5. Special Education Overidentification 2011: Boys

Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times (2010), puts his finger on a problem concerning the lowered school achievement of boys:

“A new report just issued by the Center on Education Policy, an independent research organization, confirms that boys have fallen behind in reading in every single state. It found, for example, that in elementary schools, about 79 percent of girls could read at a level deemed “proficient,” compared with 72 percent of boys. Similar gaps were found in middle school and high school.”

A new book by Richard Whitmire, “Why Boys Fail,” confirms the picture we have of failing boys:

“Boys are twice as likely to get suspended as girls, and three times as likely to be expelled. Estimates of dropouts vary, but it seems that about one-quarter more boys drop out than girls.”

In our posts here we make it clear boys are at-risk for needless special education placement, especially when they are minority boys. We make it clear that boys are among the “hard to teach” pupils whose fate is special education because there is no other program to put them in. They are not wanted in the classroom and their sagging school status is reinforced by special education classification. They are among the “struggling students” who are lost between the domains of general and special education confounded by requirements of No Child Left Behind and IDEA 2004.

Another way of addressing the issue is the under-representation of girls in special education programs.  WHY?


Amazon Review

The book is available for sale at Amazon.com, used and new.  Here is a review by one customer for your convenience:


E. Jones


.  Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind (Hardcover)

In this book, the author provides an excellent and very interesting study of the modern day educational gender gap. This gap is the considerable disadvantage that boys now face compared to girls in educational outcomes. The author points out that not only are college students and those receiving degrees almost 60% female, but that preceding the college years is a record of poor educational performance by boys going back to pre-Kindergarten.

In 10 well-organized chapters, the book develops a number of important concepts. Not only does it provide the thesis of why boys are doing so poorly (not only relative to girls but also overall), but it also provides indications of what the solutions are. These proposed solutions include improved teaching techniques to address the problems, as well as necessary policy initiatives. The 10 chapters provide a logical flow through the subject area of the book.

The first chapter looks into how the basic issue presents itself, using examples such as an awards presentation at a school where almost all of the award recipients are girls. This leads to the question, what happened to the boys?

The second chapter then points to the ultimate underlying factor, poor literacy among boys, pointing out that strong literacy is absolutely necessary not only for success in college, but in many other areas, such as being able to read manuals.

The third chapter then explores some of the reasons why reading is taught so poorly; pointing out that good teaching methods are especially important when students are doing poorly.

The fourth chapter then looks at the deficiencies of boys with regard to writing ability.

In the fifth chapter, the book now moves on to a new emphasis, starting with an examination of many of the reasons that are given for the poor educational performance of boys. This starts with video games, discusses the lack of male teachers, and covers a number of other proposed explanations. For each one, the author examines whether there is credible evidence that the factor is a valid or partial explanation for the problems that boys are having.

The sixth chapter is the most hopeful in the book. In this chapter, the author examines three schools that are succeeding in teaching all of their students, including the boys, at an equal level, particularly in reading. Here the techniques that are being used so successfully are described and the key point is made that it is possible to teach virtually all boys to read successfully.

Having established that the methods exist, the author moves on in the seventh chapter to examine the ideological stalemate, particularly from those who have been fighting for equality for girls, that has caused this problem to largely be ignored in this country.

Since the problem has not been addressed at the highest levels in the United States, the author then uses the eighth chapter to look at how the problems of poor educational performance by boys has been addressed in other countries, particularly in Australia.

The ninth chapter then discusses societal trends that show why these gender gaps matter.

And the tenth chapter then looks at recommendations that the author has towards the alleviation of the problem, particularly advocating that the Secretary of Education sponsor a formal study into the issue of poor educational performance by boys.

Overall, this provides an excellent journey, both for those who are mostly unfamiliar with the issue as well as for those who have been aware of it for some time, into the latest problems, developments, and solutions that have been taking place in this important area. The style is fun to read. It is full of little stories that are interesting in their own right and also provide excellent illustrations of the points that are being made. No matter where one stands on this issue, they will be both entertained and well informed.

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