Why Do We Have a Double Standard for Diversity in Education?

Mary Stark Elementary School second-grade student Chase Gumeringer uses an iPad with his classmates in teacher Tammy Bopp’s room in Mandan in 2016. (MIKE MCCLEARY, BISMARCK TRIBUNE)

Over the weekend my colleague Helmut Schmidt published an article about the lack of gender diversity in leadership positions in our schools in this region. But what caught my eye was that another lack of diversity was, while mentioned, not identified as a similar sort of problem:

About 72 percent of all K-12 educators are women, according to Department of Education figures cited by the American Association of School Administrators.

But a 2015 AASA study found women make up just 27 percent of those holding a superintendency, up only 2 percent from 2010.

It’s always fair to ask questions when so large a disparity in diversity exists. Are women kept out of leadership positions because of sexism? Is it because women, in the aggregate, don’t pursue career paths in education which lead to administrative positions? We should find out, and fix what policy or procedural barriers there may be to female advancement.

But we should also find out why there are so few men in the teaching ranks. That seems, to me, an equivalent if not larger problem and one which could be having a real impact on student outcomes.

Yet in this article it’s presented not as a problem but merely context.

“American boys across the ability spectrum are struggling in the nation’s schools, with teachers and administrators failing to engage their specific interests and needs,” Christina Hoff Summers wrote in The Atlantic in 2013. “This neglect has ominous implications not only for the boy’s social and intellectual development but for the national economy, as policy analysts are just beginning to calculate.”

Just last month Jon Marcus wrote in The Atlantic that men have been falling behind women when it comes to college attendance for decades now:

Where men once went to college in proportions far higher than women—58 percent to 42 percent as recently as the 1970s—the ratio has now almost exactly reversed.

This fall, women will comprise more than 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Some 2.2 million fewer men than women will be enrolled in college this year. And the trend shows no sign of abating. By 2026, the department estimates, 57 percent of college students will be women.

The new minority on campus? Men.

Men aren’t just attending college in smaller numbers, but more are failing to complete too.

“[M]en of all races and ethnicities are dropping out of the work force, abusing opioids and falling behind women in both college attendance and graduation rates,” Thomas Edsall wrote for the New York Times back in March in an article headlined, “The Increasing Significance of the Decline of Men.” He says those trends are having an impact on economic well being of men.

“Since 2000, wage inequality has grown more among men than among women,” he continues.

These are not good trends.

They’re also very complicated social and economic issues for which there is no single explanation. But is it not fair to wonder if perhaps lopsided gender diversity among educators is at least a factor? Would boys have a better chance at academic success if there were more men in the classrooms with them?

That, to me, seems a much more pressing question than how many female superintendents we have.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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