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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How America’s Boys Become Psychological Dropouts

By Shane J. Lopez and Valerie J. Calderon

America is failing our boys. Today’s boys have lower aspirations for higher education than girls. While the disparity in interest in earning a degree appears when men and women are in their 20s, the problem may start as early as the fifth grade -- where more boys than girls become psychological dropouts.

Psychological dropouts are students who lose involvement in and enthusiasm for school. The number of psychological dropouts grows as students climb the K-12 ladder. At Gallup, we first discovered this through our Gallup Student Poll, an online measure of student opinions and characteristics associated with success and happiness. Two in 10 elementary school students who participated in the 2012 poll are not engaged or are actively disengaged with school. By middle school, it rises to about four in 10 students. And by high school, nearly six in 10 students are less than engaged.

Disengagement is clearly a problem for both boys and girls in American schools. But, Gallup Student Poll data suggest that boys have a weaker emotional connection with school as early as fifth grade. More than one in four boys are not engaged or actively disengaged in fifth grade compared with one in five girls. This engagement gap persists, but narrows throughout middle school. Then, in high school, school engagement for boys is about the same as girls. One interpretation of this finding could be that high schools re-engage boys in education. Closer inspection suggests that more girls become psychological dropouts with each passing year and they eventually match the disengagement of boys.

How do boys become psychological dropouts? The engagement items on the Gallup Student Poll start to tell the story. Boys have higher disengagement rates because they are less likely than girls:

  • to receive praise and recognition for good schoolwork
  • to consider school important
  • to do what they do best every day
Given these findings, we could attribute the engagement gap to our school systems’ failure to meet young boys’ psychological needs for praise and meaning. We have essentially made school a place where boys don’t want to be.

Student engagement drives school outcomes. Psychological dropouts then become real dropouts. Disengagement puts boys and girls at an academic disadvantage. Educators and policymakers need to develop strategies that prevent the engagement drop for all students, and they must find ways to close the boy-girl engagement gap during these important years. What can we do? Sure, we could tailor our efforts to boys, or girls, but we believe that strong, universally applied engagement strategies could do the job more effectively. Let’s inspire engagement by:

Creating appropriate praise and recognition programs at school and home. Not every kid will get a trophy. But, every boy and girl needs to receive acknowledgment and celebration for the good work they are doing in school and for the unique contributions they make to their learning community. For tips on what works, read Carol Dweck’s Mindset.

Linking schoolwork to a student’s future plans. This will help make their daily attendance more rewarding. No one likes to work on stuff that doesn’t matter and toward goals they don’t find worthwhile. Make school relevant. Make the future come alive today for kids. For more perspective on this topic, take a look at Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World.

Indulging students with opportunities to do what they do best. Knowing and using your innate talents -- strengths -- creates meaning. Focus on identifying what is right with students, and then help them understand how to use their strengths to do what they do best. Strengths development leads to hope and engagement. And these key factors drive their grades, retention, and future employment. For more research, visit Gallup Education.

Keep this finding in mind -- more than one in four boys are psychological dropouts in the fifth grade. Girls are faring just a bit better. It is time we prioritize the student experience in middle and high school. It is time we become wholly dissatisfied with students’ escalating disengagement with school. Let’s figure out how to reach these children emotionally and academically.

Gallup Student Poll Methodology
Gallup offers its annual Gallup Student Poll at no cost to public schools and districts in the United States. The online poll is completed by a convenience sample of schools and districts each fall. Gallup randomly selects the schools participating. These schools are not given any incentives beyond receipt of school-specific data. Participation rates vary by school. Gallup conducts the poll during a designated survey period and available during school hours Tuesday through Friday only. Gallup administers the Gallup Student Poll to students in grades five through 12. In 2012, 479,439 students in U.S. schools participated in the Gallup Student Poll. The primary application of the Gallup Student Poll is as a measure of non-cognitive metrics that predicts student success in academic and other youth development settings.


Anonymous said...
October 27, 2013 at 2:15 PM  

Junior high schools, high schools, community colleges, state as well as private universities in fact all forms of classroom education are now completely obsolete. Further, the day-to-day experience of most students is more akin to doing time in prison than improving oneself through the progressive assimilation of knowledge. All classroom education – both public and private – is all a colossal waste of time, energy, money and human potential.

For a fraction of what we now spend on an ineffective, bloated bureaucracy masquerading as an education system, every U.S. citizen could learn anything they want, at their own pace, without having to drive or live miles away from their home, without going into debt and without suffering through boring lectures that are more of a boost for the professors’ (or graduate assistants’) egos than a learning experience for the student.

Five numbers every American needs to know…

Total amount of currently outstanding student loan debt guaranteed by the Federal government: Over $1 trillion

Total annual budget of the United States Department of Education: About $100 billion

Total amount of capital investment necessary to create an online university-level course starting from scratch: About $200,000

Total number of university level courses (by subject) including all graduate programs: About 5,000

Total one-time investment necessary to put all university level courses online and available for free to every U.S. citizen in an accredited, degree-earning format: $1 billion

Yes, for about one percent of the annual budget of the U.S. Department of Education, every U.S. citizen could take any course and earn any degree (bachelors, masters and doctorate) that his or her time, effort and commitment would allow… all without incurring one cent of student loan debt.

