Discipline in Education: A Matter of Gender?

June 22, 2016
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Boys Bear the Brunt of School Discipline

Early behavioral problems more negatively impact high school and college completion rates for boys than girls.

by Lauren Camera | Education Reporter | U.S.News & World Report

The way schools respond to boys’ behaviors plays a significant role in shaping their educational outcomes years later.

In fact, behavioral problems in early childhood have a larger negative effect on high school and college completion rates for boys than girls, according to a new study from Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. They’re also less likely to learn and more likely to be held back in school.

“It suggests that something is going on in the school context that makes boys bear the brunt of school sanctioning,” says Jayanti Owens, assistant professor of sociology and public affairs at Brown and author of the report, published Wednesday by the American Sociological Associationand the Sociology of Education.

The study compared 4- and 5-year-old boys and girls who had the same levels of behavioral problems, including difficulty sustaining attention, regulating emotions, delaying gratification, and forming positive relationships with teachers and peers. The national sample of children were born to women in their early to mid 20s in the 1980s and followed into adulthood.

What Owens found was that boys’ higher average levels of early behavior problems help explain the current gender gap in schooling by age 26 to 29.

Owens didn’t originally set out to study the impact of early behavior on the academic achievement of men. She stumbled on the phenomenon upon the beginning stages of research about the reversal in the college completion gender gap over the last few decades.

The idea was to explain why college completion rates have surged among women, but she soon came to realize that the flip side of the coin was perhaps even more revealing – that education achievement levels have actually decline for men.

“One of the big things that jumped out in the study was the fact that the same behavior problems in boys and girls were penalized a lot more in boys than girls,” Owens says. “So in addition to the fact that boys come to school on average having more problems, they also get penalized more for having these behaviors.”

Among many other finding, for example, the study showed that in elementary school, boys on average report significantly greater exposure to negative school environments and peer pressure compared to girls. And in high school, they report significantly higher rates of grade repetition and lower educational expectations.

Those findings, Owens says, are largely in line with the rhetoric about schools not being set up for boys’ education attainment.

Read the rest of the story here.

My Take

Conventional wisdom within criminal justice circles has always been that girls are given far more leniency than boys when they misbehave.  The thinking has been that this leniency manifests itself when girls who engage in habitually negative/destructive behavior finally reach “the system” they are much more difficult to deal with than boys who have been through a more incremental/progressive history of behavior intervention.