By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
In communities across America, the disparity in high school graduation rates between Black students and their counterparts of other racial backgrounds has long been a point of concern. Officials and activists have identified the deeply rooted issue of excessive student suspension as a significant contributing factor. The systemic problem not only hampers the immediate educational prospects of affected students but also casts a long shadow over their prospects as Black Americans.
However, a report in the Associated Press explored a less explored facet of the educational divide emerges when examining the gender gap within these communities. While boys and girls attend the same classes, have access to identical programs, and often come from the same families, girls consistently outperform boys in public high schools nationwide. This gender disparity mirrors the achievement gap between students from affluent and low-income families, an issue that educational officials have closely monitored for years.
According to researchers, the reasons behind this discrepancy are multifaceted. One factor that emerges prominently is that boys are also more susceptible to disciplinary measures, including suspensions, which can lead to falling off track. Moreover, they are less likely to seek help when facing mental health challenges.
Research found that some boys initially find steady employment upon dropping out, but the long-term consequences of lacking a high school degree are stark. Recent studies reveal that young men who leave high school prematurely earn less over their lifetimes and are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.
Despite this, the U.S. government does not mandate states to report graduation data by gender, in contrast to the requirements for reporting data by racial and ethnic groups, as well as for children with disabilities, English language learners, and homeless students. Nevertheless, the Associated Press reported that researcher Richard Reeves, who based on data available from 37 reporting states, estimated that over 45,000 fewer boys than girls graduated high school in 2018. That year, approximately 88% of girls graduated on time compared to 82% of boys.
The gender gap in graduation rates persisted at six percentage points in 2021, according to a follow-up analysis. The gap has largely evaded comprehensive attention from schools, though some have implemented effective strategies. Yonkers, New York, for instance, improved graduation rates for boys of color through mentoring programs. Former Superintendent Edwin Quezada highlighted the need to address the racial gap in graduation rates as a crucial step toward comprehending the broader gender gap, which stood at seven percentage points in 2022.
Quezada told the news outlet that boys are referred to special education at higher rates than girls in early grades and are suspended more frequently throughout their school years. These factors, he noted, can significantly impede progress toward on-time graduation. “When the decks are stacked differently for young men than they are for young ladies, why should we expect different outcomes?” he questioned.
To support boys’ success, school policies in Buffalo have incorporated initiatives from the “My Brother’s Keeper” program. The district has also partnered with the education advocacy group “Say Yes Buffalo” to offer mentoring to male students and to recruit male teachers. Despite these efforts, the urban district reported a 10-point graduation gender gap in 2022 (84%–74%) and an 11-point gap (84%–73%) in 2021.
Research from Buffalo’s spokesman, Jeffrey Hammond, indicates that girls excel nationally in school over boys due to their propensity to plan, set academic goals, and invest effort in achieving them. He added that girls receive fewer school suspensions, demonstrating that they are generally more likely to follow the rules and receive more personalized instruction from teachers.
Though straightforward strides have been made, understanding the precise interplay between race and the gender gap remains a challenge, with only ten states reporting graduation rates breaking it down by both gender and race.
The graduation gender gap “is harder to explain than some of the other disparities we see,” Population Reference Bureau’s Beth Jarosz told the Associated Press. “We know that structural racism is part of the explanation for why Black youth and Hispanic, Latino youth and American Indian youth are less likely to graduate. But it’s not a structural racism issue for boys versus girls,” she said.