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Is There a New Gender Gap?

As co-author of the book Raising Cain, Michael Thompson, a school psychologist, writes about the academic problems of boys: "Girls outperform boys in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college, and graduate school...Girls are being told, 'Go for it, you can do it. Go for it, you can do it.' They are getting an immense amount of support. Boys hear that the way to shine is athletically. And boys get a lot of mixed messages about what it means to be masculine and what it means to be a student. Does being a good student make you a real man? I don't think so… It is not cool."

The end effect: After decades of special attention, girls are soaring as students, while boys are going in the reverse direction. For example, advanced placement classes often are "70 percent to 80 percent girls. This includes calculus."

Unfortunately, the situation is evident even in graduation rates. The recent report Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates claims that "nationwide, about 72 percent of the girls in the high school class of 2003--but only 65 percent of the boys--earned diplomas." And unfortunately, this discrepancy is even greater when restricted to either African-American students or Hispanic students.

A CBS Report (May 25, 2003) claimed: "The picture doesn't get much brighter for young men when they get to college. Campuses are now nearly 60 percent female, with women earning 170,000 more bachelor degrees each year than men. Women are streaming into business schools and medical schools, and will be the majority at the nation's law schools. At some colleges, they're getting so many more qualified women applicants than men applicants that the schools are doing something that might shock you."

Thompson adds that "To make a class that's 50/50, they're practicing affirmative action on behalf of boys....Girls are so outperforming boys in school right now, one statistician said he took it out to its absurd endpoint and said at the present trend, the last man to get his bachelor's degree will do so in 2068."

These two reports are three years old. What can we do now? We can not afford to stop and applaud the apparent improvements in getting more girls to succeed in mathematics...As mathematics teachers, we need to immediatly focus on finding ways to reach out to boys? And, how can we get more minority students involved and successful our mathematics classrooms? As I remember the NCTM Standards, the goal was to empower all students mathematically.

Source: Tamar Lewin's "Boys Are No Match for Girls," New York Times (4/19/06)