When South Carolina seniors celebrate their graduations in June, one major group will be seriously underrepresented. At almost every Upstate school, most of the diplomas will go to girls.
Almost every district in the state has a serious gender problem. When it comes to success in the classroom gender is a bigger factor in measured results than race, income or whether students attend city or rural schools.
At Brynes High School the 2016 graduation rates were right in line with the state average. That year 91% of girls graduated and 82% of the boys. A 9 percentage point gap is exactly the state average.
Inside the classroom, some young women are showing the kind of grit that earns diplomas. Like 19 year old Angie Appling who knows she has to work a little harder than many of her fellow students. She’s still a junior after falling behind to follow her boyfriend to Upstate New York.
But, even though she’s behind, Angie is back in Duncan and doing the work to graduate. She’s in a credit recovery course that allows her to try and catch up.
“I had to go back and stay after school for everything and try to catch up with the other kids and when I came back here I’m trying to recover the other classes that I’ve failed or missed,” Appling said.
Scott Smith, the research director at Spartanburg District 5, said there may be a number of reasons why the boys are having a harder time getting a diploma and the problems start before high school.
“I don’t think there’s any one idea that’s going to fix the problem,” Smith said. “When our kids get behind, the doors start closing for them and sometimes that happens even in middle school.”
Statewide, and across the country, the numbers clearly show that any plan to address graduation rates would need specific focus on struggling male students.
Within each school, the difference between boys and girls graduation rates is bigger than the difference between black, white and latino students. It’s bigger than the difference between students in and out of poverty. In the Upstate it’s bigger than the difference between city and rural schools.
Of 24 Upstate districts studied, girls graduated at a higher rate than boys in all but two.
In Greenwood District 51 94% of senior girls graduated in 2016. That year, just 65% of boys did. That gap was the biggest in the Upstate that year.
Asked why boys were consistently graduating at lower rates, Superintendent Dr. Faye Sprouse said, “It’s anybody’s guess.”
District 51 is so small that a single dropout can move the overall graduation rate. But the small numbers also mean it’s possible to have a close inspection of the individual students who miss graduation.
The district gave 7 NEWS a powerpoint slide show that shows what happened amonf the 43 male seniors in the 2016 class. 28 made it to graduation. Of the 15 who didn’t graduate, three became parents during the school year. Another 5 students had legal trouble, including one or more arrests.
Principal Paul Anderson thinks that’s partly because student fights are more violent and have more serious consequences than in years past.
“Maybe when you and I were in school a fight was maybe having to pull somebody apart out on the playground or something,” Anderson said. “It’s harder for boys, I guess, to back down from that.”
Whatever the reason, the gender gap is getting worse. Including after high school where federal statistics show young women far outnumber men in college enrollment and are far more likely to earn a college degree.
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