In Hawaii and nationally, boys falling behind in school

Published: May. 16, 2016 at 7:10 PM HST|Updated: May. 16, 2016 at 7:12 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the workforce, women are still working to break the glass ceiling and close the gender wage gap.

But in schools, locally and nationally, girls are beating boys in just about every data point that's measured.

That's been the case for years in fact, and the gap in achievement is only growing.

In the islands, public school girls graduate at higher rates than their male counterparts, are more likely to go to college, and score higher on tests, in both math and reading. They're less likely to be retained in elementary school and in middle school; they're far less likely to be disciplined.

It's not quite clear why girls are doing better than boys in school. And that's in part because there's no concerted effort underway to track student achievement by gender.

Public schools have long disaggregated student populations by ethnicity and income to figure out to help at-risk kids do better.

But gender is often overlooked as a factor worth considering. That is until recently, when several mainland school districts launched programs to address the achievement gap among boys.

Hawaii has no such program to address how boys do in school compared to girls, but that's not to say Hawaii Department of Education officials aren't aware of the issue.

In a recent presentation to the Board of Education, a consortium of educators called P-20 pointed out that 62 percent of girls from the Class of 2015 went to college. That compares to 49 percent for boys.

Stephen Schatz, Hawaii Department of Education deputy superintendent, said there are no plans to launch a program geared at bolstering achievement among boys.

But he did say that schools are tracking all sorts of data points, and could very well consider gender in determining how to boost achievement.

"What we're seeing is folks in individual communities, analyzing their data and figuring out which programs work," he said.

Schatz added that the achievement gap for low-income students and minorities -- among boys and girls -- remains an area of concern. Over the last decade, all Hawaii students have seen progress, but the achievement gap has persisted.

"It's been a tough nut to crack," Schatz said.

As for the differences between how boys and girls do in school, Schatz didn't rule out the possibility of rolling out programs that aim to bolster achievement among boys.

Here's how Hawaii boys and girls perform on other key metrics:

  • The graduation rate for public school girls was 85 percent in 2013-14, compared to 79 percent for boys.
  • Just under 1 percent of middle school boys are retained, compared to .5 percent of girls
  • On a state assessment, 56 percent of girls were proficient in language arts in the 2014-15 (the year a new, tougher state assessment was introduced). By comparison, 42 percent of boys were.
  • In math, the gap is smaller but still there: 44 percent of girls were proficient, compared to 40 percent of boys.
  • The only subject boys bested girls was science: 43 percent of boys were deemed proficient in 2014-15, compared to 41 percent of girls.

Dan Hamada, principal of Kapaa High, said while the achievement gap for boys is worrisome, he's not sure focusing on gender in bolstering student progress is worthwhile – or realistic.

"For me, it's not just about boys and girls. To me, any kid who is not progressing is at risk," he said.

Kapaa High has seen encouraging progress in recent years, a fact Hamada attributes in part to a laser-focus on catching academic problems early.

At the school, student progress is analyzed using a host of metrics. Students are also broken up by personality traits, with each trait assigned a color. Leaders are red, relationship-builders are blue, adaptable students are white and students who like fun are assigned yellow.

"You just need to look at every individual child," Hamada said.

"When you get down to the guts of it, it comes down to good instructional process and good pedagogy."

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