Underlying Causes of Education Graduation Gaps

Well, at least mainstream sources are starting to recognize this problem, as does Linda Borg for her Providence Journal article on graduation rates in Rhode Island

A surprising finding is the eight-point gap between the sexes — with girls graduating at 88.2 percent while boys graduate at only 80.3 percent.

“We don’t want to see that,” [Deputy Education Commissioner Mary Ann] Snider said. “It’s concerning. It’s consistent with the gaps in academic achievement” between the sexes.

Snider said the gap may be because traditional classrooms are designed to accommodate girls more than boys, who perhaps would do better with more hands-on learning.

Here, I’ll insert the obligatory reminder that our left-wing Democrat governor, Gina Raimondo, hosts an annual contest for school children from which boys are excluded.

However, the detailed data that the state has made available through an interactive tool is much more interesting and might start to shed some light on what’s really going on.  For one thing, that eight-point gap between girls and boys overall isn’t evenly distributed across the state.  In suburban schools, it’s only about five points, while in the urban ring, it’s 10, and in the urban core, it’s over 11.  It would appear that one of two things is happening:

  • Boys, generally, face a five-point deficit, and the realities of urban life add another five points.
  • The problems that our current public school system is having with boys across the board are amplified by conditions within urban areas.

A look at the cross sections of girls and boys suggests that it’s probably a bit of both.  Girls drop about five points when one moves from the suburbs to the urban ring and a full 12 points from the suburbs to the urban core.  Boys, on the other hand, drop 10 points from the suburbs to the urban ring, with more than an 18 point gap from the suburbs to the urban core.  The gap between urban core boys and suburban girls is more than 23 points!

Without more-detailed data (breaking down students by race and sex, for example, rather than one or the other) it’s difficult to make grand conclusions, but the numbers don’t exactly undermine the theory that racial differences are more a reflection of other factors that correlate with race than actual racism.  In the urban core, white students actually have a worse graduation rate than black students, with Hispanic students a little lower.  In the urban ring, black and white students are pretty close, with Hispanic students lower by about the same gap as in the core.  In the suburbs, however, the gap from white to black is nine points, with Hispanics’ doing a little better than black students.

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The racism theory would have to hold that the suburbs are racist against all minorities, while the urban core is more racist against whites and Hispanics and the urban ring is only racist against Hispanics.

Most instructive is the lesson we can learn from reactions to these different gaps.  Ms. Snider is willing to speculate about the ways in which classrooms might currently be designed for the benefit of girls, who have clear differences from boys.  When it comes to the racial gaps, we’re not allowed to talk about observable differences and cultural challenges, so the story falls back on simply needing more taxpayer dollars, mainly for the undeniable problem of students who don’t speak English very well.

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