Six out of 10 underachievers in the O.E.C.D. — who fail to meet the baseline standard of proficiency across the tests in math, reading and science — are boys. That includes 15 percent of American boys, compared with only 9 percent of girls. More boys than girls underperform in every country tested except Luxembourg and Liechtenstein.The educational imbalance continues to grow at all levels. I have a bit of experience with this gap both professionally and personally. Professionally, my experience teaching at a small college has mostly involved 70% female classes. Personally, my elder daughter is thriving at a competitive college, while my eldest son dropped out of community college and my second son did him one better by dropping out of high school. (He got his GED.) Observing my sons and their friends it has been brought home to me that millions of intelligent boys find it intensely painful to sit in school and pay attention. Medicating rowdy boys on a massive scale has done very little to change this.
Across the board, girls tend to score higher than boys in reading, which the O.E.C.D. considers the most important skill, essential for future learning.
At the bottom, the gap is enormous: The worst-performing American girls — who did worse in reading tests than 94 out of every 100 of their peers — scored 49 points more than bottom-ranked boys, a 15 percent gap. And the deficit across the O.E.C.D. was even bigger.
This worries me. All those dropout boys face grim economic statistics. It strikes me that it would be possible to create some sort of schooling that would work better for restless boys, but 1) I can't imagine Americans actually implementing such a system, and 2) maybe teaching kids to sit still and pay attention is actually one of the most important things about school, preparing people for jobs that involve sitting still and paying attention.
On the other hand, the report shows that top math students are still mostly boys:
The gender gap in math persists, it found. Top-performing boys score higher in math than the best-performing girls in all but two of the 63 countries in which the tests were given, including the United States.These imbalances have persisted for twenty years now in the face of the general educational superiority of girls, so whatever is causing them it is deep and powerful. I don't think sexism in math is any worse than sexism used to be in law or medicine, fields in which women are now doing at least as well as men. So I don't know what to think.
Test scores in science follow a similar, if somewhat less lopsided, pattern. And women are still steering clear of scientific careers: Across the O.E.C.D. nations, only 14 percent of young women entering college for the first time chose a science-related field, compared with 39 percent of men.