

      I can't imagine anything less useful for high-performing students than group work in math class. It does nothing more than create a pool of free tutors to help the teacher.

      • I disagree to an extent. Yes, there is some mooching going on, but the free tutors are actually learning more by teaching the subject than they ever would by passively listening (or less). If someone can teach it, then they have it down pat.

        And something less useful is having a class full of kids who don't get it but the teacher can't get to them one-on-one to help out.

    • by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:22PM (#42476977)

      I agree, although I've never done a formal study. Girls may exhibit all the symptoms in TFA, but to me that shows true interest. Boys weren't interested because it was mostly a social playground, and most of the boys I know couldn't have cared less about all that. But most of the girls seemed drawn to school like flies and spent their free time thinking about it.

      Certainly all the group work and social circle jerk that went on when I was in school was a huge turn off and a major cause for most of my class cutting. My sister went just for that, and I really think that's why she got disinterested in math and science where the mostly male teachers (laid off from defense companies back in the day) didn't have much use for that.

      Certainly that's how my own kids are trending too. It concerns me because in spite of TFA, girls don't do as well in math and science later on (when it actually matters) and I don't really want my daughter falling in to the trap that most girls in HS seem to get in to and ending up with a BA in English Lit because "i'm dumb at math".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 04, 2013 @12:52PM (#42476523)

    I teach highschool math and physics, and by far, a disproportinate amount of my "better students" are female. I will not go as far to say that they are more or less smart (choose whichever difinition of smart that you like) than the male students, but the results among myself and teacher friends from across the region do not lie. The majority of female students I have can solve the assigned problems more accurately, and quickly than the their male counterparts. Is it attention span? Hormones? I can't say. It's merely an observation.

    • I teach highschool math and physics, and by far, a disproportinate amount of my "better students" are female.

      One possibility: self-selection in your data pool, due to unequal gender expectations. You're teaching highschool physics. Chances are, if it's any of the upper grade or "advanced" levels, they're non-compulsary subjects. Your students don't have to take them. The students in your class are those that have decided to take the course. This means either they signed up because they want to take the co

      • by Dr. Evil ( 3501 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @02:34PM (#42478069)

        I studied physics. The best mathemeticians in our classes were the girls. Why? No idea. They seemed to enjoy the pure abstract math and did their homework regularly. Most of the guys (myself included) had difficulty when the math got too abstract. Our bad homework skills showed too. On the other hand, our best mathemetician had a hell of a time figuring out how to apply the math to the physics. Fortunate for her, she was a mathemetician who was only taking physics courses as electives.

        Everyone was mature and professional. We recognized our differences and figured the gender line was just a coincidence. Physics enrollment wasn't very high so the sample size was too small to be meaningful.

  • Simple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bongey ( 974911 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @12:52PM (#42476527)
    They don't have penius that is thinking "boobs,sex,boobs,sex" , very hard to study when you have something like that in your life.
  • Ummm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Velex ( 120469 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @12:52PM (#42476533) Journal

    I should probably read TFA, but this is Slashdot. So, uhh, if girls do worse on standardized tests, how do we conclude they do better at school?

    Let me guess. This is all going to come down to some kind of thing where when the girls underperform, we change the school, and when the boys underperform, we change the boys.

    To try to keep a rant short, let's see why boys do so poorly. Could it have anything to do with rampant gender discrimination at the primary level and being forcefed feminist nonsense and guilt-tripping at the secondary level?

    Jeebus. I remember many times when we did projects in class in elementary that the girls were given more options for what they could do than boys. Why? Well, everyone knows girls are more responsible than boys. One year even it was a school-wide policy that during indoor recess, the girls had the option to go to the gym to play basketball or volleyball, but the boys had to stay in their classroom.

    Hell, I even remember one teacher I had who once decided to punish all the boys because of a few in the back who were acting up. Why? Well, we had it coming. I challenged the teacher about how it was fair to punish me when I hadn't done anything wrong, and I'll never forget the response. "You're just as well-behaved as a girl, but it wouldn't be fair to the rest of the boys if I let you off." Holy shit.

    How about if we just get rid of gender stereotyping and discrimination? How about if we stop imprinting girls with math phobia? How about if we stop treating boys like they're already rapists and thugs?

    Or is that just asking too damned much?

    • Re:Ummm (Score:5, Interesting)

      by codewarren ( 927270 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:04PM (#42476723)

      if girls do worse on standardized tests, how do we conclude they do better at school?

      The answer is in the summary. Teachers give girls better grades. Standardized tests give boys better grades.

    • You're right, you should RTFA.

      The basic explanation described there is that the difference is in how teachers rate their classroom behavior: During ages 6-12, girls on average have an easier time sitting down, shutting up, and paying attention to the teacher than boys do. Since sitting down, shutting up, and paying attention are part of an elementary school students' grade, the girls grade better. That matches my own experiences in that age group, and also when working with kids in that age group: There are

  • they get paid 81 cents on the dollar.
    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      Or less if they work in the White House.

