Apr 30, 2014

Boys, Girls, and Kindergarten

Blog entry inspired by an article posted in the NYTimes on 4/29.

My dissertation research looks at financial literacy, particularly focusing on the near poor. I'm really interested in issues of the near poor as they relate to education, both financial and otherwise. It is fairly common knowledge that lower income families enter Kindergarten already at a disadvantage compared to their not poor counterparts. Many theories exist for why this is. And most existing research points to early education (preschool!) as the biggest way to fix this. Public policy is already shifting to make early intervention through preschool more accessible to the near poor.
What isn't spoken about as much (and what I didn't know until reading this article in the NYTimes yesterday) is the gaps between girls and boys are also huge. In fact, the gap between boys and girls is LARGER than the gap between poor and near poor and larger than any of the racial gaps. The biggest discrepancy in Kindergarten readiness is between boys and girls! Why isn't this being researched more? Talked about more?
The gaps are huge by Kindergarten and persist all the way through school. So while it might be a maturity thing, it is a difference that persists.
What does this mean?
At a broader macro level, as the article alludes, you need to look at the workforce implications. I'm not sure what the consequences of this are and I think it would need to be shown that this is a change and not a persistent trend. But it is clear that sexism is still alive and well in industry with girls being overlooked for promotions and workplaces not adapting to a growing female workforce with motherhood friendly practices. Workplace equality doesn't exist yet. So what does an education gap showing boys are behind say for the future? If this a change, it could imply our future workforce has a lot of adapting to do. Contrarily, if this is a trend that has existed and just never been statistically laid out before, it lends to questions about our education system. Perhaps those same qualities that make boys seem less socially and behaviorally prepared are qualities that employers like in their workforce.
While the macro trends are interesting and my ABD status (all but dissertation - common language in PhD/academic circles) means I obviously consider these angles, my mom brain is more interested in the implications for my sons.
As a mom of two (soon to be three!) boys, I'm concerned! I want my boys to get the best possible start they can get. Research showing boys are not emotionally, socially, and behaviorally ready for kindergarten and then never catch up is disturbing. What can I as a parent do to better prepare my boys? What steps can be taken to aid them? I know I need to read to them and talk to them and prepare them academically. But I had never spent much time thinking about how I parent to prepare my boys for school socially and behaviorally.
So the big question: can I work to better prepare my boys? Or do the parents who choose to have their boys do a victory lap in preschool have it right? (For more on this, read this great post by Andrea at Momfessionals
Articles like this one from the NYTimes will add flames to the upper-middle class movement to delay boys entry into Kindergarten until they are six. This could then serve to increase the poor/not poor gap since poor families are less likely to delay school entrance (obvious reason: keeping your child home or in preschool an additional year is expensive!).
Luckily, Casey and I have a few years before we need to make choices about these issues. Unluckily, research isn't being done in this area. So I don't know that we'll have much more information to go on in four years.

1 comment:

  1. As a boy mom this info is super scary. I wonder if it changes as they age because you always hear about girls not doing well in math and science in the upper grades?
    I do know that it is difficult to compensate for lack of experiences. For example if you are talking about Zoo's or airplanes and one kid has been to a zoo and flown on and airplane and another kid has only seen a picture of a plane and only heard about the zoo their background knowledge is different.
    Being a parent can be stressful!