For fourth grade read Year 4 and for 12th grade read sixth form, and the following could apply equally to English students:
The concerns are the same on both sides of the Atlantic:
"At fourth grade, the boys are as smart as girls, judging by the inexact measurement of test scores. In maths and science, fourth graders in the US rank near the top of all students in the world. By eighth grade, they're in the middle. And by 12th grade - senior year in high school - American students are near the bottom in maths and science."
Egan's article is not the usual judgemental piece we expect of journalists, critical of teachers, parents and the youngsters themselves. He observes with the insight of a sympathetic parent:
The average is dragged down for one big reason - the boys. They fall through the floor. And the question is did we fail them, as parents? Or did our system fail them?
This summer I was strolling through Boston at midnight with friends, when we came upon thousands of people, many of them looking to be about age 12 or 13, in a huge, excited line waiting to get the latest Harry Potter book. The buzz, the energy in the streets was extraordinary. All these kids, jostling and bouncing off each other, talking excitedly about - a book. Waiting for hours... to read.
For a 12-year-old boy, it's cool to be smart. It's cool to read. It's cool to be a nerd. But then what happens? By age 17, the boys, many of them, would never be caught dead around something "sooo yesterday" as a printed page from a bound volume. Sure, they're forced to read, for school, but that's a different matter.
So, then they go off to college, where the girls far outnumber them. Or they drop out. And they never spend another day in school and -- sad to say -- they're doomed, by the law of averages. For students who never go to college will earn only about $25,000 (£12,500) a year - barely above the poverty line for someone trying to support a family.
But look at them now, age 17, senior year. All that confidence, even with the mumbling, the texting, the grunting, the sniffing. So much tomorrow in their faces. Ah, but it's surface, in my experience. They have outside swagger, these boys, but inside - they're unsure of themselves.
Does he offer any answers? He refers to a speech given by Bill Gates to a National Governors Conference about two years ago, in which he advocated a complete rethinking of our attitude to teenagers:
After the Gates speech, a number of governors around the US held town hall meetings on rethinking the teenager, especially in that senior year. A new
school in California, called High Tech High, was cited as a role model. There, boys aged 16 and 17 said it was the only place where they felt that being smart was cool.
Bill Gates says the problem is that high school was designed for 50 years ago. Nobody would use a 50-year-old mainframe computer, he says, in his inevitable metaphor of choice. But forget about 50 years, many educators and child psychologists say our system is dated by a century or more.
For starters, why do high school students get summers off? This is a relic of the old agrarian age, when boys were needed in the fields throughout the summer and into the harvest. A hundred years ago, one in three jobs in the US was still tied to agriculture. But today it's barely 1%.
Egan acknowledges that there are no easy, one-stop solutions. The problems in the States are the same as ours, and probably the same throughout the western world: a combination of changing family values, outmoded education systems and serious underfunding:
No solutions then, but an intelligent and thoughtful approach to the subject for a change. Read the full article here.
Another question: Should they drive? In all but a few of the states, a driver's licence can be had at age 16. What follows is perhaps the most dangerous year in a teenager's life, especially that of a boy. This year about 6,000 teenagers will die in car accidents in the US - that's more than 50% higher than the death toll among American troops in Iraq over the last four years. In most of Europe, the age is older, and the death rate is far lower.
What to do? In 2005, First Lady Laura Bush started an initiative on boys, an attempt to figure out why - and how - we fail them. It was supposed to be a three-year initiative, pulling together all the experts. But it never went anywhere, after some initial meetings. And maybe that's because we cannot rethink the teenager by wishful thinking from the executive branch of government.
Bill Gates is more direct - investing nearly $2bn (£1bn) to encourage new high schools and to reform existing ones. Now I know, watching a teenage boy over the course of say, a single hour, that it is very difficult for them to stay focused on any one task. Our son has his driver's license. I tell him no texting, no mobile phone conversations, no distractions while driving a 2,000lb vehicle through the
streets. And certainly, no drinking. Sure dad, he says. I'll behave. Just like you did. And here's where parents - mostly baby boomer parents - trip up. We tell the boys to do as I say, not as I did. We know from experience, but it's painful experience, and it can make us look like hypocrites. When I was 17, I lost my two best friends - two guys I had known since grade school - to car accidents. One was driving home late on a Saturday night after drinking a couple beers. The other fell asleep at the wheel. It haunts me still, those deaths.
That popular book, The Dangerous Book for Boys, has become quite the draw for people asking these questions. There is nothing really dangerous about the book, despite the
title. It is a compendium of all the adventurous things that boys like to do. The authors say that boys are naturally drawn to risk. They portray the kind of risk that seems so retro, so harmless - playing in trees, chasing each other on bikes,Tom Sawyer stuff. That world is gone for boys now in their last year
of high school. Their minds may still be Tom Sawyer, but their bodies are men. We used to have rituals for passing on the baton of life, from one stage to the other. Manhood rituals. Knighthood. Bar Mitzvahs. They were formalised in warrior cultures, and then in the military, or church, or in a tribal circle. Now, for the modern urban
family, the choices are limited. Give them the car keys and sigh? Take them to the mountains for a weekend of bonding around a campfire? It's not enough. Perhaps rethinking the teen, in the end, is just that - with considerable anxiety.
You hope their minds, their souls, their hearts catch up to that newly deep voice. You hope.