    • Re:...and yet (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Eldragon ( 163969 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:01PM (#42476675)

      The economist in me says: "If the market could truly bear women being paid 20% less than men, then employers would only hire women." All businesses are looking for any means to cut costs.

      No, I'm not saying women should be paid less or do an inferior job; I'm saying that old statistic is grossly over-used and over-applied.

      • by Xoltri ( 1052470 )
        Also, in my experience (in private industry) those who don't ask for raises don't get them. This is true for both men and women. So maybe it's not so much that companies want to pay women less, maybe they just aren't on average as assertive as men in asking for raises.
  • by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @12:56PM (#42476589) Homepage

    Before even clicking on the link, I knew this was an American study. Schools in the US, especially elementary schools, are massively dominated by women. Boys do generally have more difficulty sitting still for long periods, and need to use up their physical energy. This used to be handled by recess periods and sports. They could run around, play games, be competitive, get a bit tired - and be ready the next period of sitting still.

    This is no longer allowed. Competitive sports are out, even pretty tame things like tag or dodgeball. Playgrounds have to be ultra-safe, which means utterly boring. Because virtually all teachers and administrators in elementary schools are women, there is very little understanding of boys' needs. They are expected to behave like perfect little...girls.

    Is it any wonder they do poorly in school?

  • Survey says.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <sjc@carpanet.PERIODnet minus punct> on Friday January 04, 2013 @12:57PM (#42476609) Homepage

    There was a survey a while back that I heard some NPR commentators bantering about a while back (few years ago, tried to find a link but nothing is popping up)

    We all know the standard stereotype is that men are threatend by smart/hard working women, look down at them, don't consider them good mates etc....

    What they were finding was that these attridues were becoming less common in younger boys, and younger boys have been,more and more, indicating that they find intelligence and hard work attractive in women and don't really see just a "housewife" as a woman's place.

    Leading me to remember an old quote about scientific theories and thinking it may apply to social ones:

    A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. -- Max Plank

  • by Farmer Pete ( 1350093 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @12:57PM (#42476613)
    I can tell you that many of the best GPA students at my school were some of the dumbest in the class. They were good at regurgitating data, but their comprehension was horrible. That's why they scored low on tests that required logical analysis. They just couldn't take the leap from one thought to another.

    It's like an old co-worker of mine that a week after passing his Network+ certification, he truthfully asked me what a router was. He had no clue. He was just good at memorizing questions, and he spent a few weeks memorizing a ton of practice tests. He gamed the system. I pity any one who hires him thinking that he has any of the skills he's certified for.
  • There are many reasons I see girls do better in school on the whole. I think one of the main reasons though is that the majority of teachers tend to be women. These are women who took getting an education seriously, and often times know what worked for them to learn the subject. I think those teachers are often able to reach those that are similar to them. The interesting thing to me though is that I think competitiveness rises for the top spots in classes frequently from the boys still. They'll do anything

  • Sexist? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Das Auge ( 597142 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:01PM (#42476693)
    If the genders were reversed on this topic, it would have been labeled as sexist. But since it's the guys on the short end of the study, it's okay.

    Maybe I should start support groups, activist organizations, and demand equality?
  • Willingness to learn or willingness to jump through meaningless hoops?

    I disagree with earlier posts about boys being smarter though. Girls are smart too, but their motivations are often a little bit different. The AC at the top seems like someone who tries to measure everyone else in terms of his own self-image and can't recognize other types of intelligence.

  • If women were really doing better then more of them would be in CS. It's improving, but their is still a huge gap. If they represent 60% of all Degrees but only represent 12% of CS Degrees then what Degrees are they being over represented in? They could easily be going into more fluff degrees which would make their quantity meaningless. Figure out why they avoid Math and Science before you go off saying they are doing better compared to Men. Until they do the same things that the Men are doing it's like com
  • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @01:28PM (#42477063) Homepage Journal
    "Most generalizations are false, including this one." -- Samuel Clemens

    Anytime someone claims that group X is better than group Y at task Z, I usually call bullshit, and when the metric by which the standard is measured is a purely subjective and arbitrary one, doubly so.

    People who generalize tend to do so because it absolves them of the need to apply critical thinking skills.
  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @02:10PM (#42477731) Homepage

    I'm not even that old but I can remember within my lifetime that it was just considered common-sense knowledge that obviously boys outperformed girls in school, and transparently had more of the traits of "attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility and organization". Yes, in the college math classes I currently teach most often the best work is being done by girls. But to look at that and say that there's some intrinsic property of girls that makes them more school-oriented is the most tunnel-visioned, provincial bullshit that I've read in some time.

    The best comment I've seen so far is that the character of schools has changed, i.e.: over-protectiveness, lack of recess, rough sports, physical activity. There's some clear changes in schooling that have likely made a difference in the very recent past. The other thing I'd say is that all my acquaintances today let their children run around uncontrolled and screaming all the time, which is not something I ever saw growing up (i.e., restaurant last week: two separate families kids under the tables, pulling on curtains, handprints all over the mirrored walls, etc.). In the past boys got some real serious discipline; now I'd say that seems to be reduced, and perhaps they suffer more for it.

