Monday, June 26, 2006

The Reactionary 'Boy' Crisis?

Just when we thought the education dialogue between government and local school districts couldn't get any more absurd comes this new report that turns everything we worry about on its head. Reading crisis? Math crisis? No.

This generation is smarter and better prepared than their predecessors. I'm not kidding.

Study Casts Doubt On the 'Boy Crisis', Improving Test Scores Cut Into Girls' Lead by Jay Mathews, Washington Post Staff Writer, Monday, June 26, 2006.

According to the report, reading achievement by 9-year-old boys increased 15 points on a 500-point scale between 1971 and 2004, and girls that age increased seven points, remaining five points ahead of boys. Reading achievement for 13-year-olds improved four points for boys and three points for girls, with girls 10 points ahead. Among 17-year-olds, there was almost no change in reading achievement, with girls up one point, boys down one point and girls 14 points ahead.

In mathematics achievement between 1973 and 2004, 9-year-old boys gained 25 points and girls gained 20 points, with boys ending up three points ahead. Thirteen-year-old boys increased 18 points and girls 12 points, with boys three points ahead. Among 17-year-olds, boys lost one point, girls gained four and boys were three points ahead.

The report notes that boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities. Two-thirds of students in special education classes are male. But, it notes, "the number of girls with disabilities has also grown rapidly in recent decades, meaning this is not just a boy issue."

Some of today's focus on boys might be backlash to legal remedies such as the 1972 Title IX law set up to ensure equality in education for girls, critics say. For several decades, school systems have worked to steer girls into more skilled math and science classes. Now girls in high school appear to be better prepared for college than boys, the report said. But, it adds, both sexes are taking more college-level courses, such as calculus, than ever.

More men are enrolling in college, and the share of men ages 25 to 29 with a college degree, 22 percent, is significantly higher than that of older men. The study did note that women are enrolling and graduating from college at higher rates than men.

The "boy crisis," the report says, has been used by conservative authors who accuse "misguided feminists" of lavishing resources on female students at the expense of males and by liberal authors who say schools are "forcing all children into a teacher-led pedagogical box that is particularly ill-suited to boys' interests and learning styles."

"Yet there is not sufficient evidence -- or the right kind of evidence -- available to draw firm conclusions," the report says. "As a result, there is a sort of free market for theories about why boys are underperforming girls in school, with parents, educators, media, and the public choosing to give credence to the explanations that are the best marketed and that most appeal to their pre-existing preferences."

It occurs to me that legal mandates like Title IX, NCLB, and others are historical artifacts that do more to distort education, parents, and children than they do to remedy whatever perceived social ill they're intended to resolve. Education needs a break from the manufactured issues that currently pollute our understanding of how children learn.

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