WATERFORD — Scrub out the mental image of a ditsy Barbie saying, "Math is so haaaard!" with her perky smile. It's Ken we should be worried about.
Somewhere along the line, classrooms have become "female friendly," commented Sue Rich, assistant superintendent at the Stanislaus County Office of Schools.
While school districts face tough standards to close achievement gaps between ethnic groups, income groups and special needs students, Waterford Unified Superintendent Don Davis noted, "There is an achievement gap between girls and boys, and we're not held accountable for that achievement gap in any way."
Davis saw male under-achievement in an array of education statistics and tried going old school to fix it, separating the sexes.
He told a gathering at the county office this week that girls graduate in significantly higher percentages than boys, have higher grades, higher test scores and often far outnumber the guys in top college-prep courses. "When there's a calculus class with four girls for every boy, and 60 to 65 percent of college admissions are girls, that's a real imbalance. Is that healthy for America?" he said.
Check statistical data collected by the state, and every grade will show girls outperforming boys. But dig deeper, he said, and the numbers also show some classes where boys' achievement equals girls. "There have been some excellent teachers who have figured it out," he said.
Waterford High English teacher, now Waterford Junior High Principal, Paul Patterson was one of them. A veteran of years spent teaching at the California Youth Authority, he approached Davis asking for "a bad boys class." He got it, along with a separate girls-only class.
Boys read "Lord of the Flies." The girls didn't. But both got the same lessons on story structure, character development and other English essentials, Patterson said. They competed against each other and when the test results came back both did equally well, and significantly better than they had before.
The different feel of the classes, Patterson described as a sense of relief. "Boys do want to impress girls. They don't want to be embarrassed," he said.
What Waterford learned at the junior high, however, was it takes a lot of training to make the shift to single-gender classes work. Boys need the incentive of cool new challenges, Davis said, they get bored fast. "The biggest complaint at middle schools are boys are unmotivated. We created a completely unmotivating system for them," he said.
Girls have more drama. Boys need variety and challenges. "The approach is totally different," said Davis.