Where Are The Girls?

May 19, 2008

While I was presenting at the AAUW of New York state convention a few weeks ago, I mentioned the release of the new AAUW research report, Where the Girls Are. In describing the report, I said, “We’ve written a report showing that there is no boys’ crisis in education, because a lot of people still think there is one.” One man in the audience said to me, “You’re looking at someone who believes that.”

AAUW decided to research and write Where the Girls Are because there are still a lot of people, like the man at the New York state convention, who believe that boys are falling behind in education. As an organization dedicated to women and education, we felt it was important to examine the data on both girls’ and boys’ educational achievements.

Some believe that the gains girls have made have come at boys’ expense, but as stated in the report,

Girls’ educational successes have not — and should not — come at the expense of boys. If girls’ achievements come at the expense of boys, one would expect to see boys’ scores decline as girls’ scores rise, but boys’ average test scores have improved alongside girls’ scores in recent decades. For example, girls’ average scores on the NAEP mathematics test have risen during the past three decades — as have boys’ scores (indeed, older boys retain a small lead in math). Girls tend to earn higher average scores on the NAEP reading assessments, but this lead has narrowed or remained the same during the past three decades.

When you look at the trends in educational achievement over the past few decades, both boys and girls have improved. As the research shows,

Girls’ and boys’ grades in high school are higher today than in 1990, and despite a lack of consensus on the actual number of dropouts, researchers agree that overall graduation rates for boys have improved. The number and percentage of both women and men attending and graduating from college are higher than ever before and continue to rise.

The true crisis is a disparity by race/ethnicity and income in educational achievement.

After I’d made my presentation, the man who believed in the boys’ crisis told me that he couldn’t argue with the data, and that if there is a crisis, it certainly seems to be for low-income and African American and Hispanic children — both girls and boys — and not just for boys.

It used to be commonly accepted that girls couldn’t do math. AAUW helped turn that stereotype around, and now it’s much more common to hear “Girls can do anything!” than to hear “Girls can’t do math.” How can we turn things around for low-income kids and African American and Hispanic students the same way we turned things around for girls in math?

That’s the discussion we hope this report will generate — online, among policy-makers, at AAUW meetings, and around the kitchen table. What do you think? What should we do about it? What can we do about it?

Christianne Corbett is the AAUW Research Associate and co-author of Where The Girls Are: The Facts about Gender Equity in Education.

By:   |   May 19, 2008

19 Comments

  1. Ken says:

    This report appears to largely be a rehash of Sara Mead’s so-called “research” published by the Education Sector in the summer of 2006.

    Here’s the thing that I don’t get the most from the AAUW or anyone else who posits the idea that it is a “myth” that boys are in trouble educationally, socially, or any other way that one wants to look at the data (and by the way, the “for every 100 girls..” link above is instructive and well documented): The people who I most consistently see raising the idea that this country’s girls’ academic successes may have come at the expense of boys are organizations like the AAUW and NOW.

    We’ve done good things for our girls because the AAUW and others have rightly suggested that we were “shortchanging” girls. Unlike many people who write about this subject I have actually worked in public education for 25 years, and in that capacity I look at local, state, and national data on academic and social performance indicators; in addition, I speak frequently to audiences of educators about the topic, and those actually in education, regardless of school-type readily see the “problem” that the AAUW labels a myth. I have fought, and still continue to fight, for the exact initiatives for girls (STEM areas in particular) that the AAUW advocates, but when I see my District’s AP program approaching 60% female, including a majority of most math and science courses, is it a “myth” that I’m looking at? When I see many more boys than girls dropping out, failing courses, getting suspended, getting placed into special education classes, am I looking at a myth?

