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(HOST) Commentator Allen Gilbert is worried about trends showing that boys aren’t doing as well as girls in school.

(GILBERT) The state Department of Education recently announced the results of annual student tests. Vermont schools moved to a new test this year, largely because of demands of the No Child Left Behind Act. So the scores are a bit difficult to compare year-to-year. But one thing is unmistakably clear: boys aren’t doing as well as girls in the classroom.

This is a big change. In the 1970’s and 1980’s schools worked hard to raise girls’ scores, particularly in math and science.
Young women were encouraged to go to college.

The efforts paid off. Now, things are reversed. Boys’ scores are consistently lower than girls’. And more girls are going to college than boys.

Maybe this is just one of those swings of the pendulum. Maybe things will naturally right themselves over time to some balance
of equity. But I don’t think so. There are signs that young men
are having a difficult time dealing with a lot of things in this new century.

A legislator was mentioning the low scores to me one day. And then she said, Do you realize that of the new group of legislative pages, nearly all are girls? Another person in the room said that
at her school girls hold most of the leadership positions. Boys
just aren’t interested.

I went online to view my school’s honor roll. The majority of students with both honors and high honors are girls. I’m guessing that if I looked at suspensions and drop-outs, I’d find that, on the other hand, boys make up the majority there.

Once this sort of dis-equilibrium starts, there’s a spiraling effect. Boys need role models to show that it’s OK to be smart and that it’s an honor — and a responsibility — to be a leader. Otherwise, getting A’s and becoming student council president isn’t cool.
And if it isn’t cool, boys turn to other areas where they can excel or stand out: sports, or rowdy behavior.

I think the situation is more serious than simply “boys will be boys.” Young men are dealing with a world vastly different from
the one their fathers grew up in. In the 1990’s the journalist Susan Faludi coined the term “stiffed” for how American men were feeling as they dealt with factory closings and downsizing. Now we’re seeing not only factory jobs move abroad, but also even white-collar jobs. Globalization is forcing vast changes. The jobs that guarantee a steady paycheck, health insurance, and a month’s vacation are harder to find. Everyone must be more nimble and more adaptable to stay ahead. So it’s crucial that young American men don’t fall behind.

We need to forget about how the boy’s basketball team did this year, and look at student test scores. We need to find out who’s on the honor roll and who’s going where after high school graduation. We need to be concerned about who’s not even making it to high school graduation. I think that boys may be facing a big problem. We need to understand and address it.

Allen Gilbert is a former journalist, teacher, and consultant currently serving as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont. He has a longtime interest in public policy issues.

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