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Girls get better grades than boys. Here's why

  • Academic gender gap has roots in grade school, study finds
  • The way boys behave, way they learn works against them
  • Behaviors are nothing new, but classroom dynamic is
Academic gender gap has roots in grade school, finds study

Men, we have a problem.

We're slipping. Losing our academic edge. The well-documented college gender gap is now at 14 points, with women comprising 57% of undergraduates to 43% for the guys. Also, apparently, we're becoming useless to society.

Now a new study is tracing it all back to grade school and uncovering if not a solution, at least an explanation.

Apparently gentleman, our tiny versions are a bit too fidgety and appear at times too disinterested for success in the modern elementary school classroom. A study published in the Journal of Human Resources finds that "it's because of their classroom behavior, which may lead teachers to assign girls higher grades than their male counterparts," according to a release from the University of Georgia, which co-authored the study.

Researchers point to "approaches toward learning" as the key factor here; behaviors which influence how a teacher perceives and then grades a student. One of the study's authors lists those factors as attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility and organization.

"I think that anybody who’s a parent of boys and girls can tell you that girls are more of all of that," says Christopher Cornwell, head of economics at UGA's Terry College of Business.

The research also might help explain why boys score higher on standardized tests than girls yet receive lower grades.

Now it's not like the activities and makeup of every male student has suddenly changed in recent years. The study's authors acknowledge these are not new behaviors. What has changed however, and what is contributing then to the widening academic gender gap, is the classroom itself.

Behavioral psychologist Anthony Rao explains to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that classrooms today are more invested in discussion, reading and "social cooperation," verbal functions which tend to align with how girls learn. Studies show that boys are better with more tangible approaches to learning, because more of their brain "is dedicated to spatial and mechanical functioning."

In the AJC, Rao says,"When you promote all this assessment and increasing standardization, you narrow the way you are going to teach kids, eclipsing the ways that boys learn better. You go to much less hands-on and manipulation of objects and to more sit down and lectures."

The resulting impact on grades then can greatly influence the course of a student's academic career, from elementary school through college admissions.

Read more insights and observations from Anthony Rao right here.

Follow Jonathan Anker on Twitter @JonFromHLN

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