Are Boys Really in Trouble?

By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 27, 2006; 11:22 AM

Some of my editors don't think reporters like me should be allowed to write columns. There is too much temptation, they say, for us to vent our pet peeves and ruin our reputations for objectivity.

But sometimes having an online column like this one can help us be even more balanced and comprehensive than we could otherwise be. For instance, I have a lot of space here. Saying the Internet is infinite doesn't mean much to someone who does not have an infinite amount of time to type his columns, but I can still get many more words in here than I can in a news story in The Post.

To test the practicality of that insight, I am going to do something that I have not done before: cite a story I just wrote for The Post and provide here some of the intriguing material I would have put in the story if they had given me two or three times more space, like I deserve.

Here is the story . It is about a provocative new report called "The Truth about Boys and Girls," which argues that despite all the hype about a boy crisis in our schools, such as the recent Newsweek coverline: "At every level of education, they're falling behind," American boys are in many ways in better shape than ever.

The report by a Washington-based think tank, the Education Sector, uses long-term data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Boys' tests scores are up in elementary and middle schools, as are the numbers of young males going to and graduating from college. The co-directors of the Education Sector are education policy analyst and Virginia state school board member Andrew Rotherham and education author and journalist Tom Toch.

As I say in the story:

"Although low-income boys, like low-income girls, are lagging behind middle class students, as a gender 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 while the average boy is doing better, the average girl has gotten ahead of him.

" 'The real story is not bad news about boys doing worse,' the report says, 'it's good news about girls doing better.'

"A number of articles have been written over the last year lamenting how boys have fallen behind. The report . . . explains why some educators think this emphasis is misplaced and fear a focus on gender differences could sidetrack federal, state and private efforts to put more resources into inner city and rural schools, where both boys and girls need better instruction.

" 'There's no doubt that some groups of boys -- particularly Hispanic and black boys and boys from low-income homes -- are in real trouble," Education Sector senior policy analyst Sara Mead says in the report. 'But the predominant issues for them are race and class, not gender.' "

Mead adds in her report, "Closing racial and economic gaps would help poor and minority boys more than closing gender gaps, and focusing on gender gaps may distract attention from the bigger problems facing these youngsters."

The report also says this about the preponderance of boys with learning disabilities:

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