Monday, July 03, 2006

Boy crisis?   posted by the @ 7/03/2006 03:15:00 PM

The think tank, Education Sector, has released a new report, "The Truth About Boys and Girls", which down plays the "boy crisis". Positive editorials op-eds in the NY Times and Washington Post, dissenting views in the Wall Street Journal (quotations below the fold).

My commentary: this is a topic that is begging for, but not getting, a proper psychometrics analysis. Assuming that boys and girls are mostly matched on g, and ignoring the male-female ability sub-score differences, there's little expectation of a male-female difference in achievement test scores, the basis of this report's dismissal of male underachievement. The cause of the male-female gap in college matriculation is going to have more to do with conscientiousness than cognitive abilities, and so this report is mostly missing the mark.

Judith Warner writes in the NY Times:

It's been muttered for some time now in feminist academic circles that the "boy crisis" - the near-ubiquitous belief that our nation's boys are being academically neglected and emotionally persecuted by teachers whose training, style and temperament favor girls - is little more than a myth.

Now a major study has confirmed it. According to "The Truth About Boys and Girls," a report from the nonpartisan group Education Sector, most boys aren't just not failing; they're doing better than ever on most measures of academic performance. The only boys who aren't - the boys who skew the scores because they're doing really, really badly - are Hispanic and black boys and those from low-income homes.

"But the predominant issues for them," wrote Sara Mead, who based her conclusions in the study on decades of government statistics, "are race and class, not gender." Mead's conclusions echo those of Prof. Caryl Rivers of Boston University and Prof. Rosalind Chait Barnett of Brandeis.

Jay Mathews writes in the Washington Post:
A study to be released today looking at long-term trends in test scores and academic success argues that widespread reports of U.S. boys being in crisis are greatly overstated and that young males in school are in many ways doing better than ever.

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.

Although low-income boys, like low-income girls, are lagging behind middle-class students, boys are scoring significant gains in elementary and middle school and are much better prepared for college, the report says. It concludes that much of the pessimism about young males seems to derive from 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.

Christina Hoff Sommers writes in the WSJ:
Education Sector, a new Washington think tank established this year by the Bill & Melinda Gates and other leading foundations, describes itself as an "honest broker of evidence in key education debates." But its first big study, "The Evidence Suggests Otherwise: Truth About Boys and Girls," is deficient in this virtue.

The report, written by policy analyst Sara Mead, denies that American boys are in trouble academically. "The real story," says Ms. Mead, "is not bad news about boys doing worse; it's good news about girls doing better." So why do so many fret about boys doing poorly? Ms. Mead explains: "The idea that women might actually surpass men in some areas seems hard for many people to swallow." She also hopes that the nation can have a reasonable "conversation" about gender issues "without unfairly undermining the gains girls have made in recent decades."

One looks in vain in Ms. Mead's report for any indication that anyone is undermining girls. She seems to think that concern for boys means shortchanging girls. But it does not--because education is not a zero sum game.

From the study's title, one might think that it contains evidence that boys are not languishing academically. It doesn't. In fact Ms. Mead concedes that vast numbers of boys are doing poorly. She acknowledges that more boys than girls drop out; that girls have higher aspirations and take more rigorous academic programs. The number of boys diagnosed with disabilities, she says, "has exploded in the past 30 years." She admits that "high school boys' achievement is declining in most subjects." And, yes, she says, it is true that our colleges are now 57% female.

So how does she back up her claim that "in fact, overall academic achievement for boys is higher than it has ever been"? She argues that in "absolute" terms boys are doing better today than they were 20 or 30 years ago. She adds that, in any case, the problem of male underachievement is largely confined to black, Hispanic and low-income white males. Neither claim withstands scrutiny.