By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
A new study to be released today on gender equity in education concludes that a "boys crisis" in U.S. schools is a myth and that both sexes have stayed the same or improved on standardized tests in the past decade.
The report by the nonprofit American Association of University Women, which promotes education and equity for women, reviewed nearly 40 years of data on achievement from fourth grade to college and for the first time analyzed gender differences within economic and ethnic categories.
The most important conclusion of "Where the Girls Are: The Facts About Gender Equity in Education" is that academic success is more closely associated with family income than with gender, its authors said.
"A lot of people think it is the boys that need the help," co-author Christianne Corbett said. "The point of the report is to highlight the fact that that is not exclusively true. There is no crisis with boys. If there is a crisis, it is with African American and Hispanic students and low-income students, girls and boys."
The report is the latest and, according to the AAUW, the most comprehensive, of several issued over the past two decades by groups alleging crises -- first among girls, then boys.
Advocates for girls started making their case in the early 1990s, saying boys got more attention from teachers and were steered toward math and science more than girls, resulting in achievement gaps. More recently, advocates for boys have argued that the tide had turned and that boys were falling behind.
"We just have a variety of indicators that should cause us to be alarmed and to recognize that there is a real gap, and quite possibly a growing gap, between boys and girls that is going to take some concerted effort," said Paul Reville, a supporter of the boys-crisis argument and president of the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy, an organization dedicated to improving public education.
The AAUW report looks at many indicators of educational achievement, including dropout and disciplinary rates. It analyzes data from SAT and ACT college entrance exams and the National Assessment of Education Progress, known as the nation's report card, as well as federal statistics about college attendance, earned degrees and other measures of achievement.
Researchers concluded that:
¿ A literacy gap in favor of girls is not new, nor is it increasing. Over the past three decades, the reading gap favoring girls on NAEP has narrowed or stayed the same. Nine-year-old boys scored higher than ever on the reading assessment in 2004; scores for 13- and 17-year-old boys were higher or not much different from scores in the 1970s.
¿ A gender gap still exists favoring boys in math, especially among 17-year-olds on the NAEP.
¿ The percentages of students scoring at higher levels of proficiency on the NAEP are rising for both boys and girls.
¿ Students from lower-income families -- families with incomes of $37,000 or less -- are less likely to be proficient in math and reading. Gender differences vary significantly by race and ethnicity.
¿ There is virtually no gap between boys and girls entering college immediately after high school.
Catherine Hill, director of research at the AAUW Educational Foundation, which provides funding for female graduate students to pursue research and other interests, said the study was undertaken to dispel myths so that education policy can be guided on facts. Hill, co-author of the report, said some schools have devoted more attention and money to boys, including creating single-sex classes, based on the notion of a crisis.
Reville, named chairman of the Massachusetts board of education in March, praised programs designed to improve boys' educational outcomes.
"Overall, the goal is to close all the gaps for anybody, irrespective of gender," he said. "But we can't ignore what is happening to boys."
AAUW's study does show female students outperforming male students in some measures. Women have earned 57 percent of bachelor's degrees since 1982 and outperformed boys on high school grade-point averages. In 2005, male students had a GPA of 2.86 and girls, 3.09.
The proportion of young men graduating from high school and earning college degrees is at an all-time high, the study notes. "Perhaps the most compelling argument against a boys crisis is that men continue to outearn women in the workplace," the report says.
Among all women and men working full time, year-round, median annual earnings for women were 77 percent of men's earnings in 2005. When looking at the college-educated, full-time work force a year out of college, women, on average, earned 80 percent of what men did in 2001. Women a decade out of college earned 69 percent of men's earnings in 2003. And men consistently earned more than women at differing educational levels and within race and ethnic groups, the study found.
Hill said that recent articles highlighting the success of female students in college have incorrectly suggested that men are being undercut as a result.
"What our report shows is that that is not the case," Hill said.
Researchers found that gender differences are strongly affected by race and ethnicity.
Math results from the NAEP show that white male students have an advantage over white female students, though there is less difference between Hispanic girls and boys.
From 1978 to 2004, among students age 13 and 17, white males scored higher on average than white females on 10 of 18 tests. For Hispanic students, 13- and 17-year-old males outscored females on three of the 18 tests. There was no gap among African American girls and boys.