Wayward Sons, a recent report published by the policy think tank the Third Way, finds that the average girl’s educational and career outcomes have improved over time, while boys tend to be faring worse. This widening “gender gap,” the report contends, suggests “reason for concern” and “bodes ill for the well-being of recent cohorts of U.S. males.”
Explaining why boys are struggling now more than in past decades is, of course, extremely complex. One line of inquiry might consider the changing schooling experiences of boys and girls: Could it be that boys are becoming increasingly harder to educate? Might schools tailor education in ways unsuitable for boys’ needs? Or is it a mix of both?
Fair questions—and using Ohio’s special education data, I look at whether there’s any evidence that (a) boys might be harder to educate than girls and (b) whether schools might respond to difficult-to-educate boys by referring them into special education.
The Ohio data is nothing short of remarkable: There are considerably more boys identified as disabled than girls. (The referral and identification process is a joint effort between the parent and the school.) Statewide, 166,690 boys (65 percent) and 88,539 girls (35 percent) were identified as disabled in 2011-12. This compares to a 51 percent male to 49 percent female ratio for all K-12 students—disabled and non-disabled together.
A similarly disproportionate number of boys populate the specific disabled categories. In fact, every single category except one (deaf-blindness) has more boys than girls....