Boys, Race, and California Schools

January 17, 2020

by Sean Kullman

In 2013, a friend of mine shared concerns about her high school son, Eric, an affable boy who played sports, played an instrument, and was extremely bright. He held a job while in high school too. I had the opportunity to work with him on his writing and saw him around town quite a bit and got to know him well. For some reason, however, he was not engaged in school. And his mother was worried. She had a strong background in education and knew her son’s district intimately. With each passing year, she grew more frustrated.

When I ran into Eric’s mother recently, she shared that her son’s life seems finally on track. But she swears his California public schools did little in the way of facilitating his confidence and engaging her son academically. She seemed bitter and rightly so. Eric was well-rounded, extremely intelligent, and possessed life skills many young people do not possess. If someone like Eric was having challenges in school, how were other boys fairing in California schools?

Eric’s mother is not alone in her observations regarding the challenges boys encounter in California schools. According to data from the California Department of Education (CA Dept. of Ed.), boys are less likely to earn high school diplomas and less likely to meet other benchmarks.

GIBM reviewed 4-years of data from the CA Dept. of Ed. and learned that race and boys is a systemic problem in California schools. California is not alone. Many departments of education across the country do not collect gender-data on high school graduation rates. According to the Brookings Institute, only 37 states collect gender demographic-data on graduation rates. In its study Brookings reported that boys earned fewer high school diplomas in all 37 of the states it studied.

California is one of 37 states that collects graduation-data based on gender. Retrieving data on boys is not always so simple though. The data is often layered behind other links, and those unfamiliar with the system will not necessarily find the data easily. The California Department of Education has long been focused on “race/ethnicity” and programs that support girls more so than boys. Engaging Girls in STEM, for instance, remains a central tenet of the CA Department of Education. These types of programs encourage girls to pursue STEM professions where they are underrepresented, mostly in the computer sciences and engineering fields. Females are doing quite well in other STEM professions such as biological and biomedical science where they go on to represent 72% of undergraduate degrees according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES). Encouraging girls is an important part of any educational system. There are, however, fewer checks and balances when it comes to the status of boys, even when gender (sex) is more of a determining factor than race.

The CA Department of Education displays race/ethnicity data more prominently than it does gender data. Race/ethnicity data is certainly an important data-set, yet it remains the most prominently displayed data-set on its website even when gender-data reveals a more troubling trend.

The table below is from the CA Dept. of Ed., and it presents conventional data-graphics on race. The graph fails, however, to identify that all boys of all races do worse than their female counterparts of the same race. In order to retrieve more accurate data, one has to look much more deeply.

GIBM Findings of California Department of Education Data

GIBM's review of California Department of Education data is presented in Table 1 below. The GIBM table is particularly helpful to policy makers, educators, researchers, media, and parents looking for an inclusive data-set that more accurately reflects the realities of high school performance. Table 1 is more informative than the current presentation by the California Department of Education, and GIBM believes the table below should serve as the standard form for the way race/ethnicity data is presented.

In order to view one-year of CA gender data, a researcher needs to go through an 8-step process on the CA Dept. of Ed. website, Data Quest. GIBM’s 4-year cohort (Table 1) took 20 steps, and many of these steps could be circumvented with a more accurate presentation of data and a streamlined data-processing system. Current CA Dept. of Ed. data muffles gender data while amplifying race data. Expanding race/ethnicity data into gender cohorts allows for a truer picture on the status of our boys and girls performance. In other words, specific race/ethnicity data and specific gender data should flow from a combined table of race/ethnicity and gender cohorts and not the other way around.

Where GIBM's Table 1 is accurate, the CA Dept. of Ed. table is misleading. While Whites are listed as the third best performing group in the CA Dept. of Ed. table, the GIBM table reveals that White Males perform worse than 7 other cohorts and perform essentially the same as Hispanic/Latino Females and Two or More Races Males in meeting UC/CSU requirements: The African American Female, White Male, and Pacific Islander Female cohorts are much closer in performance than the African American Female and African American Male cohorts as well as the Pacific Islander Female and Pacific Islander Male cohorts.

Table 1: Created by the Global Initiative for Boys & Men after reviewing 4 years of data from the California Department of Education (Updated January 24, 2020).

A closer look at Table 1 reveals that all boys of all races do worse than their female counterparts of the same race in earning regular high school diplomas, meeting college requirements, earning a Biliteracy Seal, and earning a Golden Seal Merit Diploma. Despite these realities, this information often goes unreported and few boy-specific programs are created to address inequities. Depending on the race, boys are 2.6% to 10.2% less likely to earn a high school diploma than girls. And the boys with California high school diplomas are less likely to meet college requirement than their female counterparts of the same race by a significant margin.

The gender-gap in meeting college requirements is much larger. Boys of all races are between 6.6% to 13.5% less likely to meet the college requirements for the UC/CSU college system. In five of the eight race/ethnicity cohorts, boys are between 10.7% and 13.5% less likely to meet college requirements. The remaining cohorts (Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Two or More Race Males) are 5.7%, 6.6%, and 8.2% less likely to meet UC/CSU requirements than their female counterparts. These disparities may expose one of the more concerning trends in California education. Are we simply pushing boys through the system and leaving them unprepared for career options?

Equally pressing is the need for a national report card on high school graduation rates and gender. The U.S. Department of Education does not list graduation rates by gender, according to the Brookings Institute. “We do not know the national high school graduation rates for girls and boys, since states are not required to provide this data—but, we argue here, this requirement should be added.” A national report card on graduation-data using GIBM’s Table 1 seems the most equitable approach.

A full report card on gender graduation-data would likely reveal that boys are doing worse than reported. From 2016 to 2020, it is safe to assume that there were at least 180,000 fewer boys who earned high school diplomas nationally according to data from the Brookings report. It’s more likely there are well over 200,000 more males than females who did not receive diplomas in part because the data collection is likely undercounting boys who do not graduate for a variety of reasons, such as dropping out of the system prior to and during high school. From 2016 to 2020, California alone had 76,106 fewer male students earn high school diplomas than female students.

The current school climate has focused on race/ethnicity data in a generic and superficial way at a time when the struggles of boys crosses all racial lines. Lack of transparency, lack of support, and the lack of a California Commission on the Status of Boys and Men are leading reasons California schools continue to underserve boys.

Presenting data more openly is an opportunity to ensure policy makers, the media, schools, and parents have a clearer picture on the status of all boys and girls in California schools.

Table 2: Created by the Global Initiative for Boys & Men after reviewing 4 years of data from the California Department of Education

Table 3: Created by the Global Initiative for Boys & Men after reviewing 4 years of data from the California Department of Education (Updated January 24, 2020).

Ways to donate to the Global Initiative for Boys and Men

  • Credit Card Donation through Pay Pal and Donorbox

  • Amazon Smiles: List Global Initiative for Boys and Men as your charity of choice and a percentage of all purchases will support the GIBM.

  • Mail checks to Global Initiative for Boys and Men, Mailbox 337, 685 Spring St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250