The “gender gap.” Who’s being left behind?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the “boys crisis” in education. And also the “girls crisis.”

The so-called “gender gap” has been getting a lot of ink. So, who’s getting the short end of the stick in schools today? Boys or girls? Turns out it’s both.

Check out these links and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Girls score lower in math than boys worldwide, especially in countries with more gender inequality ingrained in the culture, according to a study published this week in Science Magazine. AP story on it.
  • A report from the AAUW foundation debunks the”boys crisis” by pointing to statistics that show greater gaps based on race, ethnicity and income level, and saying men still have higher average incomes. The coverage of this report has drawn quite a bit of controversy (thanks for this link, Alexander). Here’s the NYTimes story on the report. Here’s the Washington Post story on it.
  • Peg Tyre, who is writing a book about boys and schools, responds in the Huffington Post by pointing out that boys are twice as likely to be held back in school and females outnumber males on undergraduate campuses by 2.5 million.

None of this is particularly new. It’s been reported many times that males outnumber females in high level math and science classes and in jobs in the engineering and technology industries.

At Scholastic, we’re acutely aware of boys’ struggles with reading, which are detailed in the results of the 2007 NAEP.

We also know that the percentages of African American boys who are succeeding in school and graduating are far too low. Alfred Tatum has done some remarkable work on helping schools combat this problem, focusing especially on how to get relevant and meaningful books and text into the hands of African American boys.

So is it the boys or the girls who are being left behind? I think it’s a little of both.


Kids: Getting smarter by the generation

A story in yesterday’s Sun-Sentinel about the growing popularity of bilingual education caught my eye for a couple reasons. Which, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll describe below.

For one, the story says more parents in South Florida — including plenty of English-speaking parents — are enrolling their children in bilingual and language immersion programs because they understand how valuable these skills will be in the global marketplace in the coming decades.

It was an insightful take on these often-controversial programs. However, I’m still thinking about this story now because I think it points to a broader trend. Which is this:

In many cases, the skills children are learning in school and at home today are exceeding (in number and in sophistication) those that their parents ever learned — or ever needed to learn to get ahead in the world.

I don’t mean for this to come off as a sweeping statement, but I think this trend (if it indeed is a trend) is a signal that children are learning things that their parents never learned in school, and never could have learned.

Schools, by demand, are offering more and more language courses – Mandarin, Japanese, Arabic – and, as this story shows, schools are teaching math, science and social studies in these languages. The result is kids are learning more languages than their parents ever did.

Perhaps some of the opposition out there to these programs (arguments that these programs distract from the teaching of adequate English reading and writing skills, or that American schools should always be taught in English) is because some members of the older generations do not understand the value of learning these languages. I could be wrong…

This also has me thinking about technology.

Students today often dabble in technology and learn digital skills that their parents do not understand. Students, I think, learn many of these skills on their own: how to communicate with friends and gather information on computers, cell phones, handhelds, etc. But they are skills their parents are often unfamiliar with — and hence resist.

The young generation will need these skills when they enter the workforce. Perhaps young generations of the past did not…

Armed with the digital skills they are learning today, will this young generation become savvier parents and pass these skills on to their children?

Or, when this generation ages, and they teach their children the power and potential of technology and the importance of understanding other languages and cultures, will the young ones be moving on to something else?

I think yes.

That one book…

Today Wes Fryer over at Moving at the Speed of Creativity blogged about his appreciation for Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, for engaging his son in the best summer pastime ever: reading!

Fryer says, as as an educator and a parent:

Good literature is often even more pleasurable when it can be subsequently experienced via group conversations with family and friends. I look forward to not only reading and enjoying these books on the recommendation of my son, but also engaging him in conversations about the themes, characters, and ideas raised in these books which are surely thought-provoking given his high levels of motivation in reading them!

Since Riordan is a Scholastic author, I thought I’d add to the (family) conversation by pointing to discussion guides for The Lightning Thief and Sea of Monsters. Sounds like a book club to me!

And speaking of book clubs, we’re doing the Summer Reading Buzz site again this year. It was a huge success last summer with over 120,000 books logged and almost 28 million minutes read by kids across the country!

Why Kids are Smarter than the Rest of Us…

A rare weekend post to OOM…but I saw this over at the Wired blog and I couldn’t help myself.

A 16-year-old Canadian, Daniel Burd, won his science fair and the envy of the entire international science community by isolating a bacteria that decomposes plastic. Fast. While the average plastic bag decomposes in approximately 1000 years, Daniel speculates that, using the bacteria he’s isolated, that same bag would decompose in about 3 months.

