Dr Paul Baker, Rector of Waitaki Boys' High School and a member of the Ministerial Reference Group set up two years ago to guide the Government on boys' education is speaking today to a conference on Boys' Education at Massey University Albany Campus. These are his speaking notes.
...We'll conclude today looking at how the Ministry, ERO, PPTA and Academia have responded.
Whether we know it or not, most responses to the gender gap are guided by essentialism or behaviouralism.
Essentialism believes that gender is largely biologically fixed. Therefore, rather than trying to change male behaviour we must adapt to it. Boys under-achieve because there is a mismatch between boys and schools - that some, such as Christina Hoff Summers in "The War Against Boys", take to the point of conspiracy. The essentialist motto might be: "fix the schools".
Behaviouralism or constructionalism argues that sex is biological, but gender – how different sexes think and behave, is a social construct. Their evidence is that gendered behaviours differ across cultures and time. Boys under-achieve because of an aggressive, competitive, sports-oriented hegemonic male culture inimical to academic success. They will be liberated by the promotion of diverse masculinities. The behaviouralist motto might be: "Fix the boys"
Sound familiar? It is of course the nature vs nurture debate that has raged in university common rooms for a good century. Essentialists have been the conservatives or pragmatists; behaviouralists the reformers.
Behaviouralist guru John Money severely damaged the cause by pushing it too far and claiming that someone biologically male could be raised as a female. Ministry researcher Angelique Praat was one of many behaviouralists who fell for this. Subsequently, the Canadian boy raised, with Money's guidance, as a girl insisted on a sex change and then committed suicide.
Recent advances in behavioural and genetic science favour essentialism. We now know so much more about how innate cognitive gender differences. I've summarized some of these in your conference notes.
Behaviouralism persists because its fuel is not science but politics. Behaviouralists know that the discriminatory treatment of women was grounded in essentialism. They are highly sensitized about boys' misbehaviour being blamed on mothers or female teachers, or being considered "natural". PPTA says "the discourse that calls for greater tolerance of boys' "boisterous' behaviour is at base anti-female and implies that sexual harassment and disruptive behaviour should be accepted".
Behaviouralists staunchly defend female advances and suspect that concern about boys' achievements is a Trojan horse for re-asserting male supremacy. They have no sympathy - PPTA Women's Officer Sue Shone referred to "squealing" from men when, for once, they weren't taking first place – particularly when men still get the top jobs. As one Primary Principal put it: "Despite the imbalance of power in men's favour, we are asked to bolster male achievement. I believe this is a ploy, even a conspiracy, which asks teachers to act in an inequitable manner".
Essentialism also has a lunatic fringe: disgruntled men's groups, chaps with mail order brides and John Tamihere. They regard the feminization of education as one of a list of legal, domestic, political and societal conspiracies against males who still wish to be able to leave the toilet seat up. Their views are mainly expressed in chat rooms and can't be repeated here.
Probably most of what we do as educators is an unconscious blend of essentialism and behaviouralism. Take a caution about lunchtime play "we don't mind a bit of rough and tumble but don't think you're the Incredible Hulk" . This effectively blends an essentialist understanding that most boys like physical play with a behaviouralist understanding that boys' natural instincts do need constraints. Extremes of essentialism – in which we must passively accept and cater for all masculine proclivities – and of behaviouralism – in which traditional masculinity is a disease to be controlled and cured – will get us nowhere.
Behaviouralism has dominated the institutional response to the gender gap, together with trivialization, denial and delay.
The gender gap was clear by the mid 1990's. A few brave voices started asking: why is there no response?
A Christchurch School of Medicine longitudinal study between 1982 and 1995 tested a cohort of 1265 children 18 times. At year 8 both genders had an identical average IQ but girls outperformed boys in all tests but one. In 1997 the project directors concluded that "traditional educational disadvantage of females has largely disappeared and may have been replaced by an emerging male disadvantage". They called for "more balanced treatment of gender issues…rather than an approach that focuses exclusively on perceived issues of female disadvantage".
Their research was met by skepticism and even allegations of statistical error. They were challenging the feminist triumphalism that until the late 1990's suppressed discussion of boys' issues. Bluestockings were still busy finding examples of female disadvantage. A 1997 study concluded that "research and writing about gender equity policies had been almost exclusively by women and focused on girls".
