Are girls prone to lose their self-esteem in school, or do girls have a positive perception of their true educational achievements? Both, according to conflicting U.S. Government reports issued last week.


First the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a 100 page report called Trends in Educational Equity for Girls & Women. It showed that in every measure of educational attainment and achievement, girls fare better than boys. The authors grudgingly admit that these findings contradict conventional wisdom that girls trail boys, even in such areas as computer usage.


In a section on progress through school, the NCES concludes that “girls seem to have fewer problems with school in the early grades than do boys.” In sections dealing with girls’ perceptions of their own abilities and interests, or with parent and teacher perceptions and expectations, the data shows us again that girls do better than boys. Overall, the report indicates that where there is any gender gap in education, boys are on the losing end.


But why should facts get in the way of a good story? The very next day after the NCES report, the Health and Human Services Department’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration issued a press release announcing that Girl Power! community education kits are now available. According to the release, “Studies show that girls tend to lose self-confidence and self-worth during this pivotal age [nine to fourteen], become less physically active, perform less well in school, and neglect their own interests and aspirations.” This rhetoric is contradicted by the NCES report.


The status of girls in education has been a controversial topic since 1992 when the American Association of University Women started peddling questionable research showing that girls were being shortchanged in America’s schools. Congress promptly declared a “Girl Crisis” and passed legislation to throw money at overcoming the supposed gender gap in schools.


But it was all a sham, as IWF National Advisory Board member Christina Hoff Sommers details in her 1994 book Who Stole Feminism?. Years later, the perception still persists that girls are getting short shrift in schools despite ample evidence — government statistics, no less — that the reverse is true.


Given the flimsy research surrounding the “girl crisis,” we would do greater service to both boys and girls by performing honest studies of their actual performance and their actual achievement. When that happens, it becomes obvious that the girl crisis is completely made up. Perhaps it is time to pull the plug on the Girl Power! campaign.