Homework Assignment for Lise Eliot: Tour Chicago schools

Neuroscientist Lise Eliot co-authors this piece in USA Today questioning the momentum behind single-sex schools. I need to start out by saying Lise Eliot is not only one the nicest people you’ll ever meet, but also one of the bravest. It wasn’t easy finding someone to debate Leonard Sax (won’t catch me doing that; he’s fierce) on this issue during the annual meeting of the National Education Writers Assn. in Chicago this spring (full disclosure: I was the moderator).

Not only is Eliot brave, but she’s generally right in questioning this surge, which is driven mostly by the academic struggles boys are having in K-12 schools. For the moment, set aside her thesis, that gender learning styles are nearly identical, and ask whether these single-sex educators are prepared for this experiment, regardless of whether their teaching strategy hinges of gender learning differences. Even Sax, the country’s biggest proponent of public single-sex education, agrees most are not.

If only Eliot had stuck with her neuroscience argument. Instead, she strayed into declaring that girls barely make better grades and boys outscore girls on standardized tests, especially high-stakes tests. Wow, I know Eliot can’t be thinking of the best indicator of academic gender differences, state exams where every child gets tested, because on those girls kick butt on both reading and math.

And surely she’s not relying on the national NAEP tests, which show huge gender gaps favoring girls in reading and tiny gaps favoring boys in math. She must be relying on the college admissions tests, such as ACT and SAT, which show boys ahead.

Quick quiz for Eliot:
1. In the ACT results just released, what percent of the test takers were female? (answer: 55%)
2. How many poor and minority girls took that test compared to poor and minority boys? (answer: ACT can’t tell you; nor can the College Board about the SAT).

Conclusion: College admissions tests are worthless for judging gender. Both the ACT and College Board agree that far more poor and minority girls than boys take their tests; they just can’t measure it.

Lise, to atone for that statement I suggest a tour of schools in your own hometown, Chicago, with this article story by crack Tribune education reporter Stephanie Banchero serving as your guide. One highlight of the tour: Gen. George Patton Elementary School, where 3rd grade girls outpace boys by 55 points. No, that’s not a misprint.

I know what you’re about to say Lise, that these gaps are all about race and poverty. Before you say it, get in your car and drive to tony Wilmette, where you’ll find this

After the tour wraps up, tell me again about how the grade gap is tiny and boys outscore girls on standardized tests.

–Guest blogger Richard Whitmire

2 Replies to “Homework Assignment for Lise Eliot: Tour Chicago schools”

  1. We’ve pulled our typical son out of public school ($25,000 per pupil funding) and have enrolled him in an all-boys Jesuit prep school.

    The prep school assigned him 2500 pages of summer reading: Angela’s Ashes, Fahrenheit 451, Last Days of Summer, A Raisin in the Sun, Angels & Demons, Guns, Germs & Steel, Book of Genesis, 1st 12 books of The Odyssey. He read every page, enjoyed (nearly) every page (I would never have put this list together for him or any other boy), and, on our trip home to see my folks, asked to go to Barnes and Noble to buy books. This is a new behavior.

    The school also sent out a warm and friendly letter from the freshman cross country coach inviting every student to come out for cross country in the two weeks before school started. Joining the team would be a good way to make new friends, the coach said; nobody would be cut, and it was fine for the boys to quit if it didn’t work out for them.

    When our son saw the letter, he said, “Do I have to do this?”

    “No,” I said.

    Then he read the letter. That night he told his dad, “I’m going to go out for cross country. It will be a good way to make new friends.”

    He is the slowest kid in the group and within a couple of days wanted to quit. We said he couldn’t quit because the coach had told them on the first day that they needed to make a two-week commitment. Then they could leave. His dad explained to him that his job, at this point, is simply to get better at running, not to be the fastest kid or even to be the second-to-slowest kid.

    The next day he ran a mile and a half without stopping and went to a local Subway with his new friends from the team. That night he told his dad he wanted to go running the next morning. Which the two of them did. His dad has been trying to get him to run for years without success. The school accomplished this feat with one letter and 3 days of cross country coaching.

    Our son has yet to set foot inside a classroom at the new school, and already he’s turning into a reader and a runner.

    Another parent told me, “The school specializes in boys.” It does.

    Our extremely well funded public school is now completely feminized. Nearly every administrator is female; most of the teachers are young, unmarried women in their 20s. If our son had enrolled in his public high school he would have spent the summer reading an Oprah book narrated by a wife whose husband is a pill.

    I read the USA Today article while we were in IL and found it supremely irritating. Lise Eliot appears to have no concept what our public schools are like now.

    They are not boy friendly.

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