In that year literacy researcher Maureen Rutledge wrote that male under-achievement was neither new nor unique to New Zealand. "The difference here is that there is a virtual silence on the issue, not only from the media and the public but from the education research community and the government".
In 1998 an article said: "talking with teachers it seems that there is much anecdotal evidence that girls outperform boys", and another reported that many schools have awoken to the gap "but in the absence of the government coming to the rescue schools are having to find their own solutions, or look abroad to Australia, where research is well advanced". The Vice-president of the Secondary Principals' Association, said "I find it quite disturbing that this issue is well down the track and we are muddling around". The principal of Whangarei High added "The Ministry of Education is doing nothing".
That 1998 article could have been written yesterday.
New Zealand's belated institutional response, a decade after the gap emerged, was kickstarted by ERO's pioneering 1999 report The Achievement of Boys, which lectured that "The obligation to provide equal educational opportunities for boys is implicit in the NEGS and the government may need to consider whether there should be stronger requirements for schools to assess and address the achievement of boys". It recommended different teaching styles and single sex groupings. Fix the schools!
An unprecedented second report, Promoting Boys' Achievement was issued in 2000: It was based on analysis of 1999 ERO reviews. Eighty per cent of schools showed some awareness of the gender gap but only 11 per cent were convincingly responding.
The behaviouralist riposte was not long coming. From academia, Noelene Wright considered ERO reactionary for not locating the causes of under-achievement at its source, masculinity. Fix the boys!
From the Ministry, senior researcher Lynne Whitney said that rather than focussing on gaps it was "more helpful…to look at areas of relative strength….for example….boys still out-rate girls at measurement based tasks".
The debate was on. Half of the National Library's indexed articles on boys' education are from just two years, 1999 and 2000.
In 2001the Ministry fought back with a substantial literature review, Explaining and Addressing Gender Differences in the New Zealand Compulsory School Sector. Although, 'prompted, in part, by the widespread concern about the performance of boys in education' it always carefully balanced their interests with those of girls. It partly attributed male underachievement to some subjects being seen as "girls' subjects", which was barking up entirely the wrong tree, as our analysis shows that the gender gap grew most in traditional boys' subjects. It continually demeaned gender differences by positing them alongside greater ethnic and socio-economic differences. It rejected the notion of feminization of the classroom (as advanced by 'popular discourses') and, on the flimsiest of evidence, concluded that single sex schooling and the gender of teachers were not relevant.
Ministry of Education
The review was summarised on a Ministry website
The Ministry's gender Bible was outdated even on publication. For example it cited seven items of overseas research to prove harassment of girls in co-ed science classrooms. Six were from the 1980s. A Mathematics section cited evidence back to 1974.
Nevertheless, from the Ministry's point of view this publication seemed to have put the matter to rest. More recent Ministry publications have made occasional references to gender or ignored it.
In 2003 the Association of Boys' Schools lobbied Education Minister Trevor Mallard for more action on boys' achievement. At this conference two years ago Mallard announced new initiatives to include a reference group to guide the Ministry, "a literature review to establish where there are gaps in the current evidence base related to boys' education and to identify programmes resulting in improved achievement of boys....I anticipate that we will have some clearer evidence as to what is working in terms of boys' achievement in schools towards the end of the year". .
The reference group has met four times, and at one of these meetings the chairperson was lost to a tennis ball. There was no evidence that in between meetings the Ministry did any work at all. Trevor Mallard said one advantage of NCEA was that we could analyze boys' achievement in much more detail. At every meeting I urged the Ministry to undertake such research. Eventually I started it myself.
Group members are left wondering whether the whole exercise was a sham to defuse a potentially hot topic before an election. I'm told that boys' education may not be on the new Minister's agenda, which is a bit cute, as it is also absent from the Briefing for the new minister which is the Ministry's opportunity to shape his agenda. In that briefing boys are mentioned in passing in relation to obesity (less than girls) leaving without qualifications (more) retention (lower) attitude (similar) and reading and maths literacy (lower). Nowhere is boys' education posited as an issue. It is not mentioned in current work or priorities for improvement.
