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Teacher gender.

Let's agree that you can't generalize from 8th graders, in the throes of puberty, to the effects of matching student and teacher gender at other ages. More research is needed. Now let's move on.

What if Professor Dee ("The Why Chromosome," research, Fall 2006) is right? What policy implications follow?

Matching girls with female teachers and boys with male teachers is both impractical and undesirable. Most teachers are female, and boys will come up short. We want boys to become adults who are able to work well with women, and we want girls to become adults who are able to work well with men. We all recoil from the anti-egalitarian idea that we can be comfortable and achieve at our best only when we are with "people like us," in terms of sex, ethnicity, religion, social class, politics, or anything else.

Since boys are about a grade level behind girls in reading and writing and girls have just about closed the gap in mathematics and science, I'll focus on raising the achievement of boys. What might male teachers be doing in their classrooms that female teachers are less likely to do?

I offer a number of testable hypotheses, which come from the work of Michael Gurian, William Pollack, Leonard Sax, Kathy Stevens, Michael Thompson, and Peter West. These ideas emerge from knowledge of the biology and psychology of boys and the craft knowledge of teachers, what Lee Shulman has called the "wisdom of practice."

1. Boys learn more when teachers talk less, especially when teachers avoid great torrents of repetitive words.

2. Boys learn more when teachers use lots of joking and humor, the currency of male social life.

3. Boys learn more when teachers themselves are captivated by the great, universal themes that engage male minds and hearts--facing adversity and danger, embarking on great adventures, attaining strength and competence, fighting battles for good and for glory, testing yourself and becoming a hero, and learning how to make the physical world do your bidding.


4. Boys learn more when teachers are neither awed nor enraged by boys' physicality and displays of anger, and respond in calm and measured ways, using such strategies as assigning activities that help boys calm down and regain control.

5. Boys learn more when the teacher does not humiliate them by forgetting that genuine vulnerability and lack of confidence lie underneath their cocky displays of toughness and bravado.

6. Boys learn more in structured, authoritative educational environments, under clear teacher control, which provide them with safety and security from the power plays and put-downs of other boys.

7. Boys learn more when competition gets them excited, when they need to learn so as to do well for their team, when they get to be active, when they get breaks, when they are having fun, and when teachers make the point of the learning activity clear.

8. Boys learn more when teachers praise and mentor them and when they believe that the teacher understands, likes, and respects boys.

What we need is not gender matching but greater understanding of the biological differences between males and females and the different psychological worlds each sex inhabits.


Professor of Psychology and Director of Boys Project

University of Alaska, Fairbanks

I have two major objections to Professor Dee's assumptions and methods. First, he asserts that "the majority of arguments for single-sex schools and classrooms focus on the effects on interactions among students." That statement may have had some validity 20 years ago, but minimizing distractions is no longer an empirically sound justification for single-sex education (and perhaps it never was). Single-sex education is more likely to have positive outcomes for 2nd-grade boys than for 11th-grade boys. And yet 11th-grade boys are, presumably, more distracted by 11th-grade girls than 2nd-grade boys are by 2nd-grade girls.

Recent research demonstrates that girls and boys learn in profoundly different ways. These differences are based in part on hardwired differences in how girls and boys hear and see, which in turn derive from hardwired differences in the cochlea and retina, respectively. Single-sex education works not because it minimizes distractions but because it creates an opportunity for knowledgeable teachers to take advantage of the differences in how girls and boys learn.

Second, Professor Dee's analysis is based on a survey of teachers who had no training in best practices for teaching girls and for teaching boys. Women can learn to teach boys, and men can learn to teach girls if teachers have appropriate training in evidence-based best practices: that requires 7 to 14 hours over 1 or 2 days. Indeed, some of the most effective teachers at our boys' schools are women, and some of the most effective teachers at our girls' schools are men.

Professor Dee conjectures that perhaps we should have more men teaching boys, and women teaching girls. I recommend, instead, that we focus on training men how to teach girls, and training women how to teach boys.


Executive Director

National Association for Single Sex Public Education

Thomas Dee replies:

Both Dr. Sax's and Professor Kleinfeld's otherwise insightful commentaries seem to take as their motivation a dramatic policy prescription that I have explicitly not advocated, namely, the gender matching of students and teachers. My study does indicate that 8th graders in the National Education Longitudinal Survey (1988) performed better on a variety of outcomes when assigned to a teacher of their own gender. However, I am also careful to point out that there are a variety of rich, contextual explanations for why these "reduced-form" effects exist. As both letters indicate, one provocative explanation is that boys and girls have distinct learning styles, which may be more effectively accommodated by same-gender teachers as they are currently trained. However, there are also other possible explanations for these results (e.g., role-model effects and stereotype threat). A convincing research base that discriminated among the relative contributions of these various phenomena would provide the basis for targeted and effective interventions.
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Title Annotation:correspondence
Publication:Education Next
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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