Boys fall behind in school.
Illustration by Riona Faruqi

Of Boys and Men: The Equity Issue You Didn’t Know About

3 mins read

In his new book, Of Boys and Men, Richard Reeves argues that boys and men today are falling behind women academically and in their overall achievement. Reeves says the past half-century has seen a remarkable improvement in the educational and career successes of women, and while this should be applauded and promoted, Reeves hopes to provide context and solutions for the struggles young men face in education.

This pattern occurs in the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) that M-A is a part of, as well as at the national level, as the male maturity gap causes boys to fall behind in numerous ways at school. This aligns with the national trends that Reeves discusses, and he offers solutions that people can apply both in our community and nationally. 

Grade point average (GPA) is the stronger predictor for long-term success not only in college but in life. Over the past four years in SUHSD, female students averaged 0.3-0.4 weighted GPA points higher than male students across all grade levels. In 2021, 69.4% of female students took AP classes while only 54.4% of their male counterparts did. Similarly, in 2022, 69.8% of female students took an AP course, while only 63% of male students did.

In the 2021-2022 school year, 6.2% of male students in the District served a suspension—twice the percentage of girls—and all six expulsions in the past five years have been male students. These disruptions can significantly impact students’ chances of falling behind in school. 

Sequoia Union High School District Gender and Racial GPA Averages from 2018-2022

Nationally, Reeves says, “Boys are 50% more likely than girls to fail at all three key school subjects: math, reading, and science.” Additionally, “The most common high school grade for a girl is an A, for boys, it is a B.”

These differences start at a very young age. Reeves says, “Girls are 14 percentage points more likely than boys to be ‘school ready’ at age 5.” This is an even larger gap than readiness between rich and poor students, Black and white students, and students who attended preschool and those who did not.  

This readiness gap is caused by the earlier maturation of girls, particularly in regards to school-oriented skills like organization, preparation, and studying. On average, Reeves says, “The cerebellum reaches full size at the age of 11 for girls, but not until age 15 for boys. Among other things, the cerebellum ‘has a modulating effect on emotional, cognitive, and regulatory capacities.’” 

 Another factor contributing to gender disparities in education is what Reeves calls the “aspiration gap.” “Most young women today have it drummed into them how much education matters, and most want to be financially independent,” Reeves says.  While there are many valuable educational initiatives directed towards women, men don’t receive the same emotional encouragement to do well in school. 

“Most young women today have it drummed into them how much education matters, and most want to be financially independent,”

Prior to Title IX laws created to promote gender equality in education, Reeves says, “There was a 12 percentage-point gap in the proportion of bachelor’s degrees going to men compared to women.” Today, women lead men by 14 percentage points in bachelor’s degrees, illustrating a reversal in the prior education gap.

Reeves also argues that understanding the challenges young men face is essential to racial equity, saying, “For every Black man getting a college degree, at all levels, there are two Black women.”

In order to counteract these obstacles, Reeves calls for ‘redshirting’: holding male students back a year before kindergarten, in an effort to level the playing field with faster-maturing girls. A study by Phillip Cook and Songman Kang in North Carolina found, “The 10% redshirting rate among white boys reduced the overall gender gap among white students in third-grade reading by 11%.”

Reeves at Brookings Institution Event

The impact of redshirting only increases in high school, as secondary education requires greater maturity and better organizational skills. Reeves concluded, “The largest gains would be for those who are least likely to be redshirted right now, especially boys from lower-income families and Black boys.”

Current redshirting falls flat for equality as “children with affluent parents are twice as likely to have a delayed school start than those from a low-income home.” 

Low-income families are often unable to pay for childcare, but Reeves proposes Universal Pre-K as a promising solution.  This would make it easier for lower-income families to redshirt their kids as they could use a federally funded program to pay for childcare.

“For every Black man getting a college degree, at all levels, there are two Black women.”

Career Technical Education (CTE) classes and vocational schools provide alternative education that would allow young men to get lasting jobs that do not require a college degree. 

One study of nine vocational academies in New York showed, “Male students from these schools, mostly Hispanic and Black, saw a 17% earnings boost, equivalent to an extra $30,000, over the eight years of the follow-up study.

M-A’s CTE program offers vocational classes such as woodshop, computer science, architecture, and more. Sequoia Union High School District students also have the option to enroll at TIDE Academy, a school focusing on Technology, Innovation, Design, and Engineering.

M-A offers a wide variety of CTE courses, but the same can’t be said nationally. Our community can help fix these equity issues by encouraging redshirting for those who need it,  and putting money towards men’s education and support programs.

Improvements for men don’t have to come at the expense of women, and it’s possible for all genders to improve education together as a result of education optimization and better funding. 

As M-A students, we can take advantage of our own CTE programs, help raise awareness about redshirting, and both donate and vote in ways that support closing the achievement gap in schools.

Sam Leslie is a senior at M-A and is in his second year of journalism. As a sports editor, he both reports on games and helps oversee the Chronicle's sports reporting. He also has done extensive reporting on Detracking and other equity issues. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family and friends, watching sports, and listening to music.

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