Boys’ achievement gap and the ethic of care: a participatory action research study
Achievement of boys in school is falling behind girls nationally and internationally. Fewer boys are enrolling in honors and advanced placement classes and fewer of them are going on to college. In fact when compared to girls, boys earn lower grades, are suspended and expelled more often, and more of them drop out. Research is inconclusive on attempts to correct the problem through the use of single-sex schools or recruitment of more male teachers. This participatory action research project created an opportunity for pre-k--12 collaboration to study the phenomenon of boys’ underachievement to consider how Noddings (1984) care theory and relationships might be used to close the gap. Six themes came from the research: differences between boys and girls, care through responsive teaching, care through building relationships, power of parents, stress and pressure in education, and taking action and trust. Each of the first five themes was seen by teachers to positively or negatively influence the degree to which boys succeed in school. Teachers understand the need to take time to be seen as a person and to also take time to learn something about the student. Teachers understand the need to build and maintain relationships over time. Teachers’ understanding of how they care for boys shapes their role as a teacher as they focus on building relationships in which the teacher is present or in the moment with the student and maintains high standards for academics and conduct. The sixth theme taking action and trust revealed a challenge within the district involving trust and the nature of participatory action research.