I came across this post by David Leonhardt about the education gap that occurs between boys and girls: girls are doing better than boys. Leonhardt (boldface mine):
By kindergarten, girls are substantially more attentive, better behaved, more sensitive, more persistent, more flexible and more independent than boys, according to a new paper from Third Way, a Washington research group. The gap grows over the course of elementary school and feeds into academic gaps between the sexes. By eighth grade, 48 percent of girls receive a mix of A’s and B’s or better. Only 31 percent of boys do.
Third Way is your classic centrist think tank, which made me skeptical. Fortunately, we can go to the NAEP data and ask how girls and boys do. If we look at the eighth grade mathematics, boys do worse, but only if they’re low-income and either black or two-or-more races. This difference is one-third that attributable to income.
Where the difference is consistent is in eighth grading reading scores. Here, girls across the board crush boys, though, here too, the gender effect is about half the effect of poverty. There’s a compelling argument to be made that scores aren’t the end-all and be-all of educational outcomes–the ‘life skill’ outcomes also matter.
That said, rather than grand pronouncements designed to stoke a crisis, we need to focus on the specific problems: for math, it’s the intersection of poverty and ethnicity, while for reading, there is an across-the-board gender gap (favoring girls). These gender gaps seem to increase from fourth grade to eighth grade (the income gap remains constant): in fourth grade math, there aren’t any gender gaps, while the reading gap, relative to the effect of income drops by half. Finally, the gender gaps seem to have widened from 2000 to 2013.
There’s a lot we need to figure out, but, in the grand scheme of things, ethnicity and income seem to matter more–and more universally–than gender.