According to an article by Linda Jacobson on greatschools.com, a fact is: boys don't read as much as girls. This reading gender gap is affecting boys' performance in high school and beyond.
As a young boy, Sanjay Mahboobani was a passionate reader. He travelled through time with Jack and Annie in the Magic Tree House series, and devoured each and every Harry Potter book as soon as it hit the local bookstore.
But as he got older, Sanjay, who lives in Redondo Beach, CA, began to lose interest in reading — he turned away from books along with his trucks, stuffed animals, and other childish things. Now that Sanjay is in high school, he rarely reads for pleasure. "I prefer playing video games or basketball or even hanging out with my friends," he says.
Sanjay is just one example of a trend that education experts are observing with growing alarm: large numbers of boys aren't reading, and this fact is contributing to a daunting achievement gap between boys and girls.
The gender achievement gap
The facts are stark: in every state and in every grade, boys are trailing behind girls in reading, according to a 2010 report by the Center on Education Policy, which called this lag, “the most pressing gender-gap issue facing our schools.”
Experts believe this gap is responsible for another disturbing development: as college completion rates continue to rise in this country, young men are not keeping up. Since the early 1990s, college graduation rates have steadily increased for women but remained stagnant for men. Only about 40 percent of college graduates last year were male — a difference that many education experts believe is linked to poor reading habits and literacy skills that boys developed in the elementary and middle school grades.
The lag in boys’ reading skills is consistent from the early grades through high school. Since the beginning of the National Assessment of Education Progress in the late 1960s, there has been a gender gap in reading, which is measured at ages 9, 13, and 17.
In 2004, the gap at fourth grade had narrowed to only five points, but then grew back to eight points in 2008. The gap is the largest in high school at 11 points.
While boys today have many more beguiling alternatives to books than they did in the past — including video games, television, and social media — experts say boys' lack of enthusiasm for reading is not a new phenomenon. Sarah Flowers, a librarian for more than 20 years in Santa Clara County, CA, says that she's always found boys more challenging than girls when it comes to finding books that interest them. Journalist Peg Tyre says the issue really began hundreds of years ago. In her book, The Trouble with Boys, she points out that three centuries ago John Locke, "lamented that male students were not able to write as well as female students, and he marveled at how much more easily girls picked up foreign languages."
As boys progress toward college, their reading deficits can hamper their success in other subject areas as well, educators say. Susan Tobia, the assistant vice president for academic affairs at the Community College of Philadelphia, sees the fallout of low reading achievement when boys enter their freshman year of college. Students who have spent less time reading are at a disadvantage when reading becomes a significant part of the program, she says: “College-level classes require critical thinking and reflection, and many of our students are struggling with basic comprehension."
It's not only college courses but our contemporary job market that demands high-level reading and writing skills, Tyre points out. Forty years ago there were plenty of employment opportunities for boys who didn't read or write well. But over the last several decades, jobs for unskilled workers have been outsourced overseas. "There are no illiterate scientists, tech geeks, and engineers," writes Tyre. "Kids can't do well in math and science unless they have a strong grounding in reading and writing. But as educators have been making these grand discoveries — and creating literacy-soaked curricula in response — boys have been losing ground in the very skills we now know are paramount."