Me Fail English? With Girls In The Class, A Little Less Unpossible

In news that may cheer Ralph Wiggum — and that the rest of us should probably take with a grain of salt — research shows boys do worse in English with girls in the classroom.

Bristol University researcher Steven Proud tracked boys in 16,000 English schools between 2002 and 2004. He found that boys got the best grades in English when "as few girls as possible" in their classes, and the more female classmates they had, the worse they did. On the flip side, both genders did better when there were more girls in science and math classes.

According to the Guardian, Proud explains his findings thus:

boys may do worse in English when there is a high proportion of girls in their class because they realise that the girls are better than them. It could also be that teachers use teaching styles more appropriate to girls when there are more girls than boys in the class. Both genders perform better in maths and science at primary school when there are more girls in the class because boys tend to disrupt the class more [...]

Though the Guardian's headline — "Girls make boys worse at English, says new study" — makes it sound a little like girls are slamming those readers shut in boys' faces, Proud's analysis actually makes boys look bad. Not only are they shrinking violets who can't stand girls outperforming them, but they also get in the way when girls try to learn math. Is it possible, though, that there are other gender stereotypes at work here? The idea that girls are better at English than boys is so entrenched that Proud mentions it pretty uncritically — perhaps boys feel that it's feminine to be verbally adept. And perhaps this effect is more pronounced when there are girls in the class for comparison. However, Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, added that the grade differences in the study were very small, and that "you can't say that it means boys or girls should be separated." Could it be that the variation within each gender is still much larger than the differences between, be it in English, math, or life? Nah, that's unpossible.

Girls Make Boys Worse At English, Says New Study [Guardian]