Best thing about kids? They see a problem and fix it while adults everywhere are just throwing up their hands. According to his local paper:

“Almost every week I have to do chores and when I open the closet door, I have this avalanche of plastic bags falling on top of me,” he said. “One day, I got tired of it…”

“This is a huge, huge step forward . . . We’re using nature to solve a man-made problem.” Burd said.

He would like to take his project further and see it be used. He plans to study science at university, but in the meantime he’s busy with things such as student council, sports and music.

Congratulations, Daniel. I hope you have an awesome summer vacation.  Anyone who helps save the world deserves at least that.  

Citizenship and democracy as verbs

On the Friday afternoon before the first long weekend kicking off the summer, we wanted to take a moment to recognize the non-cookout dimension of Memorial Day and respectfully remember those who died in military service to the United States and its democratic ideals.

Democracy is not an easy subject to explain, especially to children, and it is embedded deep into our company’s culture to do it as well as we possibly can. As the Scholastic credo says:

We believe in … the democratic way of life, with basic liberties — and responsibilities — for everyone. We pledge ourselves to uphold the basic freedoms of all individuals.

As we’ve written about before, this year’s historic election gives us– and teachers and parents– the perfect opportunity to talk about concepts like democracy, freedom and what it means to be a good citizen. We’d love to hear what you’re doing with your students or kids to explore these big ideas.

There was a great piece in yesterday’s Christian Science Monitor about the inseperable link between education and an active citizenry. I think T.J. sums it up best:

Jefferson wrote: “If a nation expects it can be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Pay attention to Clifford, kids! He may save your life one day.

We couldn’t help but share this Connecticut Post story out of Bridgeport, Conn., last week. It brought smiles to our faces here in the home of the “Big Red Dog.”

A six-year-old girl credits a Clifford the Big Red Dog book she read in school for teaching her what she needed to know to help her family out of a burning building last week.

“I was going to take a shower, but when I heard the fire alarm, I told my mommy, my dog, my brother and my sister to get out,” she said. “And even Muffy stopped, dropped and rolled — and then he ran, ran, ran.”

Scholastic first published Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell 45 years ago, and more than 120 million Clifford books are now in print. Clifford also got his own TV show in 2000.

You couldn’t avoid Clifford here at Scholastic even if you wanted to. A giant Clifford plush watches over our second floor lobby. His is the first face you see in the morning when you get to work, and the last you see before you leave.

Class of ’08: Plugged in from birth?

I graduated from high school 10 years ago next week. I know, that’s a long time, isn’t it?!

Besides realizing I’m not a kid anymore (Yes, it took that long!), it’s got me thinking about how different the world has been for the class of 2008 compared to how it was for me – a member of the class of ’98 – when I was coming of age.

We’re only 10 years apart, but, though we’re both apparently members of Gen Y, I definitely don’t feel “plugged in” in the same way they are.

In some ways, they were plugged in from birth. I had to plug myself in.

Here’s some of what I see is different:

1) Kids are never more than a click, text or Tweet away from one another. The ease with which today’s children can talk to each other – even to people on the other side of the planet – is stunning. And the technology they use to do this is amazingly simple, fast and reliable. Gone are the days when talking to my friend in New Hampshire required a long distance phone call from the household landline.

2) Kids are far more secure with their lives being far less private. They are comfortable putting themselves out there – posting photos, talking about their favorite TV shows, movies and books, creating networks of friends – on public social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. They create personalities for themselves, even if they are not entirely accurate, and are born “personal branders.” Only now are us adults realizing the value in creating our own online personalities too. Kids today are savvy self-marketers, and they don’t even know it.

3) Kids are digital creators, as well as digital consumers. When I was in high school, I listened to music, watched movies and too much television, read plenty of magazines and books and shopped at the mall. With the help of technology, kids today are creating videos (20 percent of teen boys and 10 percent of teen girls post video content online), and blogging through easy to use platforms like Blogger. This is good news, because a recent study says kid bloggers turn out to be better writers.

4) More information is available to more people faster. With internet use spreading, connection speeds increasing, and more content being posted to the Web everyday, teens have more access than ever to information on almost every topic. In high school, I think the only computer research I did was on an Encarta CD-ROM disk in my school library.

The problem we’re dealing with now is students are more comfortable using these technologies than their parents and teachers, for the most part. Kids are learning as they go – with little guidance and teaching from the older generations. For adults to make sure kids are smart “creators” and “communicators” online, they have to plug in themselves.

These are just a few of my observations. I haven’t touched on many of the other changes I’ve seen (greater competitiveness for college admissions, more kids taking more AP classes, kids starting to plan for college in [gasp!] middle school). These kids were also in sixth-grade on 9/11/01, and the country has been at war for a third of their whole lives.

If they’re Gen Y, then how is it that I am too?

I could go on. And I’m sure sometime I will…