Crisis Over: Boys Fail Slightly Less Than We Thought

A train wreck of reporting and editing is displayed in Study Casts Doubt On the 'Boy Crisis' by the Washington Post's Jay Mathews on the front page. It's based on a report by a think tank called Education Sector, and tries to refute years of research showing boys' collective disadvantage in education. The logic of this report is illustrated in the following quote from the report itself, written by Sarah Mead:

The real story is not bad news about boys doing worse; it's good news about girls doing better.

In fact, with a few exceptions, American boys are scoring higher and achieving more than they ever have before. But girls have just improved their performance on some meas­­­ures even faster. As a result, girls have narrowed or even closed some academic gaps that previously favored boys, while other long-standing gaps that favored girls have widened, leading to the belief that boys are falling behind.

Got it? Girls narrowed or obliterated gaps that favored boys. They also widened gaps that favored girls. It's time to face facts. Girls are the uber-race. Bow down and accept your fate before girls!

The entire quote above doesn't appear in the story, but its spirit lives on, along with psychoanlayzing people concerned about boys' and mens' place in education:

It [the study] 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.

All you critics claiming boys are doing worse than girls are being unduly pessimistic about the fact that boys are doing worse than girls. This is one strange report. The graphic the Post publishes is more of the same, showing boys' lagging substantially behind girls in reading, while surpassing them slightly in math. Of course, the graph the Post chose is for 9-year-olds, where boys' performance in reading has been improving, rather than for 13- or 17-year olds, where such improvement is weak or absent. Because this is how the Post does things.

The story does note at least one important distinction, but one that I've read in every serious discussion of boys' disadvantages: Black and Hispanic males are doing worse than white males. But white boys still do worse than white girls.

The story follows the traditonal Post template: Extensively quote the favored study, add quotes from experts agreeing with the study, throw in one opposing independent expert for balance. And whatever you do, don't cite much of the strongest data undermining your thesis. Here's my favorite part of the story:

More men are enrolling in college, and the share of men ages 25 to 29 with a college degree, 22 percent, is significantly higher than that of older men. The study did note that women are enrolling and graduating from college at higher rates than men.

The "boy crisis," the report says...,

Whoa there! How nice of the study to note that women are enrolling and graduating from college at higher rates than men. But let's look at some numbers on that--not with any help from Jay Mathews of course. Say USA Today last year:

In May, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education posted the inevitable culmination of a trend: Last year for the first time, women earned more than half the degrees granted statewide in every category, be it associate, bachelor, master, doctoral or professional...

There are more men than women ages 18-24 in the USA — 15 million vs. 14.2 million, according to a Census Bureau estimate last year. But nationally, the male/female ratio on campus today is 43/57, a reversal from the late 1960s and well beyond the nearly even splits of the mid-1970s...

That's one of those stories unduly pessimistic about boys' disadvantages that cites statistics showing boys' disadvantages. So take it with a grain of salt.

Cross-posted in PostWatch