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Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That's Leaving Them Behind Hardcover – January 13, 2010

26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“…thorough, thought-provoking look at the increasing achievement gap between boys and girls…engaging read…offers arguments that could be used by…youth advocates to fund literacy and related programs for boys.” -- Voya

“… parent of a son, school reform advocate, elementary school teacher, or, most importantly a school administrator or member of …school boards…you need to read this book.” --

“This is why we need reporters…an unbiased look at what is and isn’t working in schools. Plenty of real stories and real journalism.” —

“…subject matter is compelling…sound advice—recommended for parents, educators, and others advocating for innovation and flexibility in their educational situations.” — Library Journal

"…excellent starting point for examining a problem that could have long lasting consequences if it’s not addressed soon….insightful look into a serious deficit in our educational system…" — Bismarck Tribune

“…addresses an important, and neglected, problem in our schools. Teachers and administrators should pay close attention to what Whitmire has to say.“ — Washington Times

“The gender gap will certainly be a difficult problem to overcome…but hopefully this book will help pave the way for a better understanding.” —Geekdad blog on

“… brilliant new book… I don't know of a clearer or more balanced examination of this issue…recommendations at the end of the book are sensible, creative and overdue…” — Washington Post

“…provocative and useful new book…” -- Diverse Issues in Higher Education

“…backed by extensive body of research about the gender gap that exists from prekindergarten through college worldwide…straightforward, fun, and void of educationese.”–The School Administrator

Book Description

Chosen by The American School Board Journal as one of 2010's Top Education Reads.

The signs and statistics are undeniable: boys are falling behind in school. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the biggest culprits are not video games, pop culture, or female-dominated schools biased toward girls. The real problem is that boys have been thrust into a bewildering new school environment that demands high-level reading and writing skills long before they are capable of handling them.

Lacking the ability to compete, boys fall farther and farther behind. Eventually, the problem gets pushed into college, where close to 60% of the graduates are women. In a time when even cops, construction foremen, and machine operators need post-high school degrees, that’s a problem.

Why Boys Fail takes a hard look at how this ominous reality came to be, how it has worsened in recent years, and why attempts to resolve it often devolve into finger-pointing and polarizing politics.

But the book also shares some good news. Amidst the alarming proof of failure among boys—around the world—there are also inspiring case studies of schools where something is going right. Each has come up with realistic ways to make sure that every student—male and female—has the tools to succeed in school and later in life. Educators and parents alike will take heart in these promising developments, and heed the book’s call to action—not only to demand solutions but also to help create them for their own students and children.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: AMACOM; 1 edition (January 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814415342
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814415344
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #826,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm a former editorial writer for USA Today with a long career covering three things: local issues at several newspapers in upstate New York, the Pentagon (after arriving in Washington) and then education. Defense issues, in contrast to education problems, were relatively clean and straight-forward.

Of all the education issues I've written about, the boys dilemma may be the most perplexing. The conventional wisdom at the time, that girls were having a hard time in school, turned out to be false, and my research into the issue turned into Why Boys Fail.

Former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee wrote the foreword for Why Boys Fail, and soon after the book came out I approached her about cooperating for a biography. After a lengthy deliberation -- for Rhee, national publicity has often backfired -- she agreed, giving a green light for me to talk to her family, friends and work associates. The result is The Bee Eater.

Next I wrote a book with the College Board about which school districts and school leaders were doing the best job educating low-income students: Achieving the Dream. One chapter in that book was about Rocketship charter schools, which led to the current book I'm working on, On The Rocketship, which is about high performing charter schools trying to reach more students now attending lousy schools. On The Rocketship will be released in June, 2014.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By E. Jones on January 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this book, the author provides an excellent and very interesting study of the modern day educational gender gap. This gap is the considerable disadvantage that boys now face compared to girls in educational outcomes. The author points out that not only are college students and those receiving degrees almost 60% female, but that preceding the college years is a record of poor educational performance by boys going back to pre-Kindergarten. In 10 well-organized chapters, the book develops a number of important concepts. Not only does it provide the thesis of why boys are doing so poorly (not only relative to girls but also overall), but it also provides indications of what the solutions are. These proposed solutions include improved teaching techniques to address the problems, as well as necessary policy initiatives. The 10 chapters provide a logical flow through the subject area of the book. The first chapter looks into how the basic issue presents itself, using examples such as an awards presentation at a school where almost all of the award recipients are girls. This leads to the question, what happened to the boys? The second chapter then points to the ultimate underlying factor, poor literacy among boys, pointing out that strong literacy is absolutely necessary not only for success in college, but in many other areas, such as being able to read manuals. The third chapter then explores some of the reasons why reading is taught so poorly; pointing out that good teaching methods are especially important when students are doing poorly. The fourth chapter then looks at the deficiencies of boys with regard to writing ability.Read more ›
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Ann Derby on December 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book gives a good overview of the problems boys are having in school, particularly with literacy. Having already read other books on the subject, such as Peg Tyre's "The Trouble With Boys", Christina Hoff Sommers' "The War Against Boys" (both applauded and derided by Whitmire), or "Work Hard, Be Nice" by Jay Matthews, a lot of "Why Boys Fail" was familiar.

Most helpful were the examples of schools that get things right, mostly by making sure no one, boys or girls, are falling behind.

Whitmire keeps coming back to the idea that the US government and the Department of Education has to get into the act by commissioning a major study into the boy problem. While I would agree that this might break the dam holding back serious consideration of boy-friendly education techniques, I don't see it as either a panacea or as a necessary step. The schools that are doing well by boys that he describes in the book are not doing so because they are responding to a government study; they are simply looking within their own student body and seeing the glaring inequalities. Any and every school can and must do that--without an outside kick if necessary.

More effective would be involved parents, principals, superintendents, school boards, and state legislatures insisting that schools report results by gender, and address any problems that show up in those results.

Whitmire only briefly and obliquely touches on the ed-school problem.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Parent of a wonderful boy on February 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As the parent of a daughter and a son, I found the book immensely reassuring. I now understand why my very smart and fabulous son did not excel as well academically as he has in life outside the classroom. I wish I had known this years ago. It would have saved me sleepless nights and lots of worry. I hope the book impacts those who are in a position to effect change in the way we teach our boys.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J.Codex on June 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Richard Whitmire offers an interesting and well-researched analysis in "Why Boys Fail" of the educational problems affecting boys in K-12. His book is logically organized with an initial identification of the problems (literacy deficiencies among others) and their causes, an exam of the misdirection of blame, solutions and impediments, international approaches to deal with the challenges, why the gender gaps matter, and what should be done in the US. The author provides intriguing info concerning boys' lagging reading and writing performance as well as the impact their academic failures have on their income potential and marriageability. He justifiably criticizes the US Dept of Education, teachers unions, and education schools for their complacency.

Yet, some of his conclusions I found to be frustrating and unconvincing. For instance, he seems to insist that "feminization" of the classrooms is not a convincing explanation for boys' poor performance compared to girls', but throughout the book he points out ways in which teachers and the education system neglect the particular learning needs of boys -- especially when it comes to reading and writing assignments. One of Whitmire's major themes is that boys are failing in school because the world has become more verbal while boys haven't. But it seems more accurate to argue that the reason for the failure is that boys have vulnerabilities that are not being adequately addressed by an education system that is geared more to the learning styles and interests of girls. Fortunately, he does hold feminists in the US accountable for both their denial of the boy education problem and their persistent obstruction of reform efforts.

The book, all in all, is well worth a read for those who are concerned about this neglected problem and who realize that the academic failure of boys is harmful to our sons and daughters as well.
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