|AAUW education report minimizes boy crisis in our schools
By Jeffery M. Leving and Glenn Sacks
Boys have trailed girls in most indices of academic performance for at least two decades. In recent years, boys' educational struggles have finally been acknowledged and explored in the mainstream media. This has resulted in an unfortunate backlash from misguided women's advocates. The latest example of these advocates' efforts to minimize or deny the boy crisis in education is the American Association of University Women's highly-publicized new report "Where the Girls Are: The Facts About Gender Equity in Education."
The AAUW says its report "debunks the myth of a 'boys crisis' in education," but the study provides little evidence to support this contention. According to the Report's own data, girls get much better grades than boys, are far more likely to graduate college, and are on the good side of a longstanding "literacy gap."
It is also true that girls are much more likely than boys to graduate high school, and boys are far more likely than girls to be disciplined, suspended, held back, or expelled. The vast majority of learning-disabled students are boys, and boys are four times more likely than girls to receive a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although more girls than boys enroll in high level math and science classes, boys do score a little better in math. However, girls' advantage in reading is several times as large.
Most of the AAUW report's claims are superficial and unconvincing. The Report tells us "the crisis is not specific to boys; rather, it is a crisis for African American, Hispanic, and low-income children." Of course--low income and minority children do not fare as well as children from more advantaged groups. But the boys of any cohort are still behind the girls in most indices.
The Report reassures us that both sexes have stayed the same or improved on standardized tests in the past decade. This isn't the point--the gender gap isn't new, but has existed for well over a decade.
The AAUW says the report's "results put to rest fears of a ‘boys' crisis' in education, demonstrating that girls' gains have not come at boys' expense." This is another irrelevant point. Nobody claims the boy crisis exists because of girls' gains--the issue is that boys' performance fell significantly behind girls', and has remained behind because we've failed to address boys' problems.
This is not the first time a highly-publicized study has claimed to debunk the boy crisis. In 2005, Duke University announced its study on child wellbeing by telling the media "American boys and girls today are faring almost equally well across key indicators of education, health, safety and risky behavior." Press reports followed suit, with headlines such as "Boys, girls fare equally in U.S.: Study debunks both sides in long debate" and "Boy-girl gender gap? Not so fast."
Yet the study showed nothing of the sort. Boys and girls fared equally in six of the 28 categories studied by the researchers — and girls fared better than boys in 17 of the remaining 22. Even the few advantages the study found for boys were modest. By contrast, many of girls' advantages were very large.
The new AAUW report, unable to dispel the boy crisis, falls back instead on the alleged wage gap, claiming, "Perhaps the most compelling argument against a boys crisis is that men continue to out earn women in the workplace." They explain that among all women and men working full time, year-round, median annual earnings for women were 77 percent of men's earnings in 2005.
It has been amply demonstrated that the wage gap is largely caused by the career sacrifices mothers make to care for their children and the primary breadwinner role most fathers assume when their children are born. The wage gap is very questionable in and of itself, and certainly is of no relevance when discussing gender and school performance.
The boy crisis is real. England has widely acknowledged a similar crisis in its system, and has taken steps in recent years to address the problem. The U.S. has not. Instead of giving credence to the AAUW's unfortunate sophistry, we instead need to focus on how to change our educational system to address boys' problems.
This column first appeared in The Buffalo News (5/31/08). Jeffery M. Leving is Chairman of the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood. His website is www.dadsrights.com. Glenn Sacks taught elementary school and high school in Los Angeles Unified School District and others, and was named to "Who's Who Among America's Teachers" three times. His columns have appeared in dozens of America's largest newspapers. His website is www.GlennSacks.com.