There are statistics to back up every point in that sad litany, but I also found people eager to flay nearly every statistic. For instance: Is it bad that more boys are in special education, or should we be pleased that they are getting extra help from specially trained teachers? And haven’t boys always tended to be more restless than girls under the discipline of high school and more likely to wind up in jail? A growing congregation of writers have begun to argue that the trouble with boys is mostly a myth. Sara Mead is one; she was until recently a senior policy analyst at Education Sector, a Washington think tank largely funded by the Gates Foundation. Intrigued by the wave of books and articles about failing boys, Mead crunched some numbers, focusing narrowly on the question of school performance. The former Clinton Administration official concluded that “with a few exceptions, American boys are scoring higher and achieving more than they ever have before.”
In particular, Mead decided that boys from middle- and upper-income families–especially white families–are doing just fine. “The biggest issue is not a gender gap. It is these gaps for minority and disadvantaged boys,” she told me recently in the think tank’s conference room. Boys overall are holding their own or even improving on standardized tests, she said; they’re just not improving as quickly as girls. And their total numbers in college are rising, albeit not as sharply as the numbers of girls. To Mead, a good-news story about the achievements of girls and young women has been turned into a bad-news story about laggard boys and young men.
Conveniently enough, I agree.