New UGA study: Their classroom demeanors give girls a boost in grades over boys in classroom

downeyart (Medium)Interesting release from the University of Georgia on why girls fare better than boys in elementary school.

If interested in this issue, check out this interview I did with the author of “The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World.”  Author and behavioral psychologist Anthony Rao maintains that today’s classrooms favor how girls learn.

“Girls use more words. They are heavy on reading and early literacy and more social cooperation,” Rao told me. The boy brain is wired for motor skill development and spatial tasks, and boys learn more by touching and exploration. (There are exceptions, he says, describing himself as a compliant learner eager to do what the teacher wanted.)

“When you promote all this assessment and increasing standardization, you narrow the way you are going to teach kids, eclipsing the ways that boys learn better,” said Rao. “You go to much less hands-on and manipulation of objects and to more sit down and lectures.”

Here is the release on the new UGA findings:

Why do girls get better grades in elementary school than boys—even when they perform worse on standardized tests?

New research from the University of Georgia and Columbia University published in the current issue of Journal of Human Resources suggests that it’s because of their classroom behavior, which may lead teachers to assign girls higher grades than their male counterparts.

“The skill that matters the most in regards to how teachers graded their students is what we refer to as ‘approaches toward learning,’” said Christopher Cornwell, head of economics in the UGA Terry College of Business and one of the study’s authors.

“You can think of ‘approaches to learning’ as a rough measure of what a child’s attitude toward school is: It includes six items that rate the child’s attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility and organization. I think that anybody who’s a parent of boys and girls can tell you that girls are more of all of that.”

The study, co-authored by Cornwell and David Mustard at UGA and Jessica Van Parys at Columbia, analyzed data on more than 5,800 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. It examined students’ performance on standardized tests in three categories ­­— reading, math and science — linking test scores to teachers’ assessments of their students’ progress, both academically and more broadly.

The data show, for the first time, that gender disparities in teacher grades start early and uniformly favor girls. In every subject area, boys are represented in grade distributions below where their test scores would predict.

The authors attribute this misalignment to what they called non-cognitive skills, or “how well each child was engaged in the classroom, how often the child externalized or internalized problems, how often the child lost control and how well the child developed interpersonal skills.” They even report evidence of a grade bonus for boys with test scores and behavior like their girl counterparts.

This difference can have long-reaching effects, Cornwell said.

“The trajectory at which kids move through school is often influenced by a teacher’s assessment of their performance, their grades. This affects their ability to enter into advanced classes and other kinds of academic opportunities, even post-secondary opportunities,” he said. “It’s also typically the grades you earn in school that are weighted the most heavily in college admissions. So if grade disparities emerge this early on, it’s not surprising that by the time these children are ready to go to college, girls will be better positioned.”

Research about gender differences in the classroom and beyond has grabbed headlines recently. Titles like Hannah Rosin’s “The End of Men and the Rise of Women” and Kay Hymowitz’s “Manning Up” have spent months on best-seller lists and inspired countless discussions in the media.

“We seem to have gotten to a point in the popular consciousness where people are recognizing the story in these data: Men are falling behind relative to women. Economists have looked at this from a number of different angles, but it’s in educational assessments that you make your mark for the labor market,” Cornwell said.

“Men’s rate of college going has slowed in recent years whereas women’s has not, but if you roll the story back far enough, to the 60s and 70s, women were going to college in much fewer numbers. It’s at a point now where you’ve got women earning upward of 60 percent of the bachelors’ degrees awarded every year.”

But despite changing college demographics, the new data may not be reflecting anything fundamentally new.

“My argument is that this has always been true about boys and girls. Girls didn’t all of a sudden become more engaged and boys didn’t suddenly become more rambunctious,” Cornwell said. “Their attitudes toward learning were always this way. But it didn’t show up in educational attainment like it does today because of all the factors that previously discouraged women’s participation in the labor force, such as a lack of access to reliable birth control.”

What remains unclear, however, is how to combat this discrepancy.

“The most common question we’ve gotten is whether or not the gender of the teacher matters in regards to grading students,” Cornwell said. “But that’s a question we can’t answer because there’s just not enough data available. As you can probably guess, the great majority of elementary school teachers are women.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

55 comments Add your comment

Just Sayin.....

January 3rd, 2013
11:52 am

women were going to college in much fewer numbers. It’s at a point now where you’ve got women earning upward of 60 percent of the bachelors’ degrees awarded every year.”

