MY favorite teacher in high school was a man named Robert Ulysses Jameson, a terrifying, red-faced man whom the students called “Chopper.” Chopper yelled at us if we said things that were stupid. If our stupidity persisted, he’d throw us out of the classroom by pointing to the door and saying, “Out!” Sometimes he threw us out one by one, and on other days he threw us all out at once. One by one was worse.
As the nation’s classrooms welcome back teachers and students, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the methods — and the gender — of your own favorite teacher. A 2006 study by Thomas Dee, now a professor at Stanford, suggested that boys do better in classes taught by men while girls are more likely to thrive in classes taught by women. The study found that girls were more likely to report that they did not think a class would be useful to their future if it was taught by a man, and boys were more likely to say they did not look forward to a particular subject if it was taught by a woman.
Gender gaps in educational outcomes are a matter of real and growing concern. We’ve known for a long time, since the 1970s, that girls outscore boys in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading tests, while boys tend to outperform girls in math and science.
Boys are increasingly less likely than girls to attend college and to receive a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, female college students continue to be underrepresented in such technical fields as engineering and computer science.
One popular, if controversial, response to these patterns has been a renewed push for single-sex education - an effort that has drawn support from across political divides. An amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act authorizing the creation of single-sex public schools was sponsored by Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas, but the measure passed in large part due to the support of Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, a Wellesley College graduate grateful for her opportunity to attend one of the country’s premier women’s colleges. (“Wellesley nurtured, challenged, and guided me,”she declared in her 1992 Commencement Day speech.) The National Association for Single-Sex Public Education reports that, as of April 2006, at least 223 public schools in the United States were offering gender-separate educational opportunities, up from just 4 in 1998. Although most were coeducational schools with single-sex classrooms, 44 were wholly single-sex.