Monday, October 20, 2003

Boys starting to lag in school, experts warn

By Andrea Coombes
CBS MarketWatch

SAN FRANCISCO - Imagine a world where most corporate executives are women, and most high-school dropouts are men.

It may sound like science fiction, but some say it will become reality if young men don't start earning more college degrees.

While girls' educational attainment continues to skyrocket, boys' performance at school, from elementary through college, has stayed flat or worsened for decades - meaning men's ability to land professional jobs in the future will decline.

Men earned 43 percent of all bachelor's degrees and 42 percent of master's last year, down from 51 percent of both types of degrees in 1980. Meanwhile, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to women increased by 21 percent, compared with men's increase of 6 percent, between 1990 and 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In primary school, boys consistently score lower than girls on national reading and writing tests, with the gap greatest in 12th grade. And while boys score higher in math, their lead is far smaller than girls' lead on the reading and writing tests.

"Boys are a year-and-a-half behind girls in reading and writing, and girls are a month behind in math and science," said Michael Gurian, author of What Could He Be Thinking? How a Man's Mind Really Works (St. Martin's Press, 2003).

Plus, about 12 percent of men ages 16 to 24 were high-school dropouts, compared with 9 percent of women that age, in 2001. In the 1960s and '70s, the rate was about equal between the sexes.

And in middle and high school, 73 percent of those with learning disabilities and 76 percent of those who are emotionally disturbed are boys, experts said.

What's behind it?

Some say teachers lowered their expectations, and that meant boys didn't push themselves as hard.

"To some extent, society's attitude changed," said Dr. William Pollack, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Real Boys' Voices (Penguin 2001).

"The attitude was boys had to be good little boys and succeed, so they pushed themselves."

While a focus on addressing girls' educational barriers may have played a part in boys' falling performance, it wasn't the cause. "It's not a zero-sum game," Pollack said.

"Boys did better on reading and writing tests 15 years ago than they're doing now. Girls are doing better than they did 15 years ago, but girls can get better without boys falling behind," he said.

"The women's movement was wonderful to get women up there, but no one was watching that boys are slipping behind."

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