The gender gap in education hurts all kids. Boys are not reading as well as girls in the early grades which leads to lower graduation rates and higher participation in special education. Girls are not being encouraged in math and science which results in lack of preparation for STEM education and careers. The result for our country is higher education costs for all, higher dropout rates, and a shortage of workers for the jobs that are most in demand.
I'm not a math person.
Almost all preschool and elementary school teachers are women. Women who teach at this level can often be heard saying "I'm not a math person," or "I just don't get science." So kids grow up thinking that women don't do math or science. If we want to turn this around, female educators need to speak positively about math and science and share in the excitement of learning it with their students. In order to make this happen a great deal of professional development must be focused on building confidence in math in science in our preschool and elementary teachers. They need sustained support in becoming good at math and science in order to help their students become good at it too.
Where are all the men?
Having such overwhelming numbers of female teachers for young students means that our classrooms for this age tend to be much more "female." I know this is a very broad generalization, but anyone who has raised boys and girls understands that they move and learn a little differently. Girls tend to like to talk and socialize and usually enjoy a traditional classroom where they sit at desks. Boys like to be moving all the time, turn everything into guns, and don't generally like to sit at desks and talk. Since most elementary school teachers are women, classrooms tend to mirror the kind of learning that works for them. To reverse this we need to help teachers create classrooms that encourage movement. It would also be great to get more men into the elementary teaching ranks. In addition to helping to adjust the environment, they would be great role models for boys and girls at this age.
Wanted: new, interesting, non-fiction books.
Part of the shift to the Common Core is more informational texts at the elementary level. By the end of elementary school our kids should be reading about half non-fiction and half fiction books. The problem is that there is a shortage of interesting books that involve non-fiction, particularly for very young children. The fiction titles are exciting and engaging, while informational texts tend to be dry. These non-fiction titles do not tend to have the language rich experiences that fiction titles do. Books for this age tend to be more interesting to girls because of their literary elements. Books that might be more geared toward boys often just are not very good. So, girls don't get experience with informational texts, and boys don't get much of anything that interests them. Publishers need to alter their thinking about books for young kids. If it is not interesting, language rich and colorful, it won't get the job done. Non-fiction books need to have the same qualities as fiction books.
Wanted: new, interesting toys.
Of course toys play a big role in this problem. Girls still tend to play with "girl" toys like dolls and kitchens, while boys are busy building things and moving things. The girls get the language experiences during play while boys do things more oriented to STEM futures. There is a new toy on the block that is turning this around. Designed by a female engineer to create more female engineers, Goldiblox combine colors and language that are appealing to girls with the language experiences that are so important. More toys with a conscience and purpose need to be designed to balance play experiences for our kids.
What are you teaching your kids?
Finally, our own attitudes toward our kids must change. We encourage our girls to be princesses while our boys are urged to be tough. Girls are taught to wear tiaras and be pretty. Boys are taught to wrestle and build things and shoot things. All kids need to be encouraged to be brave and strong, yet compassionate and kind. Our world would be a better place if we could all do that.