Until this month the new Minister of Education, Steve Maharey, appears to have made no comment on gender issues. I wrote to him three weeks ago seeking his views and have not had a reply. His reported response to this year's NCEA figures was that
* research was continuing (what research?)
* parents had a part to play (what guidance have they had?).
* schools were doing their bit (nice wartime rhetoric, but what does the Ministry know of what is happening in schools; it could not even tell me which co-ed schools have boys-only classes)
Steve Benson from the Ministry is speaking tomorrow. I hope he will be able to reassure us that there is substance behind these comments.
The Ministry website is a wonderful time capsule of past responses to the gender gap. Denial, trivialization, it's all there. A forgotten website? No. Last updated: 16 February 2006. The manager is Lynne Whitney, now Senior Manager, Research Division. I asked her if the site represents the Ministry's current position. She has not replied. The website remains, a symbol of the timidity and ineptitude of the Ministry's response.
The Ministry is clearly too behaviouralist to show interest in gender-specific (category 1) responses to boys' education.
However it's only fair to applaud the many gender-neutral (category 2) Ministry initiatives – Literacy, ICT, suspension reduction, Principal training, Best Evidence Synthesis, Specialist Classroom Teachers, Sports and Arts Co-ordinators, Quality Teaching Partnership Fund – that will benefit all but maybe boys more than girls.
Back to ERO. It's contribution to boys' issues seems over. The organisation that once called for schools to recognise boys' achievement now doesn't recognise it itself.
Not one of the ERO reports of the 38 schools I identified as highest and lowest achieving for boys recognizes that it is appraising schools where boys do particularly well or badly. Gender, like Trotsky, has been airbrushed out of History. For example at a Northland school where the male pass rate was the lowest in its decile, and 18 per cent behind the girls, ERO wrote that students were "confident, resilient, proud of their school and well prepared for life beyond school". Of a rural South Island school that achieved the highest NCEA pass rate of any state school in New Zealand and in which boys outperformed girls in two levels, ERO wrote that students "generally achieve as well as students in similar schools". We're all accustomed to being damned by ERO's faint praise, but is it fair to write of a Southland school where boys achieved the highest pass rates in its school, "students are generally performing well against national norms…". Or of a Waikato school where boys achieved the highest pass rates and the highest gap over girls for its decile, "most students attain a good level of achievement". ERO's perambulations around schools remind me of those visits to Soviet Russia by naïve worthies in the 1930's who wrote detailed reports that were oblivious to deeper realities. ERO's Acting Chief Executive officer has told me that ERO will only report systematically on boys if instructed to do so by the Government, which seems unlikely.
Mallard's announcements two years ago got PPTA all of a fluster. It wanted to join the Ministerial Reference Group, but also seemed threatened by it. It took the extraordinary step of posting a new web page which warned darkly of self interest from some boys' groups and listed what it claimed was a number of myths.
PPTA is good at creating and then demolishing "myths". National President Debbie Te Whaiti states "There's no conclusive evidence that all boys will do better at single sex schools". Past Auckland Chair Martin Henry said "it is no good saying that boys can only succeed in all male schools". I challenge them to cite one person who has claimed that!
Having denied a problem with boys' achievement the website then proceeds to give a classic fix the boys! behaviouralist analysis. "Boys socialization and experience continues to prepare them for a world that does not exist any more", and while sport is valued over academic achievement "nothing will change". It calls for a "boys can do anything" campaign.
PPTA ideologues have declared class warfare on essentialism. A 2002 conference paper recommended "adoption of gender inclusive practice requiring a rejection of the false duality of essentialism" – treat boys and girls the same because that's what they are.
A draft by the Ministerial Reference group included, as factors promoting male achievement: loyalty, pride in school, co-curricular activities and defined boundaries. In its submission to the Reference Group," PPTA wanted these "essentialist" elements deleted, in the interests of "taking a broad view".
PPTA sees nothing wrong with an overwhelmingly female teaching profession. "Study exposes gender myths", trumpets a recent PPTA headline about Australian research claiming that students are equally motivated by teachers of each gender. How can an organization that claims that gender is socially constructed, then oppose calls for more male role models? That's an inconsistency at the heart of PPTA policy. Here's another: although endorsing all female staffrooms, PPTA totally opposes all-male classes or schools.
