May 18 2007

Outdated Federal 'Gender Equity' Program Illustrates Need for More School Choice

Author: Dan Lips
Published by: The Heartland Institute
Published in: School Reform News
Publication date: June 2007


In its 2008 budget proposal, the Bush administration proposed cutting 44 U.S. Department of Education programs to save approximately $2.2 billion annually. One of these was the Women's Educational Equity Act (WEEA), funded at $3 million per year.

Created in 1974, the WEEA is geared toward improving educational programs for girls to ensure gender equity in the classroom. But in a report released this April, "Taking the Boy Crisis Seriously: How School Choice Can Boost Achievement Among Boys and Girls," education researcher Krista Kafer questioned the law's premise.

"WEEA is a solution without a problem. The program wastes money that would be better spent on actual crises--boys' literacy for example--or returned to taxpayers," Kafer explained. "Girls are more engaged and ambitious in school, while boys are more likely to suffer academic and behavioral problems."


Problem: Antiquated Thinking

Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women's Forum (IWF), a Washington, DC-based policy think tank that published Kafer's report, concurred.

"Whether you are talking about preschool, K-12, or university level-education, our boys are lagging by every measure," Bernard said. "The conventional wisdom that our education system favors boys is just wrong."

Despite the research evidence showing girls outperforming boys in the classroom, Kafer suspects the WEEA will be continued.

"Year after year, the Bush administration has attempted to focus taxpayer dollars on improving education outcomes for low-income and special-needs students," Kafer explained. "Congress, however, has been more interested in siphoning off dollars to special-interest programs like WEEA."


Solution: School Choice

Kafer and Bernard believe education reforms can address the crisis in boys' education in the United States.

"School choice establishes a framework for innovation, specialization, and the replication of successful strategies," Kafer explained. "There are schools--both public and private--that excel in helping boys and girls achieve. School choice enables parents to choose these schools."

Bernard pointed out how a climate of greater choice in education can facilitate implementation of innovative school models that work.

"Children are unique individuals," said Bernard. "There is no one educational environment that will work for all children. There are outstanding examples of schools that are meeting the needs of their particular students, like Western High School, an all-girl high school in Baltimore that boasts a 100 percent college acceptance rate."

"This model won't work for all girls, but we need more options like this so that parents can choose a school best suited to their own child's strengths and weaknesses," Bernard continued.


Need: Greater Involvement

Bernard says women need to become more involved in pushing policymakers to embrace policies such as voucher programs, charter schools, and education tax credits that make it easier for parents to exercise choice.

"We need all parents, and mothers in particular, to stand up and demand greater school choice in American education," Bernard said. "The Independent Women's Forum is committed to galvanizing support for school choice among women, which is why we are launching our Women for School Choice project."

Kafer's paper is the first in a series to be published by IWF's Women for School Choice Project. IWF also plans to introduce a Web site dedicated to giving women information about the benefits of school choice.

"Only when every parent has the power of school choice will we ensure that truly no child is left behind," said Bernard.


Dan Lips (dan.lips@heritage.org) is an education analyst at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.


For more information ...

U.S. Department of Education, Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Summary, February 5, 2007, http://www.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget08/summary/edlite-section3.html

"Taking the Boy Crisis in Education Seriously: How School Choice Can Boost Achievement Among Boys and Girls," by Krista Kafer, Position Paper #604, published in April 2007 by the Independent Women's Forum, is available through PolicyBot, The Heartland Institute's free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.policybot.org and search for document #21190.

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