Girls’ Gains Have Not Cost Boys, Report Says
The American Association of University Women, whose 1992 report on how girls are shortchanged in the classroom caused a national debate over gender equity, has turned its attention to debunking the idea of a “boys’ crisis.”
“Girls’ gains have not come at boys’ expense,” says a new report by the group, to be released on Tuesday in Washington.
Echoing research released two years ago by the American Council on Education and other groups, the report says that while girls have for years graduated from high school and college at a higher rate than boys, the largest disparities in educational achievement are not between boys and girls, but between those of different races, ethnicities and income levels.
In examining a range of standardized test scores, the report finds some intriguing nuggets about the interplay of family income, race, ethnicity and academic performance. For example, it finds that while boys generally outperform girls on both the math and verbal parts of the SAT, the male advantage on the verbal test is consistent only among low-income students, and that among black students, there was no consistent advantage by sex from 1994 to 2004.
And while boys of all races and ethnicities generally outscored girls of the same group on the math section, the gap by sex for black students was only about half as large as other groups.
The report points out that a greater proportion of men and women than ever before are graduating from high school and earning college degrees. But, it says, “perhaps the most compelling evidence against the existence of a boys’ crisis is that men continue to outearn women in the workplace.”
Linda Hallman, who became executive director of the university women’s group in January, when the work was well under way, said the report was an effort to refocus attention on what she said were the real problems of education for poor and minority children, and away from a distracting debate about a so-called boys’ crisis. Ms. Hallman said the group’s members were concerned about arguments by conservative commentators that boys had become disadvantaged and were being discriminated against in schools intended to favor girls.
“Many people remain uncomfortable with the educational and professional advances of girls and women, especially when they threaten to outdistance their male peers,” the report says , citing Christina Hoff Sommers’s 2000 book, “The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men.”
Ms. Hallman said, “To have this distracter out there, about the boys’ crisis, took away from our mission, from pushing forward for what we were trying to achieve, which is to be a leader in dealing with the education crisis that affects girls and boys without many resources.”
The report may provide new fodder in the battle over whether boys and girls need different methods of teaching.
“There’s still a lot of debate about whether there’s something we should be doing differently in teaching boys and girls,” said Sara Mead, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit research group in Washington, who has written on gender equity. “The people on the feminist-leaning side of the debate see the conversation about a boys’ crisis as a strategy to advance the single-sex education agenda. I’m not sure that’s correct. I don’t think the kind of data we have about boys’ and girls’ achievement tells us anything useful about single-sex education.”
The report finds that, generally, boys and girls of similar backgrounds have similar academic success. And the five states in which boys score highest on the tests known as the nation’s report card are also the highest-scoring states for girls, it says.