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Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Department or Program Affiliation

Woodring College of Education

Degree Name

Doctorate of Education


Education Leadership and Inclusive Teaching

First Advisor

Larsen, Donald

Second Advisor

Robertson, Wayne Thomas

Third Advisor

Fabian, JoAnne


The Title IX legislation of 1972 asserts that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance, ..” This, along with other movements and forces of the past half century, laid the foundation for our ongoing challenging, national dialogue about individuality, identity, opportunity, equality, and equity. This study advances that conversation based on the continuing evidence of male underachievement in our secondary schools.

The purpose of this study was to explore school and district leader perceptions of the root causes behind male underachievement in American secondary schools, and, in doing so, inspire action by elevating the broader societal conversation about the phenomenon, advancing professional and scholarly understanding of male underachievement, and illuminating the plight of underachieving males.

The research focused on two broad questions: How do school and district leaders explain male underachievement? Do leader perceptions of causes vary by identity (e.g., gender, level, experience)? A mixed-methods approach combined a survey, written responses, and interview data from Washington state public school administrators who had working knowledge of secondary-aged students. Quantitative data analysis included analysis of central tendency, distribution of responses, and correlation among responses by participant identity factors. Qualitative analysis included coding data, identifying core themes in responses, and isolating patterns of themes in crafting the narrative of participant insights.

The research showed that this phenomenon is real, pervasive, and has been the case for some time at the secondary level. The study confirms that this phenomenon has validity within our professional sphere, though with varying degrees of affirmation and understanding across identities. While the degree of agreement on this phenomenon varies across participant identity, the research describes a traditional school learning environment that clashes with how males often present in schools, where success is often based on compliance, and where educators may lack cultural and professional awareness about boys and how they learn, even to the extent of betraying an institutional/system bias against adolescent males.

The findings from this study call on policymakers and professionals to address male underachievement with urgency, to interrogate the increasingly disproportionate representation of males receiving special education services, and to invest in resources and programs to support male students. This work asks us to examine and promote teaching practices that maximize male connection and success, and to focus research into male adolescent mental health and emotional well-being, with special attention to connectedness, sense of belonging, and any links related to school violence, self-harm, and mental health issues in boys.




Secondary schools, males, underachievement, gender gap, boys, male achievement, disproportionality, school discipline, Special Education services, student belonging


Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Teenage boys--Education (Secondary)--United States; Academic achievement--United States; Sex differences in education--United States; Underachievers--United States; Education, Secondary--United States

Geographic Coverage

United States




doctoral dissertations




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