    When I graduated from high school the top 5 students were all boys as I recall. When my sister graduated from the same school two years later, 7 of the top 10 were girls. Of course that's anecdotal, but it broadly seems to synch up with the sea-change that I've seen in my short life.

  • by SmarterThanMe ( 1679358 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @02:13PM (#42477765)

    I think we need to ask why girls have a better attitude towards learning. Speaking as a teacher, I think that I can suggest a couple of factors and examples of why this is an important question.

    TLDR: schools and schooling is overwhelmingly female oriented, and does not adapt to the needs of boys (nor anyone, really).

    Schools, particularly primary (elementary for my American friends) schools are female dominated and, unfortunately, this leads to problems for boys. I taught in a school recently where I was the only male teacher at the school where there were some issues for boys. Whether there was a causative relationship or not is open to question, but the boys at the school were wild, and their achievement was substantially lower than the girls on several measures. I (simply because I was a male) was seen as the solution to an ongoing behavioural crisis among the boys in the older grades because I was seen as a role model as a boy who was interested in learning, but I think that by middle school, where I teach, it's too late for that to have much effect.

    In fact, against the more influential male public role models who seem to be more interested in sport, driving, etc., than anything school-related, my effect would have been minimal (and I argued this point prior to my appointment, and my position was confirmed time after time through my appointment - in fact that failing was attributed to me which was fun). I have seen at other schools attempt to conflate an interest in sport with an interest in school by involving local sports people in reading programs at the school. The sports people come in to the school and inadvertently confirm students' beliefs, that sport and reading do not mix much. But it's a fun novelty, I suppose.

    The other problem with female dominated schools is that the curriculum becomes more female dominated. At least in my experience, boys do have shorter attention spans, and do seem to have more kinaesthetic or visual approaches to learning (against girls, who more often seem to have auditory learning styles more suited to the "stand-and-deliver" lecture approach to teaching). Teaching in a single sex boys' class requires shorter lessons with more emphasis on doing stuff than discussing stuff, and this doesn't suit the approaches that a lot of teachers want to use.

    Finally, there's a belief that boys are bad, whether this is explicitly stated or not, and, equally, that we should be easier on "boys being boys". In my work, I visited a school and sat through a presentation given by Year 1 students on school rules. Which was hilarious for a whole bunch of reasons, but most notably in the way that the activity seems to have been presented to the students. They were providing examples of good and bad behaviour. The teacher had chosen to tell the students to make a girl doing something good, and a boy doing something bad. The students then got up and use male pronouns for describing one scenario (where a student does something wrong) and female pronouns for describing the other (when a student does something right). The teacher corrected a student (a girl actually) twice when she said that she had drawn a girl doing something wrong, which had me on the verge of heckling the stupid woman.

    As to being soft on "boys being boys", I believe strongly that we need to instil a sense of honour among boys. I had a Year 6 student a couple of years ago who incessantly physically and verbally bullied younger students and girls in the playground. I constantly brought him up on it, but was always held back from applying the school's discipline policy because "he doesn't have any great male role models", "you know his parents are really strict", or "he's just a bit energetic". The worst excuse that I heard from a colleague was that a girl he had bullied had to "share part of the blame" because she "instigated" the situation by talking to him (it's like a "she asked it by dressing that way" defence in rape cases). Over and over excuses were made for him by other staff su

  • socialization. . . (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jafac ( 1449 ) on Friday January 04, 2013 @02:38PM (#42478115) Homepage

    It has not been culturally "cool" to be smart, for many decades.

    There was an improvement in this situation during the 1940's, 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's - but our culture, particularly in the USA, has shifted back towards macho posturing, and money-earning, as the primary values. Much of "being smart" has to do with whether an individual nurtures an inherent intellectual capability, or whether they focus their time and energy on "other priorities" (social, religious, family, financial, athletic, etc.).

    I think that a huge amount of intellectual talent in this country is wasted, because of this shift in priorities.
    Ultimately - people should have the right to choose an interest that they want. I don't think that it's possible or constructive to try to "Engineer" our culture. I think that most of our past idolization of intellectualism came out of our cold-war fear of being technically inferior to the Soviet Union and the Cold War.

      (and also - as demonstrated by Germany, the Nazis).

    We spent a HUGE amount of effort trying to specifically ENGINEER this cultural change. (and we were successful, in the short-term, but in the long-term, there has been a backlash. Hasn't there?) - We created NASA, DARPA, we had guys like Von Braun and Disney collaborating on publicly-funded propaganda films on educating our population about our future in space exploration and colonization. This inspired two generations of Americans to become scientists and engineers. We leapt so far forward, so quickly. But obviously, we were unable to sustain that. (there is no technical reason for that.)

    Engineers and scientists have proposed solutions to these issues; sustainable energy, population control - but the "cool" people objected. Now, we abdicate control back to Nature. Maybe the females, who seem to no longer be constrained by the "macho" socialization, will figure this shit out.

e-credibility: the non-guaranteeable likelihood that the electronic data you're seeing is genuine rather than somebody's made-up crap. - Karl Lehenbauer