….mostly in liberal arts majors.


January 3rd, 2013
12:17 pm

Why would anyone really care about elementary school grades? They are not a sign of childhood knowledge or intelligence, and unlike high school grades they are not used for any future purposes.


January 3rd, 2013
12:29 pm

“there’s just not enough data avaliable”

And yet, in the entire history of American public schools, women have ALWAYS been the vast majority of teachers.

Looks like no one has bothered to look at the “data” very much.


January 3rd, 2013
12:32 pm

The attitudes towards men in this country have become increasingly hostile for years. Look at today’s popular television shows and men are portrayed as buffoons or villains while women are the strong leaders and heads of households. I’m not pushing aside that attitudes towards women have always been great, but boys are being marginalized and disenfranchised. In education we hold boys to the same behavioral standards as girls and it’s just not working. Girls can sit for longer periods of time while boys can’t. That’s not stereotyping, it’s human physiology. To deny that is to deny the differences between the genders.


January 3rd, 2013
12:38 pm

@indigo, I think you missed the point of that statement.

There’s not enough data on male elementary teachers because “the great majority of elementary school teachers are women” to conduct any sort of a valid study on gender differences in teachers.

ATL Born and Raised

January 3rd, 2013
12:45 pm

@dbow Your arguement kind of falls apart when you realize most TV shows and movies are written by men.


January 3rd, 2013
12:52 pm

Less public school funding from the State which results in more students per classroom isn’t going to help. Administrators love to talk about “differentiation” and accomodating different “learning profiles” but all that’s just talk if teachers have to manage classrooms of 30-40+ students.


January 3rd, 2013
12:53 pm

@ ATL, even if that’s true, and that’s debatable, the writers of any show write about what’s happening in popular culture at the moment. Right now it’s popular to bash men and by extension boys.


January 3rd, 2013
1:08 pm

@ jarvis, January 3rd,12:17 pm: “Why would anyone really care about elementary school grades?”

I should think that these grades matter because of their effect on the children who get them: positive or negative reinforcement for certain classroom behaviors. They also shape the children’s general attitude toward school and education that will follow them into the higher grades.


January 3rd, 2013
1:10 pm

It comes down to expectations. Many times people expect boys to behave poorly and what a surprise when that becomes a reality.

Pride and Joy

January 3rd, 2013
1:18 pm

dbow, I used to think as you did until I had childen. Generally speaking, girls are better able to endure being seated and being quiet better than boys and that’s why they got better grades because in public schools, often most learning is a photocopied piece of paper out of a workbook which must be completed while seated and still and silent.
The truth is, all of us learn best by doing it…men, women, boys and girls. We are all better learners when we exeriment and touch and do.
We need to get learning by doing, not by filling out a work sheet from a book. Work sheets often win out because they’re very easy for the teacher to implement — just photocopy, pass out to the studetns and tell them to be quiet and fill it out and then turn it in.
That’s LAZY teaching and INeffective learning.
If I could, I would not allow photocopying school lessons.
We don;t need anything expensive nor fancy. We just need pebbles to add and subtract, water and cups to measure with, a pencil and paper to write with and a teacher willing to get out of her chair and teach.


January 3rd, 2013
1:22 pm

Well, we have had access to reliable birth control for the last 45 years.

Girls generally display more behavior that shows engagement and drive to improvement. Do they get the benefit of the doubt, grade-wise over a boy or another girl who does not display that behavior? Probably so.


January 3rd, 2013
1:24 pm

Boys are usually a lot more immature than girls, but they start school at the same time and pace as girls. They do not function the same way and end up on the ADD/ADHD medication trail and are zombies by the time they reach high school.

Mikey D.

January 3rd, 2013
1:29 pm

I’m a male elementary teacher. I’m always amused when female colleagues see certain boys in my class and “warn” me of all the trouble I’ll have with them… And then those same boys end up being some of my favorite students. Expectations are more important than some people want to believe, and so is the need to understand that boys and girls are different and should be taught with a variety of methods. Trying to fit the old square peg into the round hole will seldom end with satisfying results…

bootney farnsworth

January 3rd, 2013
1:34 pm

current US society does not like boys, and is biased against them.
simple as that

living in an outdated ed system

January 3rd, 2013
1:35 pm

I would suggest that all of you review the work done by a friend/colleague, Ali Carr-Chelman, Professor of Instructional Systems at Penn State’s College of Education.

