WASHINGTON – Boys are doing worse than girls in school,especially in reading and writing,according to a new book and a recent study.
In his book,”Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That's Leaving Them Behind,” Richard Whitmire examines the causes and assesses possible solutions to this growing problem.
“The world has gotten more verbal and boys haven't,” Whitmire said at a discussion of his book on Monday sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research,a conservative policy research group.
The study,released in March by the Center on Education Policy,is part of a growing body of research that has found boys are not only behind in literacy but also have a higher failing rate,lower grades and lower college enrollment rates than girls.
Whitmire is a former editorial writer for USA Today and the former president of the National Education Writers Association. “It's not so much that boys have become less verbal over the years,it's that the verbal gap is there and it matters,” he said.
Grade schools focus on reading and writing skills. Whitmire argues that boys are unable to achieve such high verbal skills goals at an early age and thus the system is failing them,not the other way around.
In 2008,girls outperformed boys in reading skills in every state,according to CEP's study,”State Test Score Trends Through 2007-08,Part 5: Are There Differences in Achievement Between Boys and Girls?“
In 1980,boys were more interested in getting a college degree than girls were,according to the Department of Education. But by 2001,the numbers had flipped.
In 2001,57 percent of the people who got a bachelor's degree were females,according to the Department of Education.
“The list of indicators of problems goes on and on,and Richard's book is a personal journey through this landscape,” said Mark Schneider,visiting scholar at AEI and vice president for new education initiatives at the American Institutes for Research,a behavioral and social science research organization.
“The United States is having a problem even talking about the problem,let alone to try and talk about what might work and identify fixes for this problem,” said Schneider,who moderated the discussion.
Sara Mead,senior associate partner with Bellwether Education,a nonprofit consulting organization,said Whitmire's book sheds light on a big educational issue but that boys' overall achievement rates have not gotten worse over time.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress,literacy levels among both boys and girls rose from 1971 to 2008.
“That's important to know when you are having these conversations,” she said. Mead added that the gap between boys and girls' literacy levels is not a new phenomenon.
Christina Hoff Sommers,a resident scholar at AEI who has published research and books on gender-related issues,said there is a greater awareness today of these issues but very little has been done to address them.
“We now have an elaborate and powerful network of private and federal organizations who promote female interests,” Sommers said. “No such networks exist for boys … yet boys,not girls,are on the fragile side of the education gap.”
Most of these organizations consider reports showing that boys have issues within the educational system as a backlash,Sommers said.
“But the underperformance of boys is a women's issue. … If the nation's boys are in trouble,so are all of us,” Sommers said.
In his book,Whitmire suggests parents should work to improve their sons' verbal skills and schools should do a better job of promoting literacy across every subject area.
“If you don't look for a gender-based solution,you are not going to do much for the boys,” he added.