Educational Equality

By Editor in Chief Andrea Mirviss Features Editor Amanda Vinner

A National Dilemma

Some young girls may remember chasing little boys around the playground chanting: “Girls go to college to get more knowledge; boys go to Jupiter to get more stupid-er.” Countless parents have laughed at the ridiculous comments of these children, but could there be some truth to what these kids are saying?

A national trend is emerging in which boys fall behind girls academically at a young age because their brains develop more slowly than girls’, hindering boys’ academic successes further down the road.

According to a September 2006 article in Educational Leadership Magazine, girls and boys’ brains develop at different rates.  Local child psychiatrist Lawrence Brain agrees.

“It is known that girls’ cognitive and intellectual development accelerates faster than that of boys,” Brain said. “During adolescence, girls grow connections between brain cells sooner than boys do. They have a quicker cognitive scale than boys.”

Because of this disparity in brain development, boys often come into their own academically later than girls do. However, according to Brain, this lapse rectifies itself later in life.

“Studies at NIH have shown that between the ages of 12 and 17 girls brains develop more quickly than those of boys, but after that point, they start to even out,” Brain said.

Although boys’ brains usually catch up to girls’ after high school, some researches believe that it is harder for this disparity to completely even out because of the higher expectations in today’s schools.  Students are encouraged more and more to push themselves academically at younger ages, which can cause the boys whose brains have not fully developed to fall behind.

According to a September/October 2008 issue of Harvard Magazine, during adolescence, girls are more physiologically prepared to succeed in higher-level classes, while boys’ brains are still developing.  The study states that this lapse can cause schools to miss chances at encouraging male students late in their school career to take harder classes if they have been on an easier academic track in previous years.

The need for speed that pervades modern academic society is one factor causing the gap between male and female brain development to grow faster and wider at younger ages. 

Boys and girls’ brains not only develop on different timelines, they also develop in different ways, according to a September 2008 article in Educational Leadership Magazine. The male and female brains have more than 100 structural differences between them.   Boys tend to think more in terms of spatial and mechanical reasoning, while it is easier for girls’ brains to follow verbal and emotional processes.

Challenges at Churchill

This discrepancy also lends itself to the classes students take, and CHS has not escaped this trend. According to MCPS records online, since the 2003-2004 school year, girls at CHS have consistently taken about 4 percent more AP or honors-level classes than boys.

AP English Language teacher Jennifer Poness has significantly more girls in her classes than boys.

“I was never really looking for it, but the girls definitely outnumber the boys in my AP English classes,” Poness said.

Sophomore Ameen Ajmeri has also noticed this trend. He has noticed a significant difference in the number of girls and boys in some of his classes.

“In my honors NSL [National, State and Local Government] class, there are way more boys than girls,” Ajmeeri said. 

However, in AP NSL teacher Matthew Schilling’s classes, 22 out of every 31 students in his classes are girls, an average of about 70 percent.

The reasons as to why girls are more inclined to take these harder classes remain unclear.

According to AP Psychology teacher Jared Pulliam, some social norms have fed the fire that influences boys to succeed later than girls.

“Social norms alone [make boys less organized],” Pulliam said. “Girls from an early age are primed to be more presentable. For example, if a young boy has a grass stain on his pants, it’s not big deal.  But if a young girl has a grass stain on her dress, it’s a problem. It wouldn’t surprise me if that mindset led into [girls having more organized and presentable] notebooks and backpacks.”

Some people believe that it is just generally more acceptable for girls to excel in school.

“Girls can be smart without being nerdy,” Ajmeeri said. “I think boys are more likely to take easier classes because it is socially acceptable.”

Sophomore Nachu Bhatnagar also thinks boys are socially encouraged to take easier classes.

“The social norm is for guys to hang out with their friends, not work hard in class,” Bhatnagar said. “If you take harder classes, you isolate yourself a little. Guys care more about that.”

Other people believe that girls are naturally more organized than boys are.

“Girls tend to be more detail-oriented and have better organizational skills that can give them an advantage [in school],” physics teacher Yuri Achille said.

Senior Tricia Duvall has also noticed the disparities in behavior between boys and girls in her classes.

“I’d say girls pay more attention during class and boys are generally more disruptive,” Duvall said.

Churchill Choices

While some CHS students believe that girls and boys take different classes because of differences in preferred learning styles, others think class choice is based more in students’ interests.

According to Bhatnagar, there is a clear difference in the learning abilities of boys and girls.

“I think there is a difference in learning ability,” Bhatnagar said.  “Boys work well in computers because [they can] look at codes [and even though] it’s just numbers on a computer screen, they are able to know it can become an entire program.”

According to a survey taken in students’ English classes, boys and girls prefer various styles of learning in fairly equal proportions. Both boys and girls overwhelmingly chose watching and discussing as their favorite modes of learning.

Thirty-three percent of girls and 36 percent of boys surveyed chose watching as their preferred learning style. Thirty-one percent of girls and 26 percent of boys chose learning through discussion. Fewer than 20 percent of each gender chose reading, listening or discussing as their first choice.

In accordance with these results, some students believe that class choice is more related to interest than ability.

“In AP Programming, there are only about five girls in my class, in a class of 25 students,” sophomore Colin Asbury said.  “I think very few girls are attracted to that kind of class.  I don’t think it’s a difference in learning abilities, I just think it’s difference in preference.”

Duvall also thinks that boys and girls take different classes because they are interested in difference topics.

“Boys take more higher-level math and science classes and girls take more [higher-level] English classes,” Duvall said.

According to the CHS survey, this idea holds true. 58 percent of girls surveyed take above-level math and science classes, while 63 percent of boys do. Additionally, 71 percent of girls take above-level humanities and arts classes, while 66 percent of boys do. The difference is 5 percent in both cases.

Many methods are being developed that may be able to rectify the gap in boys’ and girls’ academic achievement.  One such method has already been employed in MCPS and at CHS: the Promethean Board.

“Having the promethean board is a good step,” Asbury said.  “It helps because teachers can show Powerpoints or videos and talk at the same time, so it works for everyone.  Some students can read while others can listen—whatever works for them.”