Classroom demeanor is not necessarily what the problem is. Maybe we should look why there are differences in engagement? Perhaps one reason is the decreasing number of male teachers in K-12? There are lots of reasons I suspect, and I recommend folks review her work before thinking this UGA study has all the answers. Gender differences in K-12 is not a new revelation, sadly.

Newt is nuts

January 3rd, 2013
1:36 pm

Is there anything “new” in either the report or these blog comments? The bigger story is that, as more women go to and graduate from college with “soft” degrees, the value of college in the workplace is going down.

bootney farnsworth

January 3rd, 2013
1:40 pm

is everyone getting moderated, or just me?


January 3rd, 2013
1:43 pm

Sounds to me like the solution is to better train teachers on how to teach and evaluate their students. There is no “one size fits all” methodology. A broad range of tools should be available to help both students and teachers. If young boys and girls learn differently, then teachers should learn a variety of methods to reach their students and encourage them to enjoy learning and learn on their own. Parents should care how their children are performing and insist on playing a role. It’s not rocket science, you just have to care.


January 3rd, 2013
1:58 pm

Hey! Elementary school is when learning habits begin, so please do not negate their purpose. The student who starts out being a “student” has a higher probability of staying a student. Folks, males are immature. Give those boys at least one more year to grow up! Two years would be best.

Gwinnett Parent

January 3rd, 2013
1:58 pm

Parents have higher standards for girls. “Boys will be boys.” The statement that has been producing a double standard for years. Are there girls that are equally hyper and obnoxious in class? Yes, but It is usually short lived, because the parents and peers will push little Suzy to behave. I have met several parents that believe that reading, art, and literature will turn their little boy to the “other team”. It is cool for little Johny to act up in class. Why don’t we ask ” How much could little Suzy learn if little Johny would shut up and let the teacher do his/ her job?”
Grade favoritism is really a joke, considering that there are so many objectively graded assignments. If little Johny gets a bad grade on his multiple choice test, there’s only one person to blame and it’s not the teacher.


January 3rd, 2013
2:07 pm

All of my kids are grown now, and completed all schooling. My wife and I have sons and daughters. When in elementary school, our sons definitely reacted differently to male teachers versus female teachers. My boys did better with men teachers. They were more attentive, took direction more seriously, and were accepting and acknowledging of their male teachers. I also believe that their male teachers were more concerned about their learning and less concerned about their “domestication.”

When our first boys (now in their thirties) went to school, the reaction of teachers were different than when our youngest (in early twenties) went to school. For our youngest the teachers seemed more affixed on meeting behavioral expectations, than with our oldest (years earlier). Being energetic was a problem; whereas earlier it seemed OK with our older boys.

Toward the end, my wife and I felt that for the greatest success, our boys had to be “domesticated” or behaviorally castrated to be given equal academic accomodation in school.

Concerned Mom

January 3rd, 2013
2:13 pm

Where is the statistical data that shows the additional women obtaining degrees are in “soft” areas. As a professional woman in the corporate world, the vast majority of women I see getting degrees are in business, management, and in my personal life other areas such as medical, law, and engineering. What is happening is women are just obtaining undergraduate degrees and even advanced degrees at a higher rate than men–I don’t think it’s helpful to try and undermine those facts with statements aimed at diminishing the importance of those degrees. It will remain a fact in our country having a degree (no matter what the degree is in) is a differentiator and competitive advantage in most areas outside of the service industry


January 3rd, 2013
2:32 pm

And what was the cost of this study that tells us what we already know?

Inman Parker

January 3rd, 2013
2:53 pm

There’s a lot of research on this which seems to support gender separate classes.I once heard a speaker say that, if you are a man and if you did really well in elementary sachool, its probably because you learned to act like a girl. It’s all those female teachers…….. Really unfair to boys.

Pride and Joy

January 3rd, 2013
3:33 pm

Gary, your comments are perfect! Very well said.
Teachers are trained on a variety of teaching methods but often don’t use them because it is simply EASY to pass out a piece of paper and tell the kids to be quiet and do their seatwork. When a boy makes a noise, he disrupts the teacher from doing whatever she is doing instead of teaching the kids.
If I was an administrator, I wouldn’t give a teacher a chair nor a desk. I’d tell them they must be UP and teaching and going from kid to kid helping them learn instead of sitting at their desk away from the kids.


