Shocker! "Boy crisis" in education is overblown!

Despite the best efforts of the media, a new study finds that the gender gap in education has been largely exaggerated.


Lori Leibovich
June 26, 2006 9:18PM (UTC)

Don't you just love it when a long-term, large-scale study debunks a myth that has been promulgated by the media? Me too! That's why I was happy to see an article in today's Washington Post about a new study that seems to largely refute the so-called boy crisis in education.

"Using data compiled from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally funded accounting of student achievement since 1971, the Washington-based think tank Education Sector found that, over the past three decades, boys' test scores are mostly up, more boys are going to college and more are getting bachelor's degrees," the Post reports.

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Repeat after me. Despite what you've read in Newsweek and jillions of other publications, test scores are up, more boys are going to college and more boys are getting bachelor's degrees. Sounds like a crisis to me! The studies' authors conclude that the hysteria about boys and education has been fomented by "inadequate research, sloppy analysis and discomfort with the fact that although the average boy is doing better, the average girl has gotten ahead of him." Yes folks, it seems that the media decided that if girls were doing better, then boys must be in big, big trouble.

The report doesn't just fault the media for fanning the flames of controversy, however. It also calls out conservatives who blamed the crisis on feminists who they claimed focused on female students at the expense of males and liberals who say schools are "forcing all children into a teacher-led pedagogical box that is particularly ill-suited to boys' interests and learning styles."

But before we all breathe a sigh of relief and chalk up the "boy crisis" to an irresponsible media and various ideologues, it's important to note that the news in the report wasn't all good. Boys from low-income homes, particularly those who are black and Hispanic, are in crisis -- they test far below white boys. But "the predominant issues for them are race and class, not gender," wrote Education Sector senior policy analyst Sara Mead in the report. The Post also quotes some skeptics who don't think the gender gap in education has been overblown entirely. One educational consultant notes that there is still a huge disparity in writing skills between girls and boys, among other worrisome trends.

Still, let's agree to retire the phrase "boy crisis." For accuracy's sake.


Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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