The Gender Gap, Part 3

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Bill Rice: Commencement practice at Cleveland's East High School. Deputy Principal Lynn Hale isn't phased by much when it comes to these inner city students. The group is on it's way back into the auditorium after a false fire alarm - the third of the morning - and its taking a little more time than Lynn would like to reassemble. After the last of the graduating class straggles back in, Lynn demands order, eventually gets it, and doesn't lose his cool in the meantime.

In this graduating class at one of Cleveland's predominantly black high schools, young women outnumber young men by about 12%. East High Senior Guidance Counselor Margaret Board has noticed the female-heavy roster. She's not alarmed by it, but she does admit that young women do seem more motivated academically.

Margaret Board: Young ladies tend to be readers, they tend to explore information about reading and writing and English classes and so forth.

BR: Board notes that girls have made significant gains in subjects that are traditionally male-dominated - namely, science and math. But, she says, boys generally have a tougher time where girls clearly perform better: in reading and writing.

MB: The young men, they tend - well, we have some good writers, but they tend to be more vocal. They can speak pretty well, but as far as actually writing it down, they tend to shy away from that a little more.

BR: Jeff Powers, twelfth grade guidance counselor at Warrensville Heights High - another all-black school - also sees evidence that girls are excelling at higher rates than boys. He cites the top-ten students list, which he says is 70% female. Same with the National Honors' Society.

Jeff Powers: I don't have the numbers in my head right now, but there are only about four or five young men in the society out of I think almost twenty.

BR: And, Powers concedes, when it comes to higher education, women appear to have a better outlook.

JP: Insofar as the African American community sending more women than men to college - that's probably true. It's probably true here. I just don't have the numbers.

BR: Nor, apparently, do many others in public education. And the state department of education doesn't track college-bound graduates by gender. But recent national statistics compiled by researchers at Northeastern University show a wide disparity between African American men and women at the college level. The study shows for every 100 bachelors' degrees earned by black men in the year 2000, nearly double that number - 192 - were awarded to women, and that wide gaps also occur among master's and doctoral degree recipients.

David Miller, a professor of social work at Case Western Reserve University, thinks there's cause for concern about underachievement among black men. And, he says the problems start well before college age.

David Miller: We know that young black boys have problems in elementary and secondary school.

BR: Miller agrees with many educators that boys - and not just African American, but boys of all races - tend to find it harder to pay attention in class. He says that that's partly due simply to the psychological makeup of boys. But Miller says blacks males face other obstacles as well.

DM: They are more likely to run into problems with the juvenile justice system or the legal system, therefore disqualifying them for financial aid when they do apply to college. We know that their preparation in the home just isn't up to snuff, whereas the young ladies are prepared to go to school.

BR: Prepared, he says, because African American parents are more likely to encourage daughters to continue school than sons.

DM: I think the families and communities push the girls toward developing skills that they will need in case they wake up one day and look at the marriage pool and realize that their options might be limited if they have this idea of their mate who has a college degree or MBA or MD or PhD.

BR: In fact, Miller and others say that marriage disconnect is common among African Americans. And, they warn, it may be a harbinger of what's to come in society as a whole; the Northeastern University study suggests the gender gap in favor of women has been widening among hispanics, whites, asians and American indians as well.

But Andrew Sum, the study's author, says those warnings are going largely unheeded. and that the notion that serious thought should be given to how men are adjusting to a changing culture and economy is not a popular one. Some of these young black men about to graduate from East High are college-bound. But statistically they're among the lucky few, says Sum. And he says, only a few people seem to care. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN News.

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