Boys Lag Behind, but Extra Help Goes to Girls

Published August 30, 2002

While major newspapers reported boys falling behind girls in graduation rates and other key academic indicators, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee voted July 18 to give $3 million to the Women’s Educational Equity Act (WEEA), a program whose authorizing legislation contends “teaching and learning practices in the United States are frequently inequitable as such practices relate to women and girls.”

On July 8, the Boston Globe reported twice as many boys as girls are in special education in Massachusetts and across the nation. A few days later, the Chicago Sun-Times reported a similar trend in Illinois, and Education Daily reported Massachusetts girls are outpacing boys in high school and college graduation rates, academics, and honors.

Gap Favors Girls

While the newspaper articles focus on two states, the statistics nationwide are no different.

With regard to most academic measures, girls equal or outperform boys, and their success continues into adulthood. The gender gap in language tests, dropout rates, Advanced Placement participation, honors courses, and other indicators favors girls. The gender gap favoring girls in reading and writing is three times as large as the gap favoring boys in science and math.

Girls 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.

Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to experience academic or behavioral problems. Boys are more likely to repeat a grade. They are more likely to be suspended or to be involved with crime, drugs, and alcohol. Boys are more likely than girls to report violent victimization at school.

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Education released a congressionally mandated study, Trends in Educational Equity of Girls and Women. Having analyzed 44 indicators—including academic achievement and behavioral outcomes—researchers concluded, “By most of these measures, females are doing at least as well as males.”

Last year, 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.”

WEEA Funding Continues

While the facts belie the assumption of gender inequity, Congress continues to fund the Women’s Educational Equity Act. Enacted 28 years ago to promote “equity” in educational policies, programs, activities, and initiatives, WEEA programs have cost taxpayers roughly $100 million.

According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, no evaluations of WEEA projects have taken place, and thus there is “little evidence of their effectiveness in eliminating sex bias in education.”

Last year, Congress voted to reauthorize WEEA as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. This year, the President’s budget eliminates funding for WEEA. Nevertheless, the Senate Appropriations Committee has decided to fund the program. As of this writing, the House Appropriations Committee has not yet taken up education appropriations legislation.

Krista Kafer is senior policy analyst for education at The Heritage Foundation. Her email address is [email protected].

For more information …

On October 11, 2001, Krista Kafer wrote a Heritage Foundation Backgrounder on this issue, “Wasting Education Dollars: The Women’s Educational Equity Act.” The paper is available from The Heritage Foundation’s Web site at