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WebMemo #563 on Education

September 8, 2004

Girl Power: Why Girls Don't Need the Women's Educational Equity Act

By

Soon the House of Representatives will vote on an amendment to the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2005 (H.R.5006) that would appropriate $3 million for the Women's Educational Equity Act. The amendment by Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) will fund a program that is outdated: On nearly every indicator of academic success girls outperform boys. The gender gap in reading and writing achievement, Advanced Placement participation, honors course participation, high school and college graduation rates, and other indicators favors girls. Boys, however, are more likely to be in Special Education, to repeat a grade, to be suspended, or to be involved with crime, drugs, and alcohol.[1]

The Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA) was enacted 30 years ago to promote "equity" in educational policies, programs, activities, and initiatives. It was based on the premise that "teaching and learning practices in the United States are frequently inequitable as such practices relate to women and girls."[2]

The problem that WEEA was created to address, however, no longer exists. In 2000, the U.S. Department of Education released a congressionally mandated study, Trends in Educational Equity of Girls and Women. On the basis of an analysis of 44 indicators -- including academic achievement and behavioral outcomes -- researchers concluded that "By most of these measures, females are doing at least as well as males."[3] A year later, the Educational Testing Service came to a similar conclusion in its report Differences in the Gender Gap:

Females have made dramatic progress in educational attainment, across all racial/ethnic groups, pulling even with (and in some cases, surpassing) males.... There is neither a pattern of across-the-board male advantage nor a pattern of across-the-board female advantage....[4]

As a number of studies have demonstrated, teaching and learning practices in the United States are not inequitable in their effect on women and girls. Girls do well academically. They are more successful in language courses, are more involved in school activities, have higher rates of graduation at both high school and college levels, and are less likely to participate in high-risk behavior. In fact, if anything, recent studies should raise concerns about boys. Specifically, the research indicates that

  • Girls outscore boys in reading. On the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test, girls outperformed boys on average scores in 4th and 8th grade by 7 and 11 points respectively.[5]
  • Girls outscore boys in writing. On the 2002 NAEP writing assessment, girls had higher average scores than boys at all three grade levels tested. The gap grew from a 17-point difference in the 4th grade to a 25-point difference in the 12th grade.[6]
  • Girls outscore boys in civics and the arts. On the 1998 NAEP civics assessment, girls matched boys' scores on the 4th grade test and outscored boys in the 8th and 12th grades.[7] Girls outperformed boys on the 1997 NAEP Arts Assessment in every category (music, theater, and visual arts). Differences were greatest in the music responding test, where girls scored, on average, 20 points higher than boys.[8]
  • Girls hold their own in math and science. There is little difference between boys' and girls' scores on the 2003 NAEP math assessment in 4th or 8th grade (three and one point differences, respectively).[9] On the 2000 science assessment, the six-point gap on the 4th grade science test falls to three points by the 12th grade.
  • Girls are more likely to participate in school activities. Girls outnumber boys with regard to membership in honor societies, school newspaper staff, debate clubs, and student government.[10] More girls than boys participate in Advanced Placement courses.[11] Girls are also more likely to participate in community service.[12]
  • Girls are more likely than boys to graduate from high school and college.[13] Girls are more likely to enroll in college right after high school and to complete a bachelor's degree within five years.[14]
  • Girls report high self-esteem and school enjoyment. The 1997 Metropolitan Life survey of gender and education found that, "Contrary to the commonly held view...girls appear to have an advantage over boys in terms of their future plans, teachers' expectations, everyday experiences at school and interactions in the classroom."[15] A University of Michigan study echoes these findings: More boys than girls reported that they did not like school, thought their courses were "dull," and seldom or never considered schoolwork meaningful or important.[16]
  • Boys are twice as likely to be enrolled in special education programs. Boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with disabilities such as dyslexia, autism, and stuttering.[17]
  • Boys are more likely to experience academic and behavioral problems. Boys are more likely to repeat a grade.[18] Boys are more likely to be suspended or to be involved with crime, drugs, and alcohol.[19] Boys are more likely than girls to report violent victimization at school.[20]

Conclusion

On most indicators of academic achievement and student behavior, girls perform as well as or better than boys. According to the Educational Testing Service, "[The evidence] supports neither the view that the educational establishment systematically discriminates against females, nor the view that the system is conspiring to wage a war against boys."[21] Without the gender inequity that served as the rationale for the gender programs, there is no justification for funding the Women's Educational Equity Act.

Krista Kafer is Senior Policy Analyst for Education at The Heritage Foundation.

Show references in this report

[1]R. D. Nass, "Sex Differences in Learning Abilities and Disabilities," Annals of Dyslexia , Vol. 43 (1993), p. 62; U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement (cited hereafter as OERI), Trends in Educational Equity of Girls and Women, NCES 2000-030, March 2000, p.41; and Christina Hoff Sommers, "The War Against Boys," The Atlantic Monthly, May 2000, p. 60.

[2]PL 107-110, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

[3] OERI, Trends in Educational Equity, p. 11.

[4]Educational Testing Service, Differences in the Gender Gap: Comparisons Across Racial/Ethnic Groups in Education and Work, Princeton, New Jersey, 2001, p. 50.

[5]See 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading assessment results at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.

[6]See 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress writing results at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/writing/results2002/.

[7]See 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress civics assessment results at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/main1998/2000457.pdf.

[8]See 1997 National Assessment of Educational Progress arts assessment results at at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/main1997/1999486g.pdf.

[9]See National Assessment of Educational Progress math and science assessment results at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/mathematics/results2003/ and http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/science/results/

[10]OERI, Trends in Educational Equity, p. 7.

[11]Ibid., p. 27.

[12]Ibid., p. 47.

[13]See Educational Testing Service, Differences in the Gender Gap, p. 3 and OERI, Degrees and Other Awards Conferred by Title IV Eligible, Degree-Granting Institutions, 1996-97, NCES 2000-174, November 1999.

[14]OERI, Trends in Educational Equity, p. 11.

[15]Louis Harris, The Metropolitan Life Survey of the American Teacher 1997: Examining Gender Issues in Public Schools, New York, Louis Harris and Associates, 1997.

[16]OERI, Trends in Educational Equity, p. 52.

[17]R. D. Nass, "Sex Differences in Learning Abilities and Disabilities," p. 62.

[18]OERI, Trends in Educational Equity, p. 41.

[19]Christina Hoff Sommers, "The War Against Boys,"" p. 60.

[20]OERI, Trends in Educational Equity, p. 39.

[21]Educational Testing Service, Differences in the Gender Gap, p. 51.

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