A recent PPTA Gender Education Paper listed problems surrounding boys in schools. The list does not include academic achievement! The paper urges that tackling boys' problems "is in the interest of women members as issues to do with harassment, gendered curriculum and the position of women teachers cannot be tackled otherwise".
I could go on. PPTA's position is ideological, monocausual and protectionist. It lacks consistency and credibility. PPTA isn't part of the solution, it's part of the problem.
To another website, and to more trivialization and denial. The New Zealand Council of Educational Research, no less, says "There are problems for some boys and some girls in terms of their engagement and involvement in schooling". Indeed. At Auschwitz some Jews and some Gentiles died. The website adds that "academic achievement is generally unaffected by whether the school is co-educational or single sex", a curiously uninformed assertion for a research organisation.
The website lists 209 items of research. Not one is about boys or gender. The current research team of 12 women and two men have 37 current research projects, none related to gender. A leading researcher recently told me that boys' issues are no longer popular with researchers or publishers.
If George Orwell read these websites he'd have a fit. The main educational institutions of this country are so beholden to their feminist constituencies that they just can't admit the truth. They can't come out and say: there is a significant and growing gender gap favouring girls. Those honest words just stick too much in their ideological gullet.
I'll conclude today with a brief outline of some recent research on boys' education, its strengths and limitations. My emphasis today has been macro –I like to see the big picture – but most research has been micro, on aspects of male motivation, which ultimately is the key to unlocking male potential.
The Christchurch longitudinal study found that males were more prone to inattention and misbehaviour, and when that was controlled for, there was no gender gap. Boys underachieve because they misbehave.
Regression analysis may have established a relationship but it can't show how it works. It's equally likely that some boys, at least, misbehave because they underachieve.
Roy Nash also sensed illogic in the Christchurch conclusion. If misbehaviour causes under-achievement, he asked, do boys misbehave more in English? (I put this to an English teacher, and the answer was an emphatic yes).
Nash surveyed the career ambitions of Year 9 students and concluded that boys do worse at school because their ambitions are low, unrealistic, and shaped by hegemonic masculinity. Far more boys dream of futures in sport or the police or the armed forces than will actually make it.
Nash may be reading much into ambitions at a level where they are generally unformed and bear little relation to motivation. However it may be significant that even at that age more females than males planned Tertiary Education.
Whangarei Boys found that under-achieving boys were more likely to buy their lunch, do less homework, own a car and have a job. However, as with the Christchurch study, a relationship was established, but not causuality.
Via a detailed questionnaire on NCEA, Gavin Leighton found girls more likely to attribute outcomes to intrinsic factors such as effort; boys to extrinsic factors such as teaching. Boys thought they had less control over their learning, but nevertheless approached tasks with more brio.
In her tour around boys' schools, organized by the Association of Boys' Schools of New Zealand, Celia found seven challenges facing New Zealand boys:
Blending essentialism and behaviouralism, Celia wished to help schools find and promote those male attributes that were the solution to these challenges. She asked "what are the attributes of a good man"
She ended up with a rather unmanageable list of 46 characteristics, of which three stood out.
Quite a few boys' schools have used Celia and her work to promote more positive masculinities in their schools.
Of current research I'm aware of, Graeme Ferguson is investigating the behaviouralist belief that certain types of masculinity are inimical to learning. Through interview and observation he hopes to discern even the smallest reactions of six year old boys to learning. Michael Irwin is currently taking a more essentialist view and investigating the conditions in schools most conducive to male motivation, from pastoral care to timetable.
At this conference two years ago we thought the Minister had kick-started some genuine action on boys' education, but he hadn't. The Ministry needs to undertake the promised literature review so we can all benefit from the good research that is being undertaken. And we need a lot more research. Five years ago we were five years behind our friends across the ditch. Now it's more like ten. It's time to start again.
1. The Level 1 gender gap is significant and has existed since 1993.
2. The Level 3 gap is larger than Level 1, larger than normally reported, and still growing.
3. The gender gap is subject based, and influenced by how we choose to construct subjects, teach and assess them.
4. The gap reflects and may contribute to changing gender patterns in tertiary education and employment.
5. The gap is not connected to race, class or rurality.
6. There is a crisis in the gender composition of the primary work force and a potential crisis at secondary level. But teachers who connect with maleness may be as valuable as teachers who are male.
