Econ 101b: March 3 Lecture: Introduction to Aggregate Demand
Washington Post Death Spiral Watch

New York Times Death Spiral Watch

On Elizabeth Weil. Outsourced to Sara Mead--who could have written a very good magazine article on single-sex public schooling, but was not asked to do so:

The Problem with Gender-Based Education | New America Blogs: Yesterday's New York Times Magazine featured a very long article that's purportedly about single-sex public schooling, but is really about a narrower--and much more problematic--concept of gender-based education. Gender-based education is the notion that "Boys and Girls Learn Differently"... that recent neuroscience research shows significant difference in male a female brains and that as a result educators must employ different approaches in teaching male and female students. Unfortunately, many of the arguments for gender based education are bunk.....

Elizabeth Weil profiles Dr. Leonard Sax, a family doctor from Washington, D.C.'s Maryland suburbs and a leading advocate of gender-based schooling.... [S]he does a decent job in laying out some of the key critiques of Sax's work. Sax and Gurian exaggerate the neuroscience and get some of it flat-out wrong. Much of the science they do cite is primarily descriptive--it's not adequate to serve as a guide to making decisions about teaching or policy. And they ignore the fact that variation among both males and females often far exceeds average differences between the genders.

But, since the critiques don't appear until roughly halfway through a very long article--the first part of which reads like a puff piece on Dr. Sax--many readers may miss them.... Actual neuroscientists... aren't the ones banging the drum on gender-based education... caution against trying to draw practical implications.... Jay Geidd, one of the preeminent neuroscientists studying brain development in children (including gender differences) cautions that gender is much too crude a tool to differentiate educational approaches: the variation within each gender is often larger than the average difference between genders, and there's substantial overlap in the distributions....

There is pretty strong evidence that preschool-aged boys develop gross motor skills faster than girls do, while preschool-aged girls tend to have an advantage in language development. As a result, boys and girls are, on average, at different levels of language and motor development when they enter school. Sax and Gurian see this as one argument for separate sex, gender-based schooling. That might be reasonable if gender were the only source of variance in young children's learning. But it's not: Young children's development is highly variable. Some 5-year-old girls might lag many boys in language skills, and some boys' motor skills might lag those of their female peers. If one is really concerned about adjusting education to variations in children's development, increased customization and multi-age groupings in early elementary school, which allow teachers to group children who are developmentally similar, regardless of age, and children to progress at their own paces, are a far better solution than simply separating children by sex.

The appetite for single-sex and gender-based educational approaches is understandable... this country does a... particularly poor job of educating poor and minority boys....

Unfortunately, there's no evidence that the gender-based approaches work in improving student acheivement. Even if Sax and Gurian's didn't have such a weak basis in neuroscience, a basis in neuroscience isn't enough.... There's even evidence that some of their recommendations are wrong: For instance, Sax argues boys will do better in school if parents wait until they're 6 to enroll them in kindergarten--a practice known as kindergarten redshirting. But researchers have studied the effects of kindergarten redshirting and found no evidence it make a significnat difference....

No one disputes that single sex schooling can have benefits for some students--particularly for girls in math and science. And a single sex approach may also help educators to create the strong, shared culture and values we know highly effective schools have. But there are plenty examples of schools doing this in coed settings as well.... Wouldn't it be nice if the New York Times devoted at least as much attention to the strategies we know are working to educate students in these settings, as it has on a faux controversy about marginal gender-based educational approaches?

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

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