Where Are the Boys?
It’s admissions and contracts season at Jewish Day Schools around the USA. Do you know your attrition rate by gender? By intellectual ability? By learning needs? Almost every trustee knows the proportion of students by religious affiliation and those receiving tuition support, but few understand the intellectual, academic, and emotional demographics of their student populations (i.e., gender, learning disabilities/giftedness); and fewer still are monitoring within-school-trends over time. Without this information, we cannot know if we are achieving our communal mission. Are we, like many private schools, losing our boys?
Nationally, there is a clarion call about the risks of making boyhood a behavioral disorder – from The New York Times – The Boys At the Back to The Atlantic – Stop Penalizing Boys to the Huffington Post – Why Boys are Failing to educational thought leaders such as Dr. Leonard Sax (Boys Adrift), Dr. William Pollack (Real Boys), Peg Tyre (The Trouble with Boys) and Michael Gurian (Inside the Minds of Boys). 80% of the population diagnosed with ADHD and learning disorders are boys (Leonard Sax). Boys are disproportionately reprimanded in school (New York Times – The Boys At the Back) and feel that the classroom is not a place where they can excel (Peggy Tyre). Is this happening at OUR Jewish Day Schools? Is it happening to OUR boys?
Anecdotally, Jewish professional and lay leaders report fewer boys in Jewish camping, post-Bar Mitzvah education and non-Orthodox rabbinical schools. We sought data gender analysis from leading Jewish think tanks and institutions – but it does not appear to be available. Are Jewish Day Schools effective at educating our “Jacobs” and “Davids”? We don’t know.
In California, public schools spend less per student than do our day schools. The per-student expense at Northern California Jewish Day Schools tops $12,000 while the State of California spends $8482 and the national average is $11,824 (Edsource.org, January 14, 2013). Charter schools in California receive $5500 per student and must be viable nonetheless, and often educate more successfully the most challenged parts of the population. Our Jewish schools receive more per pupil and get to make choices about how to spend that money: they need better data to make these decisions strategically.
Curiously, many public schools, legally obligated to educate every child, have collected this data. Upon seeing the disproportionately poor performance of boys versus girls (and the disproportionate time in the Principal’s office and with the school psychologist), these schools are making impressive strides by training and managing their teachers. They seek strategies and expertise from psychologists and counselors and track progress over time to assess efficacy. When strategies are unsuccessful, new plans are created and implemented. They don’t have the luxury of asking families to educate a particular child elsewhere nor can they allow that child to disrupt the learning of others. They must figure out what works, and in large part they do. Many private schools have also adopted data driven programs, so that they can effectively educate their students. While Jewish Day Schools have no legal obligation to educate every child, we have a moral obligation. We should be as passionate about understanding who we fail as we are about proving the impact of these communal institutions.
One of the profound messages of the story of Passover is that we are obligated to make a space for every type of child to be a part of the conversation, to be engaged with us around our tables, in our batei midrash—our places of study. Whether wise, rebellious, simple or someone who doesn’t know how to ask, we must find a way to make them feel a part of the journey, of our story. How do we teach this to some students while excluding their peers? It’s incongruous and insincere. And it’s heartbreaking.
Many every day, school-age, active, tactile boys (and a very small percentage of girls) have difficulty sitting still for long periods of time. They may not like to write, and struggle to comply with teacher directives. Nationally, teachers report that these boys are disruptive and disrespectful when they are standing at their desks (rather than sitting), driven to move around, or make it known that they are ready to move on to new tasks. Sometimes they need a different teaching style or a more flexible definition of success. Often they need an explicit curriculum to learn social, emotional, and behavioral skills that come more naturally to students with more compliable personalities. Instead of teaching these students how to meet their needs with less disruption to others, such children are blamed and often disciplined.
Our active (disruptive) boys go hand in hand with the great male leaders of our history. Abraham was oft to push back against God’s authority; Joseph followed his dreams at the expense of alienating his family; Moses killed a fellow human being with his bare hands while defying Pharaoh, and King David not only challenged authority on a regular basis, but he lived his life as an esteemed warrior. Today’s active Jewish boys could be the risk takers and leaders of tomorrow. They are not docile or easy. They will challenge the accepted norms in order to repair the world.
As a broader community, we need to seriously consider the implications of who we choose to educate. If we are failing our boys the way that national trends suggest, we are jeopardizing our communal and institutional future. At the very least, we need to collect the data about our boys. Join the conversation – #TeachOurBoys – study your rosters for the last 5-10 years. Who is retained and who is counselled out? Who chooses to leave and why? How do those who leave (willingly or not) do in other schools? Analyze and share the data – and let’s be a light unto the nations in educating all of our children. Please email if you would like to discuss further.
Joelle Kaufman is a Wexner Heritage alumna (SF 11). With over a decade of executive level marketing, product management and PR experience, Joelle’s experience includes heading marketing at Adify, Reactivity and Engage.com, and business development and product management positions at Firefly Network, NetDynamics, BigStep and RSA Security. In the Jewish Community, Joelle served as President of the Board of the Ronald C Wornick Jewish Day School, on the Women’s Philanthropy Board of the North Peninsula, and on the Rabbinical Search Committee of Peninsula Sinai Congregation. Joelle holds a BA from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Harvard Business School, where she was a George F. Baker Scholar. She is married to her HBS sweetheart and they are the parents of three active children – the first of whom will have his Bar Mitzvah in October 2014. Joelle can be reached at email@example.com.
Dr. Jessica Rosenbaum has been a licensed Clinical Psychologist in California since 2003. She specializes in the psychoeducational and neuropsychological evaluations of children ages 4 to 17 with extensive experience differentiating between cognitive, learning, behavioral and/or emotional causes of symptoms that children present. Dr. Rosenbaum’s doctorate was granted by Gallaudet University, an education that provided her with an exceptional understanding of language processing and it’s influence on learning, behavior and self-esteem. She believes that every child can learn if their needs are understood and teams including the child learn what strategies are most successful. She is an active member of Peninsula Sinai Congregation of Foster City and a married mother of three children.