    This whole debate is getting tired and pointless, and the politics is absurd. Does the AAUW see the imbalance in college enrollment on most US campuses? And even the Ivy’s that have long been the “yes, but” rebut to the data, are shifting before our eyes. What then? I don’t know a single serious researcher on the issue who in any way wants us to take a step backwards for our girls in order to help our boys, but the AAUW, and the millions of girls and women for whom it advocates, have no hope of a better future if currents trends that include more and more men dropping out of society, failing to get married and raise children, and generally lagging behind the education and social aspirations of their sisters, continue. Everything about this issue is connected to everything else.

    My hope is that one day organizations like the AAUW will join in a call to examine what truly is happening to our boys in this country relative to our girls instead of the partisan politics of fear that I’m quite sure that the AAUW would find distasteful if used by others on other topics. Just as the issue of what happens to this country’s girls and women should matter to us all, so too with our boys and men, and the AAUW thinking that hugging the ground on this issue is necessary to protect the wonderful gains by girls and women is the clearest “myth” of all. Isn’t it possible to be better than that?

  2. Christianne Corbett says:

    Ken,

    You are right that this report does come to many of the same conclusions that Sara Mead’s Education Sector piece, “The Truth About Boys and Girls”, came to and to the same conclusions that many other researchers have come to.

    When you look at test scores and graduation rates, it is apparent that both boys and girls have made improvements over the past few decades and there’s no indication of a boys’ crisis.

    For example, when you say that you see more boys than girls dropping out of high school, you’re right. Figure 29 in the report shows that according to the US Census in 2006, 4.1% more women than men held high school degrees. But the gaps in graduation rate are much greater by race/ethnicity than by gender. Figure 29 also shows that while 95% of white women ages 25-29 had graduated from high school, only 88% of African American and 67% of Hispanic women graduated from high school. So there is a 28% gap between graduation rates of white and Hispanic women while there is a 4.1% gap between boys and girls overall.

    And in terms of college attendance, as the report states, the gender gap is largely among older students going back to school. The gender gap is almost absent among those entering college directly after graduating from high school. Of the 2.5 million students who graduated from high school between October 2005 and October 2006, 1.6 million (65.8%) were attending college in October 2006. The college enrollment rate of young women, 66.0% was approximately the same as that of young men, 65.5% (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2007).

    Figures 35 and 36 in the report reference Jacqueline King’s work and show how the college graduation rates break down by gender, race/ethnicity, and income level. Most of the gender gap occurs among older students and lower income students. Among dependent students, as family income rises, the gender gap favoring women diminishes to the point where it disappears, and higher-income boys are just as likely as higher-income girls to graduate from college. This holds true across race/ethnicity.

    If you read the report carefully, I think you will agree that the crisis is not for boys but for low income and African American and Hispanic children – both girls and boys.

  3. Horace says:

    Christine,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I think, nonetheless that one need not read beyond the comment on page 9 of the report to discover that, notwithstanding the charts, figures and purported analysis, it is basically a political screed aimed at dressing up the feminist ideology of its authors (and perhaps the leadership of AAUW) in pseudo-scientific garb:

    “Perhaps the most compelling evidence against the existence of a boys’ crisis is that men continue to outearn women in the workplace. . . . After controlling of factors known to affect earnings, regression analyses demonstrate that a portion of these pay aps remains unexplained.”

    As I and “Ken” noted in the blog line Refuting the “Boys’ Crisis” Myth”, elsewhere on the AAUW website, looking at later income is a red herring because all sorts of exogenous factors affect income, including such life sources as choices — do I become an academician or an investment banker, do I spend time caring for children instead of burning the midnight oil on the job, do I interrupt my career to have children, am I an aggressor or a nurturer?

    The AAUW “study” reflects badly on the AAUW. It is a poor effort at justifying an unsupportable political conclusion that no further examination should be made as to whether boys are subject to serious discrimination in schools.