7. Boys' schools or classes have particular advantages in meeting male needs.
8. Most co-ed schools are doing little to specifically target boys' needs, but boys can thrive in co-ed schools that are well run.
9. New Zealand's institutional response to the gap has been one of denial, delay and trivialization.
10. There are no simple solutions, but there are complex, multi-layered solutions.
* * *
WAITAKI BOYS' HIGH SCHOOL
We are a decile six school of 550 students that does not enrol selectively and basically is the high school for non-Catholic boys of North Otago. There is a hostel of 120 students, who are of good character but average academic ability. The school traditionally under-performed in external examinations. In 2003 the school's NCEA results were well above the Decile Six and national averages; in 2004 they were spectacularly above, the highlight being an 87 per cent Level Two pass rate. In 2005 the results, averaged, improved again. At the same time the school came 6th nationally in Basketball and in Softball, won local Rugby and Soccer tournaments and boasted six choirs, the largest attracting a quarter of the roll.
STRATEGIES FOR PROMOTING BOYS' ACHIEVEMENT
By the school:
1. Traditional values: honesty, reliability, tolerance, industry, integrity, initiative.
2. Clearly communicated and consistently applied standards of behaviour, with set disciplinary and pastoral consequences for misbehaviour.
3. Students encouraged to take responsibility for their behaviour (Glasser Model). Works with students at risk to improve their behaviour and to learn and grow from mistakes.
4. Holistic education: recognition and reward for academic, cultural, social and sporting effort and achievement using a variety of hierarchical reward systems.
5. A wide variety of contact and non contact sports (bowls, croquet and fencing all recently added). Students encouraged to find the right sport.
6. Boy-friendly opportunities for mass participation in orchestral and choral music, drama, dance, debating, theatresports, social service, library, auditorium and canteen service.
7. Through courses, activities, speakers, ideas, and the use of school leadership positions diverse models of masculinity presented and affirmed.
8. Systems that are responsive to individual problems. Targeted guidance programmes for self-handicapping behaviours, social skills, smoking, anger management, communication skills, learning difficulties etc, including Rock and Water Programme and Brooklyn project.
9. Opportunities for curricular and co-curricular contact with girls.
10. Women seen in positions of power (rather than simply menial or nurturing roles) and in "non-traditional" roles i.e. First XV management.
11. Senior students as peer-mentors for juniors, particularly in reading.
12. House competition used to motivate boys to participate widely in co-curricular activities, especially cultural, with weekly events.
13. Student leaders trained in the responsible use of power, and used them as role models – all prefects must sing in the choir, deliver a book review to assembly and participate in the 20 Hour Run.
14. Student ownership of school programmes and policies encouraged.
15. Tradition valued. (Cornelius Riordan talks of 'The romance of tradition by which boys are led to value and defer to the triumphs and failures which make up the history of their institution.') Events, ceremonies and rituals and hundreds photographs that involve every student, foster their identity and loyalty, and turn the school into a community.
16. A tutor group system that ensures that every student is known well by at least one teacher.
17. Student safety ensured. Vigilant for bullying and harassment, effective response if they do occur, and positive interactions between all in the school community modelled and promoted (Garbarino says this makes a school safe, not a "zero tolerance for bullying policy").
18. A uniform that promotes common identity and is worn well but permits small permutations to reflect seniority or achievement.
19. Modelling by school leadership of good teaching practice. School-wide learning activities that explore and express values.
20. The positive influence of fathers harnessed and encouraged. Fathers expected to attend school functions.
21. Participation and striving for excellence encouraged via competitions (Anzac Service poem Photography, Talent quest, Iron man, Speech, Mastermind.)
22. Healthy eating promoted.
23. Special Needs students integrated with others in all school activities.
24. Curriculum related learning has primacy over all other activities.
25. Reading promoted, with weekly assembly book reviews and advertisements for new books, daily silent reading and staff Literacy PD.
26. ICT-rich learning environment.
27. Streaming, special courses, programmes and targeted assistance for boys who are gifted or have special learning needs.
28. Vocational Education. Pathways for boys between education and work, flexible opportunities or work experience, and relevant learning contexts.
