Sara Mead’s 2006 paper from Education Sector questioning the “boy troubles” was a smash hit among national feminist groups that had been looking for facts and figures to counter the rising concerns about how boys were doing in school. One of their worries: if educators shift their focus to boys the special attention girls have been getting for nearly two decades will fade.
Here, Mead is interviewed for a “retrospective” on that paper (I’m told it was the most requested reports Education Sector ever produced).
Mead’s central thesis, that boys aren’t doing worse, girls are just doing better, is correct. Boys are doing slightly better. What this overlooks, of course, is that marketplace conditions have changed. Today, some post-secondary work is needed even for many blue collar jobs. College, or some form of college, is the new high school. Girls get that; guys don’t, or at least not to the extent they should.
Trying to sidetrack this issue as one of race and poverty simply doesn’t work. Black girls are doing far better than black boys. White girls from blue collar families are doing far better than their brothers. And even a modest amount of reporting reveals gender gaps even among upper middle class white families. Why else would so many selective private colleges be forced to quietly grant admissions preferences to their male applicants?
The truth about boys and girls is that schools are working far better for girls than boys, and until the U.S. Department of Education recognizes that, and launches research to correct the problem, too many boys will arrive at their senior year unprepared and uninspired for post-secondary work.
Sara Mead is a great education researcher; we probably agree on 97 percent of the issues, especially those involving her impressive work on preschool issues. On this issue, however, we respectfully disagree.
(See...I’m trying to be nice.)
The opinions expressed in Why Boys Fail are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.