  4. Ken says:

    Christina,

    No serious researcher doubts the role of race and class in achievement, but as poorly as Hispanic and Black girls are doing in this country compared to White and Asian girls, the performance gaps between Black and Hispanic girls and boys are even greater than those between White and Asian girls and boys, so the AAUW’s continued insistence that gender is not a factor is simply not substantiated. Further, according to USDOE stats, there were 2.1 MILLION more women than men enrolled full and part time in US colleges and Universities in 2003. The gap grew to 2.3 million in 2004. The AAUW can tease out the data all it wants, but the fact remains that many more women are attending college and getting degrees of virtually all types than men. I’m waiting for the AAUW to take on the back door affirmative action programs going on at colleges and universities in order to recruit more males to campuses precisely because of the data above. But then we already know that won’t happen, don’t we? Because that might mean that the AAUW might have to acknowledge that just maybe there is a little problem with the boys after all.

  5. Ken says:

    From USA Today:
    http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2008/05/our-view-on-gen.html
    Our view on gender and education: Yes, university women, there is a boy problem
    Males at all socioeconomic levels are falling behind in school.
    Looking at the college graduation numbers — where women earn about three-fifths of all degrees — you’d think a higher-education group with the mission of “advancing equity for women and girls” would be celebrating.

    Instead, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) seems intent on trying to debunk something that’s virtually irrefutable: that men are falling behind women at all levels of education, and that this is creating societal problems that need to be addressed.

    In a highly publicized report released Tuesday, the AAUW asserts that:

    * What have become known as the “boy troubles” are a myth.

    In case they’re not a myth, the gap is limited to poor and minority children.

    * Regardless, feminists are not responsible.

    They’ve got the last one right, but the other two are simply nonsense.

    The facts show that gender gaps start to emerge in elementary school and widen in middle school. Over the past 30 years of federal testing, girls’ advantages on verbal tests have widened while the boys’ advantages in math have narrowed. Girls end up graduating from high school at higher rates, earning far better grades and reaping most of the academic honors. This trend continues into college — the key to economic success in today’s economy — where women are earning 62% of associate’s degrees, 57% of bachelor’s and 59% of master’s.

    As for the contention that the gaps are a function of race and income, not gender, that can’t be true when researchers in urban, predominantly black school districts such as Chicago are learning that girls outperform boys from the same families, same neighborhoods and same schools.

    While the problem is particularly acute among low-income, minority males, it’s hardly limited to them. At colleges that draw heavily from white, working-class families, men often make up as little as 35% of the student body.

    As for white boys from wealthier families, studies of high-income K-12 schools show that boys lag behind girls academically and yet enroll in college at about the same rates. Why is that? For one thing, wealthy parents can almost always find a willing college. For another, to maintain a gender balance, many colleges now resort to offering affirmative action admissions to males.

    A typical second-tier private college is stocked with overachieving women and average or underachieving men. By remaining silent about admissions practices while pointing to the equal college-going rates, the AAUW undermines its credibility.

    A dated, fringe accusation that feminists bear responsibility for boys’ troubles appears to be a genesis of the group’s latest report. Yet that charge is so obviously false that it hardly merits rebuttal: Boys are falling behind in parts of the world that never experienced a feminist movement.

    True, plenty of boys are doing fine in American schools, and many are high-achievers. Unfortunately, as a whole too many are lagging, a trend that becomes obvious in the college-going rates.

    The message here is pretty simple: Help the children. A generation ago, those most in need were girls. Today, they are boys.

    The AAUW should relish the successes girls and women have achieved rather than trying to impede attempts to help boys.

  6. Ken says:

    The latest USDOE stats on high school graduatin (reported last summer in various places including Education Week – June 12) projects the total gender gap at 7.6% (Total Female 73.6 % – Total Male 66 %). Here are the gender gaps by ethnicity as reported in the June 12, 2007 issue of Education Week:

    Asian Girls 82.1% Asian Boys 76.5%
    White Girls 77.9% White Boys 72.3%
    Hispanic Girls 62.8% Hispanic Boys 52.3%
    Black Girls 59.6% Black Boys 46.2% – only Native American boys (44.6%) have a lower rate.

    If the AAUW’s assertion that only race and class matter, wouldn’t these girls and boys be graduating at the same rates?

