In a time when our future workforce will determine the economic strength of our country, I'm concerned that the number of young men seeking higher education is dropping. As that potential pool of employees shrinks, employers will face continued hardship in finding qualified workers.
According to the White House Council of Economic Advisors, if males graduated college in the same proportion as women, there would be about 14% more college graduates each year. As it stands now, though, we could be facing a shortfall of two million workers over the next decade.
What is going on?
One explanation, offered by Thomas DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann, sociology professors at Columbia and Ohio State, is that grade schools aren't boy-friendly, or to put it another way, schools aren't teaching the way boys like to learn.
Some school districts, though, are changing their teaching styles. For instance, Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens of the Gurian Institute are piloting a two-year program in the Missouri school system that is "boy-friendly."
Some successful techniques used in the classroom include:
Classroom methodology includes project-based education in which the teacher facilitates hands-on, kinesthetic learning. The more learning is project-driven and kinesthetic, the more boys' bodies will be engaged in learning—causing more information to be retained, remembered and displayed on tests and assignments.
Teachers move around their classrooms as they teach. Instructors' physical movement increases boys' engagement, and includes the teacher leading students in physical "brain breaks"—quick, one-minute brain-awakening activities—that keep boys' minds engaged.
Students are allowed to move around as needed in classrooms, and they are taught how to practice self-discipline in their movement. This strategy is especially useful when male students are reading or writing—when certain boys twitch, tap their feet, stand up, or pace, they are often learning better than if they sit still, but teachers are often not trained in innovating toward more movement in classrooms.
Teachers increase the use of graphics, pictures and storyboards in literacy-related classes and assignments. When teachers use pictures and graphics more often (even well into high school), boys write with more detail, retain more information and get better grades on written work across the curriculum.
Teachers provide competitive learning opportunities, even while holding to cooperative learning frameworks. Competitive learning includes classroom debates, content-related games and goal-oriented activities; these are often essential for boy-learning and highly useful for the life success of girls, too.
With this new emphasis on understanding that hands-on learning is essential to how boys learn, some high school programs are looking at manufacturing as the tool to attract boys to future education. The skills they require will address the missing link that DiPrete and Buchmann found, which is that "boys have less understanding than girls about how their future success in college and work is directly linked to their academic effort in middle school and high school." Making that connection clear, they argue, could go a long way toward closing the gender gap in higher education.
These hands-on programs are popping up across the country. Davenport, Iowa, established a High School Advanced Manufacturing Career Academy that will allow 20 Iowa Quad City high school students to earn college credit and in some cases earn certifications.
Another program in Illinois (Palatine-Schaumburg district) offers advanced manufacturing classes. Created with Harper College and area companies, high school students can earn 21 hours of dual credit at Harper, which can then help them complete simultaneous internships at area companies.
Mark Hibner, an applied technology teacher at Palatine High, hits the nail on the head when he observes that "most students who start the program don't do so with a firm intention of pursuing a manufacturing career, but perhaps because they saw something cool a friend of theirs made in class."
It is capturing the interest of boys in our educational system at a young age, and giving them skills that are applicable in the real-world, that will ultimately help convince young men to continue on to the university level.