Now that Florida’s teachers and students have settled into the new school year, those of us who work on education policy know it’s time for the state to address a pressing issue that affects us all: the gender-based achievement gap in Florida’s education system.
The Florida Legislature created a task force to examine this issue. The goal was to understand trends and identify evidence-based practices that could improve achievement and eliminate whatever gaps exist. Helios Education Foundation, in partnership with WestEd, took up this call to action and conducted a comprehensive research study. The findings are a wake-up call for us all.
Our research revealed that male students lag females in English Language Arts proficiency at the elementary and middle school levels by up to 10 percentage points. This gap isn’t limited to one demographic; it persists across racial and ethnic groups. Among Black sixth grade boys in particular, just 30% scored proficient in the 2021-2022 English Language Arts assessment. This isn’t just about boys falling behind in school — it’s a reality that impacts all our children’s futures and the future of our state. It’s about ensuring that every child in our state has an equal opportunity to succeed.
So what can we do about it? The research identified four evidence-based strategies:
♦ Provide academic support and classroom environments that acknowledge and accommodate the unique learning and developmental assets, differences and needs of boys.
♦ Focus on building positive teacher-student and school-student relationships.
♦ Offer additional research-based supports that enhance boys’ learning, confidence and opportunities to learn.
♦ Leverage student diversity as an asset to support teaching and learning.
These strategies aren’t just theoretical; they’re proven and actionable at the state, local and school levels. At the state level, we need to prioritize closing the gap through funding opportunities, policies, professional learning and reporting mechanisms. At the local level, we need comprehensive teacher training, showcasing schools with promising practices, and data tools to support informed action. And at the school level, we need to ensure that teachers receive the necessary support, use data effectively and focus on building positive teacher-student relationships.
Promising efforts are already underway. For example, Pinellas County Schools uses data to inform their Annual Showcase School Visits, highlighting schools that have effectively narrowed or eliminated gender-based achievement gaps in literacy.
But we can’t stop there. I urge you to join me in advocating for these evidence-based solutions on a large scale. Talk to your local educators and policymakers. This isn’t just about improving test scores. It’s about giving every child in Florida the chance to succeed. It’s about our future. And that’s something worth fighting for.
Paul J. Luna is president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation.