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Boy Trouble?


Could it be that, despite all the talk of a “war against boys” and a generalized “boy crisis,” today’s schools are actually serving the male half pretty well? A new study by Education Sector, a Washington think tank, suggests as much. The study surveys test results and academic achievement over the past 30 years and finds that, on the whole, boys’ scores have improved significantly in that time and that more boys are getting college degrees. However, black and Hispanic boys still lag far behind their white peers academically—a disparity that the report suggests should be the real focus of concern. The report says that the widely reported “boy crisis” in schools has been leveraged by ideological activists on both the left and right as a way to castigate particular learning methods and teaching styles. “Yet there’s not sufficient evidence—or the right kind of evidence—available to draw firm conclusions,” the authors say. But don’t expect the issue to disappear: In response to the Education Sector study, Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Boys: Saving Our Sons From Falling Behind in School and Life, observed that boys’ issues range far beyond what test scores can tell.


Matthews' choice of statistics and graphics kind of shades the argument. It is true that more men are going to college, in absolute numbers. US population and the college population are both growing. The interesting statistic, which he doesn't present, is the percentage breakdown. My impression is that the percentage of women among the studentbody continues to increase.

Interesting, too, that the graphic Matthews chose is for the 9th grade, not all grades, and that it is presented with the boys on the right, making the boys's scores appear higher than the girls' while the opposite is the case.

Matthews certainly has a valid point that the Post's sister publication Newsweek may be inclined to slant a story. This one seems to have a tiny tilt of its own.

Regarding male-female academic achievement differences (whether one is focusing on grades or test scores) and/or educational attainment differences (degrees), the evidence has long suggested that the patterns of greatest (but not sole) concern for boys are in the low SES segment of the population. As a result, they are most acute in the United States for racial/ethnic groups that are overrepresented in the low SES segment, e.g., African Americans and some Latino subpopulations. A few additional points about this situation: 1) it seems to be present in a number of other industrialized nations; 2) it emerges very early in children's school careers; and 3) by some measures, it "bleeds" into higher SES segments--most especially (but not exclusively) for African Americans. Owing to the relatively low overall achievement of Black students and their underrepresentation among college degree recipients, this bleeding pattern is troubling (to put it very mildly). The author clearly acknowledged that there are low SES challenges for males and noted its importance for some racial/ethnic minorities. However, because she was preoccupied with discussing overall male-female achievement patterns, the low SES challenges were not nearly as strongly presented as they might have been (from this reader's perspective). Scott Miller

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