  7. Christianne Corbett says:

    Horace and Ken,

    I appreciate your attention to our report, but I continue to think that you haven’t read the whole thing. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of time to respond to your blogs because I’ve got a newborn baby.

    But quickly, Horace, when you talk about the factors that affect earnings like occupation choice, time out of the work force, etc. – those are the factors we’re referring to when we say on page 9 “factors knows to affect earnings”. When those factors are controlled for, women still earn less money than men earn (see AAUW’s last report Behind the Pay Gap – http://www.aauw.org/research/upload/behindPayGap.pdf).

    And Ken, we agree and point out that there are more women than men in college. And we never suggest that gender is unimportant – just that boys are not in crisis. High income boys perform better than low income girls on average by every measure. White and Asian American boys outscore African American and Hispanic girls on average by every measure. So again, where’s the boys’ crisis? If there’s a red herring, it’s got to be this talk of a boys’ crisis.

    I’m not sure if I’ll have to write any more entries on this blog, but I would recommend that you read the report. We do address differences in gender gaps by race/ethnicity and income in the report, and I think you’ll be surprised at how similarly boys and girls of similar backgrounds are performing.

  8. Ken says:

    Christianne,

    If you actually worked in public schools you’d have a much different take on this “myth.” I make my living analyzing student performance data of all types, and the real data, inferenced or not, says something altogether different than what the AAUW does. The AAUW can dress up its political opinions and call it science all it wants, but it doesn’t make its conclusions true. I will be happy to supply you with data from a variety of sources, but my guess is you already know everything that you need to know about the topic. Case closed, right? The headline has run in the NY Times and Washington Post, so there, that must prove it’s true.

    USA Today was quick to refute the AAUW’s report, and there will be many more who follow. Meanwhile, today dozens and likely hundreds of seven-year-old boys’ parents were told by their schools that the boys are possibly ADHD, if not Learning Disabled. They will start down a path that seldom ends with them being on an equal academic par with their sisters, and the numbers have been quantified over and over. I have never claimed that low income Hispanic and African American children of both genders aren’t in crisis, but the same can be said for some White and Asian children and many Native Americans. The point that the AAUW wants to dismiss is that within that framework, across EVERY one of the ethnicities cited, girls are doing better than boys on virtually every academic and social metric, and this cuts across race and class. I’ll be happy to supply any and all data that you’d like to see. Perhaps you could be the one coming to a different conclusion?

  9. Gloria says:

    Ken, I am not an expert, but from what I understand of the report, taking girls completely out of the picture, boys’ achievement has been rising steadily: their test scores are higher, their graduation rates are higher, and more of them than ever are going on to college. If by all these measures, the trajectory is up, then where is the crisis? Or, is the crisis simply that, as you say, girls are doing better than boys?

  10. Ken says:

    Christianne,

    I seldom use the word crisis, unless, perhaps, if I’m talking about African American students, particularly boys. But I think it’s a little disingenuous of the AAUW to highlight “problem” areas for women without acknowledging “problems” that exist for boys and men. And Gloria, your same argument holds true for girls and women even more so: by virtually every metric one can find girls and women in this country are doing better than ever before. Times have changed, and comparisons are still relative, or else we wouldn’t use them.

    If 60% of college students were men the AAUW would certainly find that problematic. If girls committed suicide at six times that rate of boys, if girls dropped out more frequently, made lower grades, were suspended, expelled, and placed on medication and in special education classes at rates significantly higher than boys, the AAUW would certainly find that problematic, if not a crisis. They have certainly suggested that girls and women were shortchanged for much less.

    That’s the thing about equality, ladies. Everyone, even the boys and men of the world, deserve it. I’m not interested in undoing the good work we’ve done for our girls. In my real job, though girls lead our Advanced Placement porgrams in virtually every area including math and science, I’m still fighting to get more of our young ladies into AP physics and computer science as well as STEM areas. I’m out here fighting the good fight because it is the right thing to do, regardless of the mountain of data that shows how poorly our boys are doing. It just gets really frustrating when organizations like the AAUW can’t appeal to their better angels and do the right thing too. Few people will actually read the full report, and that includes the reporters from newspapers who craft the headlines after yours, intended specifically to dismiss the idea that boys and men are, relative to women, not doing as well academically and socially.

  11. Horace says:

    Gloria, By your logic what’s the crisis in the fact that men consistently earn more than women? Why worry at all about that?

  12. Ken says:

    Christianne,

    What you don’t say, but what is true, is that low income girls also out perform low income boys, or that middle and high income girls outperform middle and high income boys (and yes, I know the gap is more narrow). By your own logic (where’s the crisis?) why does the AAUW even exist? To extinguish any area of male advantage in college and universities or society at large? You can’t have it both ways, trying to erase any male advantage, while dismissing any female advantage with specious non-peer reviewed research. You are only shaping the data to fit your conclusion. Race and class are important variables, but in virtually everything school, so is gender, or else boys and girls of similar race and class characteristics would be on similar footing, and that is not the case.

    A good read, and she may even be a member of the AAUW, is Diane F. Halpern, professor of Psychology at California State University in San Bernardino. Read “Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities” (the third edition is isbn 0-8058-2792-7).

    Halpern’s book largely explores developmental and cognitive differences between boys and girls and men and women, moving past the “if” question (which most serious researchers treat as axiomatic given the abundance of data available) to the “why” side of the question. Halpern teaches cognitive psychology and psychology of women classes. She entered into her research believing that any differences in styles and modes of thinking were due to socialization, but after an objective review of the research she concluded, “…there are real, and in some cases sizable, sex differences with respect to some cognitive abilities.”

    The AAUW is on an island with NOW on this topic, and the positions promoted by this report are hurtful to those of us in the field who are actually trying understand the “why” and “how” part of the issue. Most of all they are hurtful to boys and men and the women who love them; moreover, the relative failure of boys and men is hurtful to women and society, and that’s the real common ground that we ought to aspire to find.

  13. Gloria says:

    Horace, if I’m doing the same job as a guy, I should get paid just as much. That’s just fair. In this educational achievement situation, girls are doing well, and some people are resentful which has nothing to do with fairness.

    Ken, I think we all agree that if children need help, no matter what gender, they should get it. What the AAUW report tries to dispel is perception that the “Boys’ Crisis” is BECAUSE girls are doing well.

    Finally, AAUW’s mission is education and women. If they cheer for girl’s gains in education, what’s wrong with that? If they are trying dissolve the myths that support people’s resentment of girls’ successes, what’s wrong with that? If they support equal opportunity for women, again, what’s wrong with that? This is their job.

    In both your cases, Ken and Horace, you are interested in boys’ success. I am having a hard time seeing where you think AAUW is getting in the way of that. In fact, practically speaking, the report calls for measures that benefit boys.

  14. Ken says:

    Gloria,

    I never hear anyone but NOW and AAUW suggest that what is going with boys is BECAUSE girls are doing well, and trust me, I study the issue very closely. That’s the Red Herring in this whole thing. The AAUW is defending a position that frankly no serious researcher on the subject has ever advanced, to my knowledge. I would argue that what is happening to boys is complex, and it involves many factors, but that the success of girls is in NO WAY a cause. That success stands on its own merit in my opinion, and it ought to be celebrated, supported, and enhanced. To whom is the AAUW trying to dispel this perception? The AAUW is getting in the way of helping boys, Gloria, because at the ground level in education, people reading stories that there is no “crisis” (AAUW’s word), may find it politically difficult to even broach the subject of what the data says, and if you don’t believe that you don’t spend enough time working in public schools.

    Relative to girls, boys across all races and classes are doing poorer in virtually every important academic and social metric, and unlike the tidal wave of efforts on behalf of girls when they were ACTUALLY ahead of boys in most measures, there is virtually nothing substantial happening for boys in this country. That has nothing to do with girls’ success and everything to do with politics. The United States Department of Education publishes an annual report, “Trends in Educational Equity of Girls and Women.” In it, there is the calculus that shows that on nearly every meaningful measure of academic success, girls are ahead. There has never been a similar report done for boys and men even though women became a majority of college enrollees in 1978. Why is that? And save the wage study argument because it misses the point, it’s not universally agreed upon anyway, and it doesn’t address the issue for ten-year-old boys. I could go on and list dozens of other examples, but this might not be the right audience, which is too bad. If the AAUW felt the need to make the point that what is happening to girls is not the reason for what is happening to boys, then they could have saved their time and effort. The point has already been advanced by others, even though, it was never seriously needed or even remotely on point.

  15. Ken says:

    Gloria,

    One more thing: I’m interested in everyone’s success, girls and boys. Read my earlier posts on the three related blogs. I happen to think that in a pluralistic society that we are supposed to care about everyone, regardless of race, creed, or gender. I think it’s the AAUW that is falling far short of this idea.

  16. Gloria says:

    Ken, from this limited forum, I sense that you are committed to the success of both boys and girls. But if, as you claim, you really have “studied the matter very closely,” then it’s disingenuous to say that, “I never hear anyone but NOW and AAUW suggest that what is going with boys is BECAUSE girls are doing well.”

    What about this, which all but says things were much better for men in the hunter-gatherer days – or at least fifty years ago when women knew their place was in the home?

    And this, where the author says, “There have always been societies that favored boys over girls,” she writes. “Ours may be the first to deliberately throw the gender switch. If we continue on our present course, boys will, indeed, be tomorrow’s second sex.”

    These examples are from a two-minute Internet search – how much more is out there? Girls/women are too favored…boys/men are getting the short end of the stick. Why would women’s organizations originate and promote such a view?

    As a mom of both a boy and a girl, I can assure you that women who would seek to promote girls’ education at the expense of boys are few, and the vast majority of AAUW’s membership comprises mothers and grandmothers of children of both sexes. So, if you think there’s negative intent on AAUW’s part in regard to boys, it just doesn’t make sense. But if you fault AAUW for not taking up the banner on behalf of boys TOO, well, perhaps one day they will, as you say, “care about everyone, regardless of race, creed, or gender,” but change comes slowly in well-established organizations, and in this moment in time, it’s expecting a little too much from an organization created to focus on women and education.

  17. Ken says:

    Gloria,

    Well said. I don’t doubt that there are some who who want to blame what is happening to boys on girls’ success. My point is that I haven’t seen what I would consider serious researchers to share this point of view, but I have never seen this issue as an either/or proposition.

  18. Ken says:

    Gloria,

    Sommers blames the feminist movement, not the success of girls, for some of what is happening to boys, and published reports like this from the AAUW (in my opinion) lend credibility to that assertion. Again, like everything in life no issue is generally a binary either/or. I know plenty of women who identify themselves as feminists who also see the boys’ problem, most often because they work directly with it, and sometimes because they see it first hand with a son or relative. I think we all must make a distinction between the thousands of women who are members of the AAUW and those in power positions who wrote and promote this latest report. I’m relatively certain that within the AAUW, this report will be heavily disagreed upon.

    We need to separate the good things that are happening to and for girls from political movements opposed to the notion that boys are having problems. While I certainly accept that the AAUW can and should pride itself on the advances made on behalf of girls and women, if someone takes umbrage with reports like this, it doesn’t mean that success of girls is being blamed.

    My frustration is with the headline politics of this. I really do think it’s harmful, and it appeals to our lessor angels on the issue. I think I’m all blogged out now :)

  19. Dark Heart says:

    Diane Halpern’s book is definitely a good read, and I’m sure there are physiological differences that inform cognition between males and females. If you look at her paper with Benbow, Gur, Geary, and Hyde they point out that boys and girls don’t learn differently.

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