John Leo

Mead's procedure was to rely almost exclusively on samples from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which tracks performance in reading, math and other subjects among students in grades 4, 8 and 12. She highlights the areas where boys are doing well and downplays areas where they do poorly.

Thus the good news: Fourth-grade boys did better than on the previous two NAEP reading assessments. In math, boys in grades 4 and 8 have improved on the main NAEP (there is a long-term NAEP as well) and did significantly better last year then ever before. In general, boys outperform girls in math and science, while girls do better in reading and writing. Boys score significantly higher than girls on both the verbal and math subtests of the SAT. Mead writes: "Overall, there has been no radical or recent decline in boys' performance relative to girls."

The bad news is that by the 12th grade, the performance of boys is worse than in earlier grades. Boys' achievement in reading fell during the 1990s and early 2000s. Last year in math, the males in grade 12 did better than in 1990 and 1992, but worse than in 1996. In science the 12th-grade boys declined since 1996 as well. On the long-term NAEP, the boys in grade 12 are doing about as well as in 1970, but their performance has been declining since the late 1980s. Girls are more likely to take college-prep course, more likely to plan to graduate from a four-year college and are less likely to drop out of college once they get there.

Isn't concern for the prospects of boys a legitimate issue rather than "hysteria"? Michael Gurian, an author who thinks boys are in trouble, was permitted a brief burst of muted dissent in the Post. He said the report "missed the cumulative nature of the problems boys face." The blog "The Other Charlotte" said this about Mead's essay: "Naturally the elites are pooh-poohing the 'boy crisis' because it interferes with their victimologist view that the real 'crisis' facing boys is that they're not enough like girls." Could be. More actual journalism, please, and fewer "reports."

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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