College & Workforce Readiness

Mass. Boys’ Graduation Rates Lag Behind Girls’, Study Says

By John Gehring — June 05, 2002 3 min read
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Male students in Massachusetts’ city schools are in trouble.

Read the study “Gender Gaps in High School Dropout Rates and College Attendance Rates in Massachusetts and Its Large Cities: The Educational Deficits of Boys and Their Future Economic and Social Consequences,” by Northeastern University and others. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

At least that’s one general conclusion that could be drawn from a recent report that finds boys in the state’s urban school systems are significantly less likely than girls to graduate from high school and earn a college degree.

The report was released May 20 by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies and the Boston Private Industry Council.

The paper, written by Andrew Sum, an economics professor at Northeastern, and Neil Sullivan, the executive director of the private-industry council, examines gender differences in school dropout rates and college-attendance plans. It also compares the educational outcomes for males in the state’s larger and less affluent cities with those in wealthier suburbs.

The report shows that, statewide, the projected four-year high school dropout rates in the graduating classes from 1999 to 2003 were 15 percent for boys and 11 percent for girls. That means, it says, that 15 out of every 100 high school boys in public schools who started 9th grade leave school before graduating—a dropout rate that is 36 percent higher than that of girls.

In Massachusetts’ 11 large urban districts, the average male dropout rate was 31 percent. In 10 of those cities, the dropout rate for boys exceeded that of girls.

In the town of Springfield the dropout rates for boys and girls were both 22 percent.

But, in the six affluent districts the researchers studied, the four-year dropout rate averaged only 1 percent for both boys and girls.

‘Engagement’ Needed

According to the study, boys in cities are also less likely than girls to go to college. On average only 48 percent of boys in urban systems like Boston, Worcester, Brockton, and Fall River in the class of 2000 graduated from high school and planned to attend a post-secondary educational program in 2000. This compares with 62 percent of girls from large urban districts.

Boys in urban areas also have far poorer prospects for high school graduation and college compared with boys in more affluent areas, the study found. An average of 90 percent of boys from such affluent Massachusetts communities as Brookline, Newton, and Harvard both graduated from high school and planned to attend college in 2000, nearly double the percentage of male students in urban areas.

David P. Driscoll

“These large gender and geographic gaps in high school graduation and college- enrollment rates need to be immediately addressed by the state’s educational and economic policy- makers,” the authors write.

David P. Driscoll, the state education commissioner, says he is paying attention. “I take this report very seriously,” he said. “It has to be addressed. It’s really a call to action.”

Mr. Sullivan of the Boston Private Industry Council, one of the co- authors, recommended that educators continue to pay closer attention to the different learning styles of male students. Boys learn better, he said, when they apply what they are learning to real-life situations rather than simply listening to explanations of concepts.

“Girls are better listeners,” Mr. Sullivan argued. “Boys appear to need engagement beyond presentation.” The stakes are too high, he added, to do nothing.

The information-based workplace puts a premium on continuing education, he said. And in Massachusetts, the median annual earnings of high school graduates are 50 percent higher than those of high school dropouts.

“We can celebrate young women doing well, but at the same time be troubled by how far young men are falling behind,” Mr. Sullivan said.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 2002 edition of Education Week as Mass. Boys’ Graduation Rates Lag Behind Girls’, Study Says

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