Fall 2009 - Department | Headmaster’s Column
The 2009-10 school year opened with excitement and enthusiasm. One thousand eight hundred and sixty students arrived on campus and filled the hallways with greetings, smiles and joy. It was wonderful to see and hear our school community come alive once again.
This year, our 146th, marks the thirtieth year since girls entered our classrooms as full-time students. Eighty-seven of them came to the seventh and ninth grades in the fall of 1979, and we have never been the same since. We celebrated this anniversary at our Convocation Service in the Upper School by recognizing these female pioneers. As I mentioned in my remarks to the student body, “Today, 30 years later, we know, and the world knows, that it was one of the best decisions we ever made. We have grown and developed in these three decades and now stand tall among the best schools in the nation, thanks in no small degree to the contributions of the girls who grow into the outstanding young women of Iolani.”
Even as we also acknowledge the many contributions our male students make to the school, we can’t help but be struck by the prowess of the females.
In an article entitled What’s Wrong with the Guys? Tom Mortenson, states: “Over the last 30 years, nearly all of the progress in educational attainment has been achieved by females – almost none has been earned by males.” He cites numerous statistics to back up his claim. I found some of them quite compelling.
- There were 5,578,000 men and 7,377,000 women undergraduates enrolled in college in the fall of 2000. Men made up 58% of college undergraduates in 1969; they made up 44% of the total in 2000.
- In 2001 the number of bachelor’s degrees earned by men was 531,840, an increase of 5 percent since 1975. During this same period the number of bachelor’s degrees earned by women increased 70% to 712,331.
- More than half of the bachelor’s degrees are now awarded to females in every racial/ethnic group of the population: whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians and American Indians. (National Center of Education Statistics)
- In 1970, males earned 60% of the master’s degrees awarded. In 2001, this percentage declined to 41%. (National Center of Education Statistics)
- Doctorate degrees earned by males have also declined significantly, from 87% in 1970 to 55% in 2001. (National Center of Education Statistics)
- High school graduation rates are higher for girls in 16 countries and higher for men in 5 countries.
And if all of these comparisons weren’t enough, Mr. Mortenson also points out that learning disorders are two to three times higher for males than females, suicide rates are almost six times higher for males than females and incarceration rates are 90% male dominant. The only statistic cited that favors men, and I’m sure the subject of much debate, indicates that a male’s lifetime income increases $1,266,000 with a bachelor’s degree but only $650,000 for females.
We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of qualified female applicants over the years, making admission for girls more competitive.
Why have the boys fallen behind? Are there interventions that society in general, or education in particular, need to take? What long term consequences will we experience if these trends continue? Is ‘Iolani subject to the same trends and imbalances?
The picture at ‘Iolani is mixed, but positive.
We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of qualified female applicants over the years, making admission for girls more competitive. Fortunately for us, we receive lots of interest from highly qualified males as well and are able to maintain comparable numbers of girls and boys at each grade level.
Achievement among boys and girls at Iolani does not disproportionately favor the girls. Average test scores for boys and girls are about the same for the Advanced Placement (AP) exams, and PSAT and SAT measures and they are equally represented on lists of National Merit Finalists. Cumulative grade point averages are also comparable between genders. Enrollment in AP classes, however, does favor the girls, and there are more Valedictorians who are girls. Although open to interpretation, these differences appear to be the result of differences in interests and priorities rather than in academic prowess, especially if one considers the equality of overall test scores and grades. For the present we appear to be an exception to the Mortenson rule.
Maintaining the best possible environment for all our students, both male and female, will always be our top priority.
We can not ignore his data, however, and will continue to keep an eye on the trends he describes and prepare ourselves accordingly, making changes if and when appropriate. The Iolani of tomorrow will look and feel different from the one of today just as we differ today from that all male environment of thirty years ago.
Maintaining the best possible environment for all our students, both male and female, will always be our top priority. In both quantity and quality, we believe in gender equity. And we have the students to prove it.