Friday, May 08, 2009

America’s reading gender gap

The good news is that reading scores for 9 and 13-year-olds are the highest ever according to results released this week from the 2008 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The bad news is that boys trail girls in reading performance at all age levels. The gap at age 9 is 8 points, at age 13 is 8 points, and at age 17 is 11 points. This is not a new trend—boys have been scoring lower than girls on U.S. Department of Education reading tests for more than 30 years.

The reading gender gap spans every racial and ethnic group, and categorically finds boys underperforming girls regardless of income, disability, or English-speaking ability.

The research is clear: greater reading skills equates to greater success in school. Increasingly, it also equates to greater success in the workforce as blue-collar jobs move to low-wage countries. If we don't start to help boost our boys out of their reading slump, many of them will become unemployed adults.

Men are already taking the lead at the unemployment line. The March 2009 unemployment rate was 9.5 percent for men and 7.5 percent for women. The 2 percent male-female jobless rate gap represents a historical high.

Many boys with reading problems experience the "domino effect": They often become disinterested students, who often become behavioral problems, who often become school dropouts, who often become unemployed workers, who often become incarcerated criminals. Over 90 percent of the prisoners in America are male.

Teachers can help by understanding that boys and girls have different reading tastes. Teachers often handicap their efforts to get boys to read when they assign reading material that fails to tap into the natural interests and inclinations of boys.

One of the best ways to get boys reading is to offer them reading material that motivates them to want to read. Boys enjoy reading: nonfiction; stories with action and adventure; stories with male protagonists; and a wide variety of reading materials, including books, magazines, newspapers, how-to manuals, Web sites, comic books, and graphic novels.

Many teachers do not offer boy-friendly reading material because they view it as substandard. They believe it's better to require boys to read books that meet high literary standards, even if boys find those books unappealing. The fallacy of this line of reasoning lies in the results:many boys are poor readers.

The consequences of creating future generations of boys who hate to read are far worse than the consequences of succumbing to the natural reading interests of boys. The first priority should be to get boys excited about reading so they will become lifelong readers. Broadening their literary palates comes second.

When boys like what they read in school, they're more likely to continue reading and transition to increasingly sophisticated material. When they don't like what they read in school, they're more likely to discontinue reading and miss out on a primary resource for lifelong learning.


A fifth of British 11-year-olds with poor maths skills, say MPs

One in five children leaves primary school with a poor grasp of maths, despite £2.3 billion spent teaching the subject, MPs warned

According to a report, around 30,000 pupils started secondary school last year with the maths skills of a seven year old. The Commons Public Accounts Committee branded the results "disgraceful" and said Labour's numeracy strategy had stalled. MPs warned that many young people would need "expensive" remedial lessons in later life to get a job - posing major problems for the economy.

The findings come just months after Ofsted claimed almost half of maths lessons in English schools were not good enough. It said many teachers relied on textbooks and mundane exercises to make sure pupils passed exams at the expense of a proper understanding of the subject.

MPs backed the conclusions, saying too many pupils found lessons "boring". They insisted improvements had been made under Labour but achievement had "levelled off" in recent years.

Edward Leigh, the committee's Conservative chairman, said: "It is disgraceful that over one fifth of all primary school children reach the end of their primary education without a secure grasp of basic mathematical skills. This can have serious long-term consequences: for many then continue through secondary school without acquiring basic numeracy skills, impairing their chances in life and leaving them later in need of expensive remedial education."

Children are assessed by teachers in the classroom at the age of seven, before being given more formal Sats tests aged 11. At the age of seven, they are expected to reach "Level 2", meaning they can count up to 100 and carry out simple calculations. By 11, the average pupil is expected to get to "Level 4", meaning they can understand fractions, solve problems involving ratios, use decimal points and double or halve any two-digit number.

In 2008, 79 per cent of pupils met the Government's expected standard at the end of primary school, well short of the 85 per cent target set for 2006. Around five per cent moved to secondary school with the maths skills of a seven-year-old, said the committee.

