Read Excerpt: 'Why Boys Fail' by Richard Whitmire

The article gets interesting when the reporter attempts to answer the ''why'' question. Two reasons, local education experts say: Girls mature faster and women need college degrees more than men. This is their logic? As the article pointed out, the entire phenomenon of boys falling behind is only about twenty years old. In that brief time frame boys suddenly became less mature? The economic explanation, that women need college more than men, makes more sense and until recent years was true. Women did get a greater salary boost from a degree. The changing economy of today, however, has altered that, and it holds true now only on the anecdotal level. According to the data experts at both the federal Education Department and College Board, men and women today get exactly the same benefits from a college degree.

The point is not to pick on Pennsylvania educators but rather to illustrate the lack of insight in this country about the boy troubles. In Australia, when insightful educators decide to do something about boys lagging behind, they can draw on reams of government research about why it is happening and what can help. They can also apply for a government grant to launch remedies. Now contrast that with what happens in the United States when local teachers or principals decide to do something about the boy troubles. I'll answer that by relating the story of a trip I made to a tiny town in New Mexico, where I learned of a teacher who decided to do something about the boys struggling in his classroom.

Anyone making the hot, high-speed drive from Santa Fe to Los Alamos passes through the tiny town of Pojoaque, which in Tewa means ''water drinking place,'' an odd name given that Pojoaque is surrounded by dry riverbeds most of the year. Pojoaque (rhymes with Milwaukee) is an allaround unremarkable place. Even the Native American–run casino looks drab and deserted. As a result, drivers probably don't notice the middle school buildings on the right just after leaving the highway to head for the distant mountains that frame Los Alamos. And they would never guess that inside one of those fifth grade classrooms, Paul Ortiz is running an education experiment that for New Mexico is pretty exciting stuff: all boy classes in math and reading.

Ortiz's single-sex experiment was born of a quirk. One night as he was grading papers he realized he needed some background noise to concentrate and tuned in PBS. ''I figured it would be some British movie, which for me is not very interesting.'' Instead, Ortiz started listening to a documentary by Raising Cain8 author Michael Thompson, who was talking about the problems boys were having in school. ''Needless to say I was hooked.''

Ortiz knew all about boys having trouble in school. The year before, he had had twelve boys in his class, half of them labeled as special education. ''When I looked at these boys they didn't seem like special education students.'' But when Ortiz checked with the front office he learned that was roughly average for the boys in the intermediate school—and about five times the rate for girls.

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