January 3rd, 2013
3:41 pm

Interesting how the pre-arranged intellectual rise of women corresponds with the decline of America! Akmed, Ivan, and Chou are licking their chops while laughing at the antics of the “men are evil” crowd. When push comes to shove, do not expect this male to assist the American ladies in any way, shape or form.


January 3rd, 2013
3:54 pm

another great reason for more charter schools…in this case, one geared towards boys. Would be amazing to see boys able to learn in a way that didn’t require them to be medicated senseless, and sitting at a desk like a zombie.

duck junior

January 3rd, 2013
3:54 pm

Last year my sixth grade boys outperformed my sixth grade girls on the Social Studies CRCT. Almost all the behavior problems in my middle school classroom were from boys. Since standardized test scores are of primary importance to our administrators and policy makers, why should I care if the “learning needs” of the boys are not being met?


January 3rd, 2013
3:58 pm

@Les and Inman: Amen! I have two boys and have been appalled at the constant drive to “feminize” education. Usually by teachers in their twenties, with no children of their own, who think it is reasonable to require boys to act (and learn) just like little Suzy.


January 3rd, 2013
3:58 pm

@ Pride, I have children and even if I didn’t that doesn’t change the fact that people’s expectations make more of a difference than anyone wants to believe. Just as one of the other posters noted, i would receive “warnings” from female colleagues about a male student and sure enough, he was fine. I tell teachers to not tell me about any of their students and let me make my own opinions. The bigger problem is that female teachers, some not all, don’t know how to deal with boys. Again, they expect them to act like girls and they don’t. I have found this to be true even if the teachers have male children of their own.


January 3rd, 2013
4:02 pm

@ jarvis, January 3rd,12:17 pm: Unfortunately, elementary school grades are used to “track” kids into middle school and beyond. This sets not only the academic level of the classes, but also the peer group that your kid is grouped with through his formative years. :-(

Atlanta Mom

January 3rd, 2013
4:11 pm

Who would have thought, boys are different from girls.
Back when I was young and stupid and ERA was new, I bought into the idea that we were all the same, it was just a difference in our upbringing. Some time later after I had children, and observed many children just by being a Mom, it’s clear to me, girls are different from boys.
I was also very glad I had girls in the public schools because it has always been clear to me that the education system was set up for the way girls learn.


January 3rd, 2013
4:24 pm

When my son was in 5th grade, we got a call to appear at the school about an urgent matter. When we got there, we were informed the bulge in the front of his pants was too noticeable, and he should wear loose fitting pants henceforth. All the teachers were female, and highly offended by his developing manhood.

Pride and Joy

January 3rd, 2013
4:27 pm

…and in GA, a SCHOOL BOARD vice chair hits a student in the wal-mart parking long because she wanted the parking space…no kidding…this is anohter reason we don’t trust local school boards…read it and cry…


January 3rd, 2013
4:43 pm

As a mother of 2 middle school boys, I completely agree that today’s boys are being shorted. It isn’t just in the schools – too many parents have the attitude of “boys will be boys” and “boys develop slower.” Boys do not “develop slower” than girls until puberty. Before then, boys and girls may develop different skill sets at different paces. The comment would be “girls develop slower” if society’s criteria were solely athletics. In previous generations, children were not allowed to “get away” with near as much as they are today. I find it very saddening that parents and teachers cannot seem to recognize there are differences in boys and girls, but that doesn’t mean that one sex should have lower expectations than the other.

William Casey

January 3rd, 2013
5:01 pm

I’ve been trying to write an essay on the “Femininization of American Schools” but have not yet been able to do so without sounding “Neanderthal.” I’ll keep trying. LOL

Simmer Down

January 3rd, 2013
5:31 pm

I have two boys – one in elementary and one in middle. They both get exceptional grades. They have had both male teachers and female teachers so there is no difference in the way they are treated. What does make a difference is the way they treat their teachers. They are respectful, they listen, they do their work and they do their best. Let us stop trying to fabricate the “why” when our children do not perform well and teach them to be good in class regardless of the teachers gendor.

mountain man

January 3rd, 2013
7:28 pm

“…and in GA, a SCHOOL BOARD vice chair hits a student in the wal-mart parking long because she wanted the parking space…”

Good thing she didn’t have a gun, or the teenager might be dead now.

living in an outdated ed system

January 3rd, 2013
8:09 pm

@William Casey, the reason I was interested in Professor Chelman’s work at Penn State was because it was a female professor studying the “feminization of American Schools.” I felt that if it was originated by a male, it could come across as chauvinistic : ).


