Welcome Richard Whitmire's New Blog on Gender and Education
Whitmire has a theory about why girls have pulled ahead in higher education: "as the world has become more verbal, schools have allowed boys to slip behind in literacy skills." Whitmire's hypothesis is intriguing, and the changing demands of schools, higher education, and the workplace deserve more attention.
But if we look at long-term NAEP reading trends, we see that girls have always had an advantage over boys in reading. In 4th and 8th grade, boys have caught up to girls over time. For 4th graders, the female reading advantage has narrowed by 60% since 1971; for 8th graders, it has only decreased by one point (I believe the standard deviation is 36 points), but it certainly hasn't grown over time. In 12th grade, the female advantage has only increased slightly since 1971. We unfortunately don't have a long-term writing trend, but at least over the last 10 years, the 12th grade female writing advantage has not grown (it decreased by 1 point over the past 10 years).
Perhaps the world has become more verbal, but if NAEP reading scores are any indicator, schools have not allowed boys to slip behind in verbal skills any more than they had in the past. (Also note that girls arrive in kindergarten with a substantial reading advantage.) That the return to verbal skills has increased over time, however, is an interesting idea, and one that I look forward to hearing more about at Whitmire's blog.