The Boy Crisis in education, if there ever was one, is over. Or so says a report issued last week by the powerful and influential American Association of University Women. For the last 18 months, I've criss-crossed the country, talking to parents, teachers, and policymakers for a book I'm writing about boys and schools. What is abundantly clear is that there's large and growing group of people who just aren't buying the AAUW's position and that they're not who you might think they'd be. Some of the very same (mostly female) teachers and librarians who helped raise up the achievement of girls over the last fifteen years are now struggling to find ways to get boys re-engaged with learning. And there's a growing constituency of smart, empowered, and increasingly vocal women -- mothers of school-aged boys -- who are intensely concerned about what's happening to their sons in school.
They won't find a hint of their concern in the AAUW report. From the AAUW's perspective, things have never been rosier for all our children -- for boys and as well as for girls. Girls, who traditionally lagged behind boys in standardized tests in math, have all but caught up. Little boys are doing better in reading (the report glosses over the fact that they lag behind girls terribly in middle and high school.) The AAUW report wants to make sure you understand this point: that the "girls and women's achievement ... has not come at the expense of boys." It's race and economics we should be concerned about, not gender.
Racism and poverty do have a strong negative effect on educational outcomes - and those factors cannot and should not be underestimated or ignored. But what the AAUW fails to mention is that when you compare the achievement of boys and girls from similar racial and economic backgrounds, girls are outperforming boys by a wide margin. Boys get expelled from preschool at nearly five times the rate of girls, they get identified as being learning disabled or having behavior issues at four times the rate. They are twice as likely to get held back. They bring home more C's and D's on their report cards and according to the Centers for Disease Control, by the time American boys are sixteen years old, a full 14% have been "diagnosed" with an attention deficit disorder. Currently, there are 2.5 million more female undergraduates then male undergraduates, a gap that is growing by 100,000 every year. Yet here's the good news from the AAUW's report: "Among traditional age students (under age of 24), the gender gap favoring women earning an undergraduate degree appears only among students from low and middle income families." Only?
Even if girls rule in school, the AAUW's position is that it doesn't matters since men out-earn women in the work place. It's ironic but it is one of the enduring legacies of the feminist movement -- and indeed, some of the AAUW's own work -- that this kind of logic doesn't cut it with Americans anymore. These days, whether you make your home in a red states or blue state, most parents and teachers believe that all children -- girls and boys -- should have access to schooling that helps them meet their potential.
Equity issues in the workplace are very real -- and frustratingly slow to change. But nine year old school boys aren't to blame. The environments in our schools and expectations for our children have changed in ways that are bad for many kinds of kids but especially bad for boys. At the same time, a college degree has never been more important. Teachers and parents all over the country are starting to figure that out and asking themselves what they should do. They'll need to proceed with caution. No one wants to take away from the astonishing gains our girls have made or forget that girls still need support in tackling subjects where they still lag: upper level math, computer science, physics and engineering. For boys, there isn't going to be a one size fits all solution. Poor, Black and Hispanic boys need support of a very different nature and magnitude than upper middle class boys in Winnetka and Wilton. But let's stop pretending that boys are doing fine. The facts, and our own eyes, tell us otherwise.