Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers ever, but De'Andre Leaks isn't a fan. Two years ago, the 16-year-old junior at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg said he got so bored in English class — he singled out Romeo and Juliet — that he zoned out and flunked.
De'Andre is back on track now. But only after facing a month in night school and the specter of dropping out.
"It was my fault. But I did what I had to do (to get caught up)," he said. "I want to graduate on time."
More boys than girls have stories like De'Andre's.
The latest evidence: Florida's graduation rates.
Depending on race, girls graduated at rates that were 5 to 8 percentage points higher than boys', according to state data released last week.
The gap has narrowed in recent years. But some observers still see a problem the public hasn't come to fully realize — one with head-spinning implications for work, home and school.
Dennis J. Barbour, CEO of the Boys Initiative, based in Washington, D.C., said the fault line is where globalization meets instruction. The decline in manufacturing zapped jobs that many men once gravitated to, he said. And some believe schools have not helped boys adjust.
"With the new professional categories that are emerging … the skills are not what boys have been traditionally taught," Barbour said. "You could ask, is this a failure of society to change the way boys are taught so they are naturally led into these new professions? Or is this a failure of the men in our society to adapt to our changing economy?"
Academically, boys trail girls in all kinds of ways. Reading scores. Writing scores. Grad rates. Going to college. Women outnumber men 2-to-1 in many Florida community colleges. They earn 60 percent of the bachelor's degrees at Florida universities.
Some point to factors within schools. Some see problems outside school walls.
"A lot of fathers are not coming to the plate and taking care of their kids," said Maurice Herring, a behavior specialist at Lakewood High and the liaison for the school's 5000 Role Models chapter. "When you don't have someone trying to monitor you in the right way, you're going to go to the streets."
But today's classrooms are also more suited for girls, said Carla Sparks, who supervises the single-gender program in the Hillsborough school district.
At the risk of oversimplifying, boys are more apt to wiggle and fidget, more likely to get into trouble, Sparks said. Behavior issues lead to attendance issues, which drag down achievement.
To help, Hillsborough now has some single-gender classrooms in 10 elementary schools and one high school. It also has two completely single-gender middle schools — one for boys and one for girls.
"We don't paint all our girl classrooms pink," Sparks said. "The idea is to better understand the brain development in boys and girls and adjust the classroom environment … in a way that is more friendly toward their style of learning."
Preliminary data show gaps closing, which should pay off down the road in better grad rates, she said.
The grad-rate gaps are biggest for minority students. The gap statewide this year was 5.1 percentage points among white students, 5.7 percentage points for Hispanic students and 8 percentage points for black students.
Some high schools target at-risk boys.
Lakewood identifies 15 to 20 black male students a year who are not on track to graduate. With extra help and mentoring, 50 to 60 percent of them get a diploma, said guidance counselor Celeste Thomas.
But that's not nearly enough, she said.
Thomas speculated that something happens when boys are bombarded with glorified images of musicians and athletes.
"I sometimes wonder if they believe that to reach that goal (of success in life), you don't have to have an education," she said. "They see other people who are successful without it."
De'Andre credited the school and his mom for his turnaround.
When his mother found out he was behind on credits, she took away his cell phone. And he knew he needed to keep a 2.0 GPA if he wanted a shot to play cornerback.
De'Andre said he hasn't thought about college, but wants to go. He said he wants a degree to land a good job, even if he's not sure what kind.
"Any job that makes money, I'll do it," he said.
Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8873.