Not only that… but by centralizing the content creation and decentralizing the content delivery, every U.S. citizen could have the advantage of experiencing the very best lecturers, thinkers and educators from the very best schools - all in the comfort and convenience of his or her own home, office or favorite wireless location.

Not only that… but by using the tools of the information age (interactive charts, graphs, videos, tests, etc), these online courses could be the most interesting, engaging, inspiring and efficient courses ever created. There is simply no comparison between what is now possible versus the 18th Century classroom model. And, yes, in terms of cost savings, safety and the quality of the product, the same dynamics hold true for primary and secondary education as well.

You want to balance these budgets both state and federal? You want a highly educated work force? You want to relieve parents of the burden of paying for college degrees? You want to relieve young families of the burden of tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt?

Then allocate just one percent of the annual budget of the Department of Education to create the United States Academy of Technology; put every course, every major, every bachelor, every masters, every doctorate online for free and let every U.S. citizen learn as much and excel as far and as fast as he or she can.

We have the technology, the talent and the dollars available to do this - and do it excellently - right now.

"A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest." --Thomas Jefferson

Sooner or later, some nation will give up its attachment to the traditional education model – visualize outside the box for just a moment – and realize that there is an enormous competitive advantage to be gained - as well as a fortune of money to be saved - by undertaking the initial expense to put all human knowledge online and make it available to its citizens in an accredited, degree-earning format. In less than a year, the United States could be that nation.

Anonymous said...
November 13, 2013 at 8:44 AM  

^^This. Current pedgogical thinking is oriented towards group think, institutional assimilation, and instruction at the lowest common denominator. After three years in one of the top school districts in the country in Northern VA, we have decided to home school our son and daughter. Both of them are thriving! Going to school is now a distant bad memory for our children.

Anonymous said...
November 13, 2013 at 6:41 PM  


Great stuff! You should write an e-book out of your theory. Then, send the book to every politician that represents you in government. You can make some money off of the e-book as well. A win-win for everyone!

Anonymous said...
November 14, 2013 at 10:57 AM  

Sounds like that comment may have come from an insider to the educational system. Too bad they feel the need to remain anonymous......

Anonymous said...
November 14, 2013 at 11:30 AM  

Your overview & suggestions are right on the money.I only hope someone in the Government takes your idea and calls you to arrange a NEW LOOK at EDUCATION=

Anonymous said...
November 14, 2013 at 2:55 PM  

The government pays for public education to create good citizens which includes employed adults. So it is time to change the curriculum so it is focused on the skills needed to succeed in a work environment. Beginning in 7th grade micro jobs and other real work can be incorporated. Students can get real supervisory experience. In an extension of what is already available, eliminate 11th and 12th grade from high school and have all those students attend a community college so they leave with both a high school diploma and a 2 year degree and/or certificate. This will make school more meaningful and create a large pool of skilled people ready for the workforce.

Anonymous said...
November 14, 2013 at 3:04 PM  

In Canada, same problem because equal performance is
not mandated by laws in the country, therefore there is no incentive for teachers to care the slightest about the declining academic performance of males.

ishtar said...
November 15, 2013 at 12:17 AM  

Wow. I wish we could make that work in SA

Anonymous said...
November 20, 2013 at 9:35 AM  

My concern is the social connection, the face to face meeting each other everyday, as opposed to the texting and email, no social contact required. I think you are bringing on isolation to the individuals, which will result in greater addiction and recovery later in life.

Joel Fay said...
November 23, 2013 at 8:28 AM  

It was curious in the early 2000’s when our kids graduated from high school--90% of the top students were females. The lack of male scholastic achievement was obvious, and I suspect it’s a gender strengths issue.

In the 1990s schools shifted to more cooperative learning techniques. Kids would work together in groups. Teachers served more as facilitators. Kids were encouraged to talk more, and teach each other.

I suspect this change in teaching philosophy played more to the strengths of girls in our society who tend to be more verbal and cooperative.

Guys who might have thrived on competition were now in an environment where success required them to be cooperative talkers. And from what I’ve seen, cooperation’s not a strength for most guys from the onset of puberty (near 4th/5th grade.) Yet, give them an opportunity to compete--and they become engaged.

Changing teaching techniques to improve results is good. Do what works. But we need to be careful to focus on the strengths of each kid to improve their ability to succeed in our culture--without the unintended consequences of suppressing our kid’s desire to learn.

Middle Years Guy said...
November 24, 2013 at 1:48 PM  

Kids of all ages and gender in North America are "disengaged from our schools" and dropping out at extreme rates (25 to 30%). A business man who lost 30% of his customers would be out of business. Boys are an easier target as they are less compliant than our girls, they take more risks with their thinking, and they are less likely to care about pleasing their teachers/parents. Today's curriculum is irrelevant (Common Core.....again) because, once again, it is controlled by those above and the students (boys and girls) have little voice in not only what they learn, but how they are taught, and how they demonstrate their learning. Until we invite these bright young minds to the table, we will continue to lose them. This is a serious problem for everyone in North America especially as we continue to lose ground to China, India and others who are more than willing to take our place at the top.

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