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Joan Becker and 6 of her students.

Vol. 2, No. 2

Spring 2013

Your Source of Information for Staying Connected, the e-magazine of the Michael D. Eisner College of Education

Modifying Schools for Underachieving Boys

By Drs. Shartriya Collier, Cynthia Desrochers, and Vanessa Goodwin

Dr. Cynthia Desrochers and Dr. Vanessa Goodwin

Assistant Professor Dr. Vanessa Goodwin (left), Department of Special Education and Professor Dr. Cynthia Desrochers, InnovatED Editor

Last fall, a group of Eisner College faculty participated in a book-study group reading The Trouble with Boys (2008) by Peg Tyre. You might ask how can there be trouble with boys. Wasn’t it women who fought for the right to vote, receive equal pay, and trailblaze in previously male-dominated fields? As educators, our group-identified charge became to explore how schools prepare (or don’t), support (or don’t), and educate (or don’t adequately) boys, whose needs might be unique from girls. We asked if schools have shifted focus in curriculum, instruction, and structure in ways that impede boys’ success. Our earliest conversations included statements about boys at school as well as at home:

  • He has a short attention span and can’t sit still in class.
  • He frequently gets into trouble at school.
  • He’s often in his bedroom playing video games.

It’s likely no coincidence that our comments echoed themes in Tyre’s book.

Tyre begins the book by first examining a pendulum of male versus female equality, specifically as it relates to gender-based success in schools. She presents several statistics that highlight the academic decline of males. Her findings are supported by a recent study at CSUN that revealed how female students are now academically surpassing male students (Huber & Feyk-Miney, 2011):

  • CSUN’s student body ratio is 43% male and 57% women (near the national average). [Tyre notes that when some colleges near a 40:60 male-to-female ratio, they admit less-qualified men in order to prevent women from selecting another college with a better gender balance.]
  • Men are less likely to graduate within six years.
  • CSUN men are less likely to volunteer or do community service, participate in student clubs, or study abroad—and more likely to play video games.
  • During their senior year in high school, CSUN women were considerably more likely than CSUN males to note-take in class and revise papers to improve writing.

Not only are females taking more advanced placement courses, receiving more awards, and giving more valedictorian speeches in high school (Tyre, 6-7), but since 1992, they are also taking more science and math courses and doing better in them than boys – except for physics (Tyre, 30).

Factors Tyre Identifies as Contributing to Boys’ Underachievement in Schools

  • School Schedules and Policies

    From the early grades, boys are seen as problematic because they have difficulty sitting for long periods of time. Due to changes in curricular demands and play equipment safety issues, today’s students have limited recess compared to years past; thus, boys—and girls—are not able to play hard. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote in a policy statement: “Both recess and physical education should be provided daily to school children…. Recess is a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development….” [Retrieved January 6, 2013, from].

  • Literary Focus

    Boys and girls are often interested in different literature genres; moreover, Tyre suggests that the preponderance of female teachers influences the choice of literature in classrooms, favoring genres preferred by girls. Nevertheless, boys are more motivated to read and write about topics such as non-fiction, expository-informational, or fantasy stories. In some cases these genres involve content deemed inappropriate and even violent by teachers. Consequently, teachers may discourage boys from selecting their favorite topics and instead assign them prompts of less interest. In short, boys are entering school with a variety of literary interests that may not be supported or even frowned upon.

  • Games and Technology

    Tyre explores how technology—specifically gaming—is affecting boys socially and academically. Boys can become detached and addicted to violent video games in a pretend world to the exclusion of other activities (Tyre, Chapter 13).

  • School Personnel

    Some female teachers may hold male students accountable for feminine ideologies of correct behavior. Thompson, coauthor of Raising Cain, agrees: “Too often, the behavior of girls is the gold standard. Boys are simply treated as defective girls” (Tyre, 70). Tyre discusses female teachers who view boys’ energy levels, literacy preferences, and behavior patterns as problems; a lack of male role models may further aggravate the problems. Further, Tyre documents the roots of boys’ tuning out at school, pointing to their needs that can be easily met by schools without sacrificing the curriculum, the budget, or the success of girls.

What does this mean for K-12 Educators?

Dr. Shartriya Collier

Associate Professor Dr. Shartriya Collier, Department of Elementary Education

After reviewing Tyre and other authors, we have identified elements that boys need in order to be successful in school. As teacher educators, it is important to emphasize how teachers might modify their classroom structure and instruction to better support underachieving boys to increase their enjoyment, motivation, and, ultimately, academic success. Moreover, we conclude that each element potentially benefits boys and girls equally. We need not shift the pendulum again in order to increase success for boys at the expense of girls.

  1. Expand literacy to address more topics of interest to boys.

    Offer more boy-friendly, non-fiction topics for literacy lessons. Boys enter school with multiple literacies. Teachers must more effectively scaffold upon these literacies in the classroom. For example, video games often have extensive plots, characters with depth, and a complex vocabulary. Teachers must help boys to translate this knowledge and apply it within school contexts. Providing a variety of literature across genres will benefit students of both sexes.

  2. Take time, time, and more time.

    Allot more time to reading and writing assignments that are student-driven, allowing students to make choices, explore, and create. Schedule reading and writing activities to include frequent transitions that allow for movement.

  3. Play more.

    Playtime offers students the opportunity to exert energy; it also supports discourse skills that contribute to social and academic vocabulary development. Include play both in and out of the classroom and ensure that recess and other opportunities for creative, unstructured play are protected.

  4. Be flexible, teachers!

    Does it really improve creative thinking if students are compliant with sometimes-arbitrary rules (e.g., hands folded neatly for dismissal instead of holding—and reading—a library book with those hands) or prohibited from writing a story about a bad guy?

In sum, this is a call to action for teacher educators to explicitly teach boy-friendly strategies to all our credential candidates so that the “badly leaking pipeline” that carries boys from kindergarten to college graduation becomes as workable as the one carrying girls (Tyre, 34).


  • Huber, B. & Feyk-Miney, R. (2011, June). A profile of the first time full-time freshmen entering Cal State Northridge in fall 2010: Key findings from the CIRP freshman survey, pp. 21-22 & Tables 15-18. Retrieved October 24, 2012, from
  • Kindlon, D. & Thomson, M. (2000). Raising Cain: Protecting the emotional life of boys. New York: Random House, Inc.
  • Tyre, P. (2008). The trouble with boys: A surprising report card on our sons, their problems at school, and what parents and educators must do. New York: Crown Publishing Group.
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Dr. Cynthia Desrochers, Editor
Professor, Eisner College of Education

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