29. A six period school day: shorter periods benefit boys.
30. Total silence and hard work in the supervised senior study room.
31. Homework set meaningfully and regularly, checked by staff, with lunchtime detention for non-completion.
By the teacher:
32. In control. Has set entry, exit routines; a seating plan with educational rationale. Clear, non-negotiable behavioural boundaries. Is fair and consistent. No favourites.
33. Accepts responsibility for student learning. Does not let students choose whether to succeed or fail. Gives every student the opportunity for genuine success ("personal best") at a level realistic to their abilities.
34. Treats boys with respect; eschews 'role' and communicates with them genuinely and sincerely as if they are adults. Does not humiliate.
35. Encourages, praises, ("It takes nine acts of praise to counter a single negative comment") tolerates, admits when he/she is wrong. Is relentlessly positive. Creates a co-operative learning culture which defuses "fear of failure" and consequent self-handicapping. Discreetly targets popular or image-making boys to ensure they act as good role models.
36. Exercises "relaxed control". Lively and good-humoured, robust teaching. Kids and joshes. (A sense of humour is the single most valuable attribute in a teacher of boys). Knows how to 'defuse' situations and handle difficult boys. Fun, optimism, positivity.
37. Is responsiveness to individual personalities. (Russell Bishop of Waikato University finds that rapport between teacher and student the key determinant of a student's learning, particularly for Maori students). Is empathetic. Knows that boys are far more sensitive than they are prepared to show.
38. Treats the class as a team. Gives 'the team' some choice in and ownership over class behavioural and learning issues. Students participate in lesson goal setting and evaluation. Challenges the class – intellectual or practical, large ("I've struggled with this. I wonder if you…") and small ("Bet I can do this before you").
39. Doesn't talk too much. Resists temptation to be the 'sage on the stage'Promotes active rather than passive learning. Students learn how to learn. Fosters Critical Thinking Skills: gently demands logical and analytical thinking.
40. Uses boy-friendly resources, with visual construction of concepts, not overly reliant on text.
41. Promotes interactive learning, particularly through pair/share and ICT, and kinesthetic learning: plenty of movement, action, and 'hands-on', experiential learning.
42. Ensures curriculum is relevant to students' current and future lives. (Martin says educators need to "stay abreast of popular culture, information technology, world events and students' lives".)
43. Regularly checks student work for quality, completion and organization. Provides exemplars from other students. Is supportive of students who lack personal organization and can quickly give up. Insists on students having 'learning kit'
44. "Chunking" of lesson and learning activities, each with goal and time frame; manufactures a series of new "starts" during the lesson. ("Hawkes says "the discerning teacher is often able to disguise an open-ended task by turning it into a series of closed tasks").
45. "Chunking" of long term open-ended assignments, with target dates for sections that enable teacher to respond to laggards. Boys need scaffolding for everything. Insists that a deadline is a deadline. Insists on punctuality. Insists on the same things that an employer will insist on.
46. Is aware of student literacy levels, uses appropriate materials, whatever the subject, helps students with literacy strategies, and engages student interest in what is being read. Values the narrative/analytical as well as the emotional/imaginative.
47. Teaches students how to study.
48. Constant formative assessment of class and individuals. Where are we at, where do we need to be at, what do we know, what do we still need to know?
49. Extensive whole staff PD on the education and welfare of boys.
50. Staff ownership of the ten School Pedagogical Goals, using these as a basis for all appraisal and for a robust, well resourced, skilled and non-judgemental mentoring programme that supports teachers progress towards mastery of the Pedagogical Goals. Each year all staff are mentored on one goal and some staff are mentored on all goals.
TEACHER MENTORING PROGRAMME AT WAITAKI BOYS' HIGH SCHOOL
1. There are five Teacher Mentors:
* A part-time teacher, primary trained, employed primarily as a mentor (team leader)
* The Guidance Counsellor, an advanced NLP practitioner
* An RTLB
* The Deputy Rector
* The HOD History who is also the school's Specialist Teacher
There are also three ICT mentors.
The Teacher Mentoring team has a combined time allowance for mentoring of one full time position. The ICT Mentoring team has a combined time allowance
Dr Paul Baker, Rector of Waitaki Boys' High School and a member of the Ministerial Reference Group set up two years ago to guide the Government on boys' education is speaking today to a conference on Boys' Education at Massey University Albany Campus. These are his speaking notes.