Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Gender Gap in Reading: What Should We Do About It?

A recent report by the Center on Educational Policy, based on data collected by the reading component of the National Assessment for Education Statistics, says that while the gender gap in mathematics (where girls typically performed statistically lower than boys) has essential disappeared, whereas boys perform substantially worse on reading tests than do girls--in some states, up to 10% worse.    This has generated a variety of opinions about what we should do about it.

For example, Jon Scieszka, author of such immortal books as The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Math Verse, Science Verse, and the Time Warp Trio series, has started up a program called GUYS READ, which advocates the position that we should introduce boys to books that appeal to boys as a solution to the problem.  On some level, that makes sense, especially because I think books like Scieszka writes should induce ANYONE to read.

But, then, there is the other side.

I read a great rant the other day about this position of "boys need BOYS books" by a contemporary Young Adult (YA) author, Maureen Johnson (whose book, The Bermudez Triangle, was challenged in Oklahoma, which reminds me to remind you that this Friday is "Freedom to Read" day, a day that honors our ability to read 'banned books').  Anyway, she had a great blog asking why, after hundreds of years of schoolgirls having to read books by and about men, suddenly boys are demnding "boys" literature.  Read the whole thing here at her blog post, Sell the Girls.

There was also a great article on this issue in last week's Wall Street Journal.  The author, Thomas Spence, indicts typical "boys" books as focusing on juvenile humor, anti-social behavior, and unpleasant bodily functions.  Encouraging boys to read such books, he argues, will not help raise them into the sort of adults we want them to become.  His theory for the sudden decline in male reading ability?  Well, he points out that the gender gap began to appear right around the time that video games broke onto the scene...  Again, I recommend you read the original at How to Raise Boys Who Read
Hint: Not with gross-out books and video-game bribes

Spence ends with an interesting observation.  He says there is no gender difference in reading among homeschoolers.  While that is certainly true in my own experience--I ran a summer book club for homeschoolers last summer in which boys predominated--I would love to know if he has any statistics to back up that assertion.

Anyway, I think it is an interesting educational issue to ponder.


  1. Video game use correlates with lower reading scores for boys, but not for girls. Something to ponder.

    But I would focus on writing more than on reading. Because the consumer-producer divide is disappearing, writing is becoming more and more integrated with reading. The trends I see in online "read-write web" are rather alarming. Writer communities are very gender-segregated. And I dare say the gap between boys and girls writing is much larger than 10%.

  2. Well, the reason no one is talking about the gender gap in writing is that writing isn't tested nationally because it is hard to make it into a fill-in-the-bubble test. But I would suspect you are right; I imagine the difference in writing would be even greater.

    This has sparked my interest, so I'm checking out some other gender-related research. So check back--I'll see if I can find anything about writing statistics.

  3. Now that I found the "subscribe to comments" button, I'll be checking back even better. They should have made it huge and bright.

    I gauge writing levels by participation in "reading-writing" communities. There is even a trope about this on TVtropes: