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.