A recent study, published in the journal Gender Issues, is once again bringing national focus upon the significant literacy gap between US male and female students.  According to the article, United Press International reports that compared with girls, “U.S. boys have lower rates of literacy, lower grades and engagement in school, and higher drop-out rates.”  Judith Kleinfeld, who administered the study, told UPI that girls “do better in school because they develop verbal skills so much more easily, while boys recognize spatial differences so much more easily than girls.  Boys need different things in school– much more activity, less time sitting at a desk and different types of reading– than girls.”

What is being Done About This Literacy Gap?

In the United States, unfortunately, not a whole lot.  President Obama has talked generally about literacy issues.  In a 2005 speech directed at the American Library Association, he states:

Right now, one out of every five adults in the United States can’t read a simple story to their child. During the last twenty years or so, over ten million Americans reached the 12th grade without having learned to read at a basic level.

But these literacy problems start far before high school. In 2000, only 32% of all fourth graders tested as reading proficient. And the story gets worse when you take race and income into consideration. Children from low-income families score 27 points below the average reading level, while students from wealthy families score fifteen points above the average. And while only one in twelve white seventeen-year-olds has the ability to pick up the newspaper and understand the science section, for Hispanics the number jumps to one in fifty; for African Americans it’s one in one hundred.

While he addresses the gap between low and high income families, as well as the gap between races, he doesn’t address the most obvious and substantial gap: that between genders.

Many literacy groups are disappointed at a recent $6 million recent tax cut aimed at the National Institute for Literacy.  Countries like Canada, Australia, and Great Britain have initiated national, tax-suported efforts to boost boys’ educational achievement.  The US currently has no such initiative nor plans toward such an initiative.

Why Are Boys Being Neglected?

Since the feminist movement began, there have been many federal, state, and local school district programs aimed at addressing educational problems faced by girls.  It was once said that girls were never going to excel in the areas of math and science.  Amazingly, the math and science discrepancy between boys and girls is now barely noticeable.

Kleinfeld notes that there are STILL a surprising number of programs aimed at increasing girls’ math and science achievement.  However, there is little to no policy attention given to the substantial gender gap occurring in reading and writing, which, she says, “places males at a serious disadvantage in the employment market and in college.”  Why are boys being ignored?  It is probable that the common mindset is STILL that boys have an educational advantage over girls and therefore money and policy changes should not be directed toward programs to assist them.  However, as we see more national coverage about male/female literacy gap, perhaps educators and policy makers will take notice and literacy programs will begin to take note of the significant literacy gender gap.

What Can I Do?

It’s always best to start campaigning at a local level.  Find our who your local representatives are and write to them about your concerns.

In the meantime, pay heed to what studies about boys and reading are telling us!  Remember that boys need sufficient activity and that they like different types of reading material than girls do.  Remember that male-oriented classroom procedures should be instituted and that positive male role models make all the difference in the world.  Finally, remember that a love of reading begins at home.

Further reading:

Theories abound on boys’ slow reading

The Literacy Gap

Posted in: Content

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Michael Sibert

    This will allow you to help parents and children of all cultures. There is a trend starting with parents and it is working for their children. It is up to you to make sure every parent, grandparent, and teacher, sees this.
    Does anyone truly believe that things will get better if half of our children can’t read? Check out the Prairie State scores from the state of Illinois. For the past 2 years less than ½ of high school seniors made the cut in reading. Because of so many other news stories, this one barely made the back page. We can temporarily fix the economy, or pass gun control legislation, but none of that will matter much if we don’t change the way we parent as it pertains to reading. In over 20 years in education the number one comment I receive is,” My child never reads at home, they are too busy playing video games.” Since we can all agree this is true, and that reading is the most important indicator to success in school and life, I have a solution for you that will pay huge dividends down the road.
    It’s true that almost every household in America has a game system. It’s also true that children who can’t read are allowed to play unlimited sessions on their game system. Even our high achievers are losing ground. The problem isn’t the game systems, it’s the way we parent. We let kids play as long as they like, and then we nag them about it. The game system causes tension and fights, and all the while kids aren’t reading. I say let the child decide how much or how long they want to play the video game. Make a deal with them. For every ½ hour they read, they get to play the video game for an hour. If they want to bank the hours and they read for 2 hours, then they have 4 hours of gaming time earned.

    You have just turned your 300- dollar game system into an investment, and there will be no more bickering because it is entirely up to the child. This method has worked for my children, and it has worked for many more. I have never heard a parent say that it wasn’t the best decision they have ever made.
    You can choose to have a 30 second conversation with the child to set up the guidelines or you could make a deal before buying the game system. Children eagerly agree to the deal if it means getting what they want.
    We can’t fix everything at once. What we need to do is fix the things we can fix and move forward from there. This is where we will start.

    Send this message to every parent you know. Focus on those parents that may be different from you so this message crosses the boundaries that seem to define us today. Every time you send this message you are increasing literacy in our country and helping parents to set limits. This one small change will make a huge difference. Come join me and help recruit parents and kids of all colors and cultures to join the readforxbox movement.
    For more information or to get started right away go to readforxbox.com and download a contract for free. The site will cost you nothing. All we ask is that you go on the forum section and take a few seconds to register so we can track how many lives we are changing.
    Michael Sibert
    Founder: readforxbox.com
    Email: readforxbox@aol.com

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