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September 12, 2002

ed091202b: A Test Congress Can't Pass

By

Now that the kids are back in school, here's a quick test for the rest of us. But don't worry -- it's an easy one. Just one question:

In almost every academic measure, girls outperform boys. Girls are more likely to receive academic honors, graduate and go to college. Boys are more likely to have learning disabilities, fall behind in school and drop out.

Given these facts, Congress should fund a multi-million-dollar government program to:

A) Help girls achieve more.
B) Help boys achieve more.
C) Help all students succeed.

If you're like most folks, you picked either "B" or "C." But if you're a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, you probably selected "A."
After all, the committee just allocated $3 million in its annual education spending legislation for programs under the Women's Educational Equity Act. These programs promote "equity" in girls' education, because, according to the act, "teaching and learning practices in the United States are frequently inequitable … to women and girls."

Federal lawmakers don't seem to realize that, when it comes to academics, girls rule. They capture more academic honors. They outscore boys in reading and writing -- and score about as well on math -- at the three grade levels (fourth, eighth and 12th) tested by the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) exam.

And the longer girls stay in school, the more their advantage grows. By the 12th grade, girls score 15 points higher on NAEP reading tests than boys. And far more boys than girls score below the basic, or lowest, level on the reading test in all three grades.

Not only do girls score about as well as boys on math tests -- an area traditionally considered a strength for boys -- they are more likely than boys to take algebra, geometry and chemistry. By the 12th grade, girls run neck-and-neck with boys in science and U.S. history. And while boys lead in geography, girls outscore them on the reading, writing, civics and arts NAEP tests.

Compared to girls, boys are twice as likely to be enrolled in special-education programs and four times more likely to be diagnosed with disabilities such as dyslexia, autism and stuttering.

The fact is, girls outperform boys from grade school through college. They are more likely to graduate from high school than boys (88.1 percent of girls graduate; 84.9 percent of boys) and more likely to earn associate (slightly more than 60 percent are female), bachelor's (about 56 percent) and master's (nearly 58 percent) degrees.

Given all this, it would at least make more sense to fund programs designed to improve the achievement of boys. But the best approach would be to devote federal education dollars to programs that aim to raise achievement for all students.

We can't afford to do otherwise. Boys may be disproportionately affected by academic decline, but, according to the NAEP, 68 percent of all American fourth-graders cannot read at a proficient level. Our students lag behind many of their foreign peers.

True reform seeks to raise achievement across the board. It does not divert funds to special interests. It gives all students the opportunity to attend schools where they can flourish.

Before the Senate votes on the committee's recommendations and the House of Representatives votes on its version of the spending bill, members should answer one last question. No. 2 pencils, please.

Federal education legislation should serve:

A) Specific groups of children and not others.
B) Congress.
C) All children regardless of race, gender or creed.

The correct answer is "C," which means the time is now for Congress to stop funding the Women's Educational Equity Act.

Krista Kafer is an education policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

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