Study: Boys benefit from more girls in the classroom

Gender proportions may effect reading scores

Boys' reading performance may receive a boost when there is a higher percentage of girls in the classroom, according to research on the effects of school resources and social characteristics on reading scores in 33 countries.

The study, published online last week by the Journal of School Effectiveness and School Improvement, found that all students scored better when girls made up at least 60 percent of students in the school.

But the benefits were much stronger for boys, which researchers believe can be attributed to girls' higher academic performance overall.

The study relied on reading test scores from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, which measures academic performance of 15-year-olds in 33 countries. Researchers set out to determine how certain factors -- schools' poverty level, teacher education and gender makeup -- influenced girls’ and boys’ reading performance.

Contrary to their expectations, researchers discovered that the proportion of highly educated teachers and the socioeconomic composition of schools did not benefit boys more than girls. In fact, girls seemed to benefit more than boys in schools with higher proportion of students with socioeconomic advantages. 

Researchers noted that previous studies suggested boys are strongly influenced by a school's learning environment. It's also been established that girls exhibit higher levels of concentration and are more motivated to perform well -- factors may help explain their positive influence on boys.

The latest results will likely contribute to the ongoing discussion on single-sex schooling, which is rapidly growing in the U.S. The authors of the study say the findings suggest gender separation in the classroom may not be beneficial to boys, who tend to be less focused and more prone to misbehavior.

Instead, they say policymakers should encourage more equal gender distribution in schools.

"Boys' poorer reading performance really is a widespread, but unfortunately also understudied, problem," said lead author Dr Margriet van Hek, a sociologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. "Our study shows that the issue is reinforced when boys attend schools with a predominantly male student population."

"Yet schools can help improve this situation by ensuring a balanced gender distribution in their student population."