Re "The Boys at the Back," by Christina Hoff Sommers ("The Great Divide" series, Sunday Review, Feb. 3):
The way to deal with boys' underachievement in school is not through "boy friendly" policies like more recess, single-sex classrooms and male teachers but through strong academic climates and clear, consistent information about occupations and the educational pathways that lead to them.
After years of research for our forthcoming book, "The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What It Means for American Schools," Thomas A. DiPrete and I found that in schools where academic effort is expected and valued, boys compete for high grades and more often achieve them. Such schools reduce gender gaps and promote healthy, multifaceted gender identities for both boys and girls.
Boys also perform better when teachers and parents help them understand how their future success is linked to their efforts in middle and high school.
Rather than remaking schools in ways that reinforce gender stereotypes, we need schools that set high expectations for student achievement and treat students as individuals.
Columbus, Ohio, Feb. 6, 2013
The writer is a professor of sociology and director of graduate studies at Ohio State University.
To the Editor:
Even in the late 1950s, educators sensed that girls had advantages over boys. They're verbal, orderly, quiet, submissive and cooperative.
Boys? Polar opposites: outgoing, active, loud and unable to sit still. More boys in detention, in special education and suspended. And of course, all the teachers were women!
As a fifth-grade teacher, I found that one solution was a brisk, vigorous outdoor activity session right before lunch. If someone got restless or acted out, all I said was "save that for outside."
The results were amazing. Three boys who had suffered stomach cramps and needed medical attention refused to go to school. Their mothers fought with them every day. But in my class they raced to school. Couldn't wait to get there.
Girls benefited, too. Two who had no friends suddenly bonded with each other, then with classmates. For the first time, girls invited them to birthdays and sleepovers. One had been receiving psychiatric help and medication. Her mother later told me that she no longer needed either.
There are certainly solutions to "boys at the back." Letting boys be boys is one of them.
Hazlet, N.J., Feb. 6, 2013
The writer is a retired public-school teacher.