Her findings come at a time of national discussion on the issue of boys' academic achievement. A recently released report by the Education Sector, a Washington-based think tank, argues that the achievement gap has more to do with race and poverty than it does gender. The study notes that over time, boys have actually improved their performance in many areas.
While that is true, Kleinfeld said, a snapshot of the performance of high school seniors on the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress still shows that, compared to girls, a larger percentage of boys scored in the lowest quartile, "below basic," on reading and writing tests. And that trend was not isolated to low-income students or ethnic minorities. Even among the sons of white, college-educated parents, the girls fared markedly better than their male peers on reading and writing assessments. Within that group, about a quarter of boys scored below basic in reading and writing. Only 7 and 6 percent of girls, respectively, fell into that category.
"The national controversy focuses on this question: Is there a boy problem at all or is there just a males of color problem or a poverty problem," said Kleinfeld, who spoke on her findings during the White House Conference on Helping America's Youth in Indianapolis in June. "These findings show that boys are in trouble across the board, not just boys of any particular group."
She said the nation needs to find the reason for boys' lower literacy rates and find ways to boost their basic skills in reading and writing. Kleinfeld, a professor in UAF's College of Liberal Arts, drew parallels to national efforts to increase girls' achievement in math and science.
"The women's movement deserves credit for its success in raising the scores of girls in mathematics and science and for helping create a new generation of ambitious young women," she said. "We need to do the same for boys in their typical areas of weakness, like reading and writing."
To that end, Kleinfeld has partnered with researchers and educators from throughout the country to form The Boys Project, a program that aims to launch a national discussion on the educational needs of boys and ultimately spearhead efforts to increase boys' achievement nationwide.
In addition, UA President Mark Hamilton has allocated funds to support a Boys Project speaker series, which aims to bring national speakers to Alaska to prompt debate and discussion on the role of gender in education.
A transcript of Kleinfeld's presentation is available upon request.