In 2006/07, £2.3 billion was spent teaching the subject, an average cost of £570 per pupil. It equates to around a quarter of the £10 billion total budget for primary teaching and support staff.

The report said the Department for Children, Schools and Families needed to "radically re-think its strategy for improving pupil attainment, otherwise we seriously doubt that the department will meet its 2011 target". The target demands that 84.5 per cent of pupils will make the necessary progress between seven and 11.

Last year, the DCSF published a major review of maths education in England to boost standards. It called for a maths specialist in every primary school within 10 years and more emphasis on mathematical "play" in nursery schools.

But Mr Leigh said: "The department's 10 year programme to train 13,000 specialist maths teachers will not benefit some primary schools for another decade. That's far too long; the department needs to look for ways to accelerate the programme."

Sarah McCarthy Fry, the Schools Minister, said: "Last year, over 100,000 more children achieved a Level 4 in their maths at the age of 11 than in 1997. This is a tremendous achievement, of which our pupils and teachers should be rightly proud." She added: "We have already accepted the main recommendation from a recent independent review of primary maths that every school should have a specialist maths teacher and have pledged £24 million over the next three years for a training programme for teachers."

Nick Gibb, the Tory shadow schools secretary, said: "The Government is not getting value for the money they have piled into education and the country is falling behind in international league tables as a result. The Government has failed to grasp the nettle and replace methods of teaching which have failed with tried and tested methods used in countries that have much higher levels of maths achievement."


Australia: Strange priorities at a large Melbourne university

Victoria University is axing foreign languages for remedial English. Given the ever-sagging standards in primary and secondary schools throughout the Anglosphere, the expanding need for remedial English teaching is understandable (even Harvard teaches remedial English) but what benefit is Vietnamese language teaching supposed to bring? Can there be any doubt that major European languages are culturally more important? Cutting Chinese is understandable, if regrettable, though. It is just too hard for most native speakers of English.

Victoria university is a cobbled-together set of former technical colleges -- not to be confused with the much more distinguished New Zealand university of the same name

VICTORIA University has dropped all its language courses except Vietnamese, while intensifying remedial English courses for which students are clamouring. Members of Melbourne's Chinese community demonstrated yesterday outside the university's Footscray campus against the decision to stop teaching Chinese language. "We need more and more people familiar with Chinese language and culture, so this move almost beggars belief," said the president of the Victorian chapter of the Chinese Community Council, Stanley Chiang.

Victoria University's Vice-Chancellor, Elizabeth Harman, defended the move, which she said was in response to student demand. "Victoria University's first priority is to the communities we serve, which are ethnically diverse and multilingual with more than 40 per cent of our students from non-English-speaking backgrounds," she said. "Our community is telling us that they want English language programs that help them through their courses of study. Over recent years, relatively few of them have expressed a demand for the (foreign) language courses that we have been teaching."

A university spokeswoman said the decision to intensify the teaching of English was based on the results of student surveys. Some Australian-born students were still lacking English proficiency after receiving university places.

Chinese had been axed, she said, substantially because of the dwindling numbers. While 36 were enrolled for the first year, just five were studying the subject in the third year. "This is not a course that students want to do," the spokeswoman said. Ms Harman said no student would be disadvantaged as a result of the decision not to teach Chinese. She said students who wished to study Chinese, and other languages, could undertake those studies at the University of Melbourne, where there would be more places available.

Victoria University is reducing its language courses to a single language, Vietnamese, which Ms Harman said "is an important community language in the west" of Melbourne. [So why do you need to teach it??]

Dr Chiang said the council would lobby federal and state ministers to reverse the decision. "We understand fully that in these economic times the university might have to rationalise and reconsider where to place their emphasis," he said. "But we would have thought that as China's economy becomes more and more important to us, that Chinese language teaching would be the last thing to cut."


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