Talk of the District

with Tom Nelson, Superintendent

Talk of the District is a site to post your questions, concerns, ideas and participate in an on-line discussion with the Superintendent and other community members.

Superintendent Tom Nelson can be contacted via email at

For a number of years I have been observing the fact that female students are outperforming male students by significant numbers.  A few years ago, while still the superintendent in the South Washington County Schools, I wrote an article for the local newspaper entitled, “Where Are The Boys?”  At that time it was very apparent that female students were performing better in academic programs and were also dominant in almost every leadership position in our schools.

I recently attended an academic lettering program at Stillwater Area High School to honor our students’ classroom achievements.  Many outstanding young people received academic letters for outstanding performance in their classes.  As I watched and applauded our deserving students, I could not help but think about the number of female students being recognized compared to male students.  Well over 60 percent of those recognized were female, and for those receiving awards for having a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) or greater, the numbers were even greater with 67 percent being female.

Let’s think about that last number - two out of every three students being recognized at the highest level of achievement were female.  Now I do not want to take anything away from these young women as they are very deserving and will undoubtedly go on to even greater achievements in their post secondary education and in their life’s work. But my concern is the lack of school successes on the part of our male population.  This is not new, and the fact that it is now a trend is even more worrisome. 

During my last stay in Stillwater as superintendent of schools (2010-2011) I visited with Dr. Chris Balow, the district’s assessment coordinator, on this topic.  He produced a very thorough study on gender disparities, focusing on Stillwater in particular, and came to the same conclusion: While the gender gap is not great when we look at standardized test results, the performance gap is significant.  When considering participation in Advanced Placement classes, classroom grades, grade point averages (GPA), class rank, academic awards, leadership positions, and the number of students in the top 25 percent of their class our females are outperforming our male students.  Dr. Balow referred to this as a motivational gap.

This trend moves on to college campuses, where in many instances roughly 60 percent of the student body is female.  In an article written by Allie Grasgreen on a review of a new book, The Rise of Women, she stated that in 1970 20 percent of men finished college while only 14 percent of women finished.  By 2010, the numbers for men only rose by seven percent to 27 percent, while the numbers for women receiving a college degree “skyrocketed” to 36 percent.

Results indicate that our male students are capable of performing well on tests. They are certainly smart enough, but it appears they are not really motivated to take the extra efforts to excel. One look around a Student Council meeting at our high school and you can see young men just aren’t showing up to do the work.


There is more to an education than a student’s score on a standardized test.  Education teaches us about life skills and the value of hard work and persistence. Our schools should reinforce the idea of showing up everyday and working to the best of our ability.  Our female students appear to be getting the message.  Clearly we have more work ahead to get our male students motivated.  Parents and schools need to work together if we want to see our sons step up and join with our daughters to lead the next generation.



Contact Tom Nelson at

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