January 3rd, 2013
8:50 pm

catlady wrote

“Girls generally display more behavior that shows engagement and drive to improvement.”

No, female teachers find that girls’ behavior is more along the lines of what they expect in terms of showing engagement and drive to improvement.

duck junior wrote:

“Last year my sixth grade boys outperformed my sixth grade girls on the Social Studies CRCT. Almost all the behavior problems in my middle school classroom were from boys.”

That’s exactly the point the author was making. Grades are subjective and teachers tend to reward better grades to those they deem better behaved. Hence, girls receive higher grades while test scores show boys performing better.


January 3rd, 2013
9:25 pm

Part of the problem is our push to force children to learn before they’re developmentally ready to do so. Again, look at Finland. Kids don’t start mandatory schooling there until they are 7, yet they outperform American students across the board while here, if your 5-year old isn’t reading in Kindergarten the teachers are urging you to hold him back.

I think gender-specific education is one answer. Also, we need to better train teachers to understand the differences in how boys and girls learn and to convince society at large that there are actual, physical, definable differences in male and female brains. That’s not to say one is superior to the other. We’re just wired differently, so to speak. And therefore, boys and girls need different things in the classroom, including time to run and play and be physical. We need more hands-on and experiential learning opportunities for both boys and girls rather than having them stuck at desks filling in worksheets all day. It’s time for a revolution in the way our kids are taught.

Dekalbite@just sayin...

January 3rd, 2013
9:46 pm

“….mostly in liberal arts majors.”

Women make up over 80% of Veterinary students, and over 60% of all dental, medical, and law students so they are not mostly liberal arts majors.

Girls develop the good study habits necessary for success not just in elementary, middle and high school, but also in college and post graduate programs.

“Ironically, the SAT was designed to help predict how students would do in college. But while boys still score higher on the tests, girls get better college grades.”

Pride and Joy

January 3rd, 2013
10:11 pm

Solutions, really, you should put loose fitting pants on boys for a lot of good reasons. If your boys’ pants fit so tight you can see the outline of his manhood, you should get him a looser fitting pair of pants — same goes for girls. Loose, comfortable, not baggy clothes.

Pride and Joy

January 3rd, 2013
10:14 pm

Atlanta mom says “it has always been clear to me that the education system was set up for the way girls learn.”
Not quite.
The education system isn’t set up for the kids’ benefit — not girls not boys. The system is set up for the convenience of the adults who work in them. It is easy fora teacher to pass out work sheets, tell the kids to fill them out and be quiet.
That’s all it is — convenience for the teachers. It is much more difficult to plan a real lesson using real objects and real, live scenarios rather than jsut “circle the right answer” and sit still and shut up.


January 3rd, 2013
10:33 pm

Just what you knew all along, right UGA education professors? Lol. This is not the belief in most classrooms there, where the classes are virtually all women with the prerequisite very average intelligence and whose motto is: In elementary school, the best way to be a good little boy is to be a good little girl.

Simmer Down

January 4th, 2013
9:18 am

@Dawn – I get your point but the fact of the matter is that some kids are ready to learn to read and write before they get to kindergarden. One of my sons was and one was not so we did not push the one that was not. The issue comes however when they get into the class and the teachers never recognized the difference. How bad would you feel if you knew how to read and write but the class started with the ABC’s and in the reverse you did not know how to do either and the teacher started the class teaching advanced trig. The issue has and will always be how to teach a class at different levels while maintaining order.
Also regarding gender specific classrooms – if Ihad two girls vs. boys they would have been in all girl schools for sure. I have spent enough time in classrooms sitting in the back helping teachers grade papers etc. to realize that boys rule the class. They are more aggressive, try to answer everything, are the most undisciplined etc. that girls are at a disadvantage from the get go. Just my thoughts.

Don't Cry for Me, Argentina

January 4th, 2013
9:48 am

Who cares? Men will still be favored in the workplace anyways.


January 4th, 2013
1:45 pm

Am getting the idea that some of us think boys are different from girls. Who would have thunk it? Oh gosh, what do we do now?


January 4th, 2013
3:34 pm

Maybe there is something to the Montessori method. Manipulatives are a big part of the learning process and children can move freely throughout the classroom…..and classrooms are composed of children of varying ages. To my knowledge, grades are not given until a certain age.