Today’s NY Daily News features a piece by Rishawn Biddle, author and editor of online education news magazine Dropout Nation, and Richard Whitmire, an author of books about educating boys. Biddle and Whitmire use the presidential campaigns’ very public debate about who has done more to help women to suggest that the candidates should be more worried about helping boys. Most significantly, this article reminds us that the crisis of underachieving boys is a national one, which cuts across all racial and economic lines.
THERE IS NO WAR ON WOMEN
It’s boys who are in trouble
By Rishawn Biddle And Richard Whitmire
We have no way of knowing who will win the “war on women” political debate now topping broadcasts and newspaper pages. But with great certainty, we can identify the losers in this battle: boys.
Contrary to what you hear in the political campaign broadsides, females are actually doing pretty well. In our elementary, middle and high schools, they earn the best grades, win most of the academic prizes, get suspended less and graduate at very high rates. That success helps explain why women currently dominate higher education, with many college campuses spilling over the 60% female threshold.
Workforce trends favoring women continue to rain down, with record numbers of women in the workforce. Well-educated women living in large cities out-earn their male counterparts. Their biggest challenge: finding equally educated males to marry.
But that’s not what you’ll hear from either President Obama or Mitt Romney.
Earlier this month, the White House released a “special report” on women in the economy, which promoted “an economy that’s built to last for America’s women.”
Most Presidents try to keep their children out of the public debate, but in this case, Obama made an exception: “As a father, one of the highlights of my day is asking my daughters about theirs. Their hopes and their futures are what drive me every day I step into the Oval Office.”
Obama, of all people, knows that boys, not girls (especially his two daughters attending the elite Sidwell Friends School) are the ones in trouble. There is no way he is unaware of the alarming social indicators we see among African-American males.
But we should not be surprised by the President’s opportunism. Obama won the White House with 8 million more female votes than male votes. If he can’t re-create that same gender vote cushion, he’s toast.
As for Romney, his latest push is to claim most of the jobs lost during the Obama years were female-held positions. So? Not only is workforce participation by females pushing all-time highs, but the striking number of well-educated females hovering just outside the labor market means that number may go even higher.
By contrast, male employment rates among those 25-and-older have been in steady decline.
Again, a politician has his reasons for glossing over the more important gender trends. Romney’s numbers among female voters look abysmal, especially among college-educated white women.
Here’s why we need politicians to get past the pandering and posturing and propose solutions for the group truly in trouble: Boys account for three out of every five high school students who drop out of school. Boys make up 67% of the 5.8 million kids relegated to special education programs. The likelihood of any boy in special education graduating by age 21 is bleak.
Boys, regardless of race, ethnicity or economic class, are also more likely to struggle in reading. Forty percent of Asian fourth-grade boys who qualified for free or reduced lunch were functionally illiterate versus 32% of their female peers, while 37% of fourth-grade black boys who didn’t qualify for free or reduced lunch read at “below basic” proficiency, versus 26% of their female peers.
Young male high school dropouts are at least five times as likely to land in prison by adulthood than peers who graduate, according to Princeton University researcher Bruce Western, in part because boys who struggle in reading in first grade begin acting out and become discipline problems. They are also less likely to marry by the time they reach middle age because women with higher earnings don’t consider them marriage material. They are also more likely to have children out of wedlock, perpetuating the social ills that plague low-income black, white and Latino communities.
Educational and political leaders have long known the consequences of these boy troubles, yet have done little to address illiteracy and the other underlying factors.
Both Obama and Romney have put forth visions of a better educated, more competitive America. As long as the “war on women” dominates the political discourse — and the battle for the future of boys is ignored — those visions will remain on hold.
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We know the problems. We need to make sure we are part of the solutions. We at GCP are determined to identify ways parents can help our boys and encourage us all to use them.
Thanks to Jemina Bernard for the heads up on this article.