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What Challenges Are Boys Facing, and What Opportunities Exist To Address Those Challenges? Fact Sheet: Education*

Publication Date
Aug 14, 2008
Since the days when he attended his new neighborhood’s early learning center, Joe has liked school and often talks about how great his teachers have been over the years. Now in eleventh grade, Joe is a year away from being the first in his family to receive a high school diploma. Joe’s mom is proud of her son’s accomplishments and often tells him so. Joe hopes to go to college someday so that he can get a good job and move his mom into a better neighborhood. But recently, Joe has been having trouble paying attention in class. A few of his friends have dropped out and gotten jobs, and their lives seem so much easier. Joe’s starting to wonder whether all his hard work in school is really worth the effort.


(*)  This fact sheet is based on a comprehensive review of scientific literature, including computer searches of the major bibliographic databases (e.g., PsycINFO, MEDLINE/PubMed, EBSCOhost) looking for epidemiological studies that determine what factors make boys more or less prone to certain outcomes. The literature search was limited to scholarly journal articles and government documents published in 2000 and later unless an article was a seminal piece in the field or contributed to tracking trends over time. The statistics provided are from the most recent year for which data were available. Where possible, data related specifically to boys are included, but when these data were not available, data on youth, ages 10 to 18, are provided.


Some Facts About Boys and Education

Academic Achievement

  • A 2006 study found that boys are almost twice as likely as girls to have a learning disability (10% vs. 6%) and almost 3 times as likely to have a diagnosis of ADHD (11% vs. 4%).(1)
  • The same study found that boys make up more than two-thirds of all students receiving special education services.(2)
  • A 2007 study found that boys and girls who enter school with higher math and reading skills, as well as a greater ability to pay attention in class, tend to be more successful throughout their education.(3)
  • A 2005 study found that young people, and particularly boys, whose parents are involved in their schooling tend to have greater academic achievement.(4)
  • A study in 2006 found that while girls outperform boys in math grades, boys outperform girls in math test scores.(5)
  • A 2005 study on gender differences in school performance found that boys who disrupt class and do not feel academically engaged may be more likely to do poorly in school.(6)
  • Although African American and Hispanic adolescents have improved their performance on standardized tests over the last 20 years, in 2000, their achievement was lower than that of White students.(7)
  • In 2000, African American students had higher rates of suspension and expulsion than any other racial or ethnic group, followed by American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic students.(8)
  • In 2000, regardless of racial or ethnic group, boys had higher rates of suspension and expulsion than girls.(9)

School Dropout Rates

  • Since 1995, dropout rates for boys have declined, but in 2004, 57% of all youth ages 16 to 24 who dropped out of high school were boys and young men.(10)
  • Since 1972, dropout rates have been higher for minority youth than for White youth. In 2005, 6% of Whites ages 16 to 24 were dropouts compared with 11% of African Americans and 23% of Hispanics.(11)
  • Boys who disrupt class, are lower achievers, lack their parents’ support and supervision, or have friends who also act out in class may be more likely to drop out of school.(12)
  • Boys who drop out of school are at greater risk for other problems, such as poverty, unemployment, and criminal activity.(13)

Dropout Rates of Youth, Ages 16 to 24, by Race and Hispanic Origin (%)

Dropout Rates of Youth, Ages 16 to 24, by Race and Hispanic Origin (%). See text for explanation of graph.

Source: Child Trends Data Bank

What Factors Increase or Decrease the Risk of Academic Failure?

Researchers have studied students’ academic achievements and challenges to better understand why some boys and girls succeed in school while others struggle or drop out. In the process, they have learned valuable lessons about risk factors — those traits and life experiences that can jeopardize a person’s healthy development — and protective factors — the characteristics and life experiences that can increase a person’s likelihood of positive outcomes.

Individual risk factors for academic failure include:

  • Low socioeconomic status(14),(15),(16)
  • Pessimism about the future(17)
  • Lack of feeling connected to school(18)
  • Drug use(19)

The following family, school, and community factors contribute to risks for academic failure:

  • Poor family communication or family conflict, especially for boys(20)
  • Low expectations regarding academic achievement(21)
  • Having friends who are disruptive in class or drop out of school(22)
  • Negative school climate, such as poor attitudes or unconstructive interactions among students, teachers, and administrators; classroom disruptions; or feeling unsafe at school(23)
  • Lack of educational resources, such as libraries(24),(25)

Factors that contribute to academic achievement include:

  • Ability to pay attention in class(26)
  • Participating in extracurricular activities(27),(28)
  • Parental monitoring and involvement(29),(30)
  • Involvement with positive peer group activities and good relationships with peers(31)
  • Presence and involvement of caring and supportive adults(32)
  • Community or service learning opportunities(33)


Statistics reveal that boys face many academic challenges, including learning disabilities, underachievement, and dropping out of school.

Given the life-altering consequences of low academic achievement and school dropout on youth, researchers have sought to gather information that can help boys succeed in school.

One thing they have learned is that boys who feel they are emotionally supported by teachers and other staff have a stronger connection to school and may be less likely to drop out.(34) Moreover, young people, and especially boys, are more likely to be successful in school and less likely to drop out when their parents are involved in their lives and have high expectations for and positive relationships with them.(35) Even if they don’t live together, a good father-son relationship — characterized by frequent contact and open communication — can lead to a boy doing better in school.(36)

Research into what works to build boys’ strengths and reduce the challenges they face is still growing. Although the results are promising, efforts continue to pinpoint what strengths make some boys more likely to succeed and what risks, or challenges, increase the likelihood that they will struggle.

Boys like Joe face some tough challenges to successfully completing their education. But with strong support from teachers and parents, and with goals for the future, many of those hurdles can be overcome.


(1)  Bloom, B., & Cohen, R. A. (2007). Summary health statistics for U.S. children: National Health Interview Survey, 2006. Vital Health Statistics 10, 234 1–79. (PDF format, 79 pages)


(2)  Bloom, B., & Cohen, R. A. (2007).

(3)  Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Klebanov, P., et al. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1428–1446.

(4)  Jeynes, W. H. (2005). A meta-analysis of the relation of parental involvement to urban elementary school student academic achievement. Urban Education, 40, 237–269.

(5)  Kenney-Benson, G. A., Pomerantz, E. M., Ryan, A. M., & Patrick, H. (2006). Sex differences in math performance: The role of children’s approach to schoolwork. Developmental Psychology, 42, 11–26.

(6)  Downey, D. B., & Vogt Yuan, A.S. (2005). Sex differences in school performance during high school: Puzzling patterns and possible explanations. The Sociological Quarterly, 46, 299-321.

(7)  Pruett, M. K., Davidson, L., McMahon, T. J., Ward, N. L., & Griffith, E. E. H. (2000). Comprehensive services for at-risk urban youth: Applying lessons from the community mental health movement. Children’s Services: Social Policy, Research, and Practice, 3, 63–83.

(8)  National Center for Education Statistics. (2005). Status and trends in the education of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Retrieved May 8, 2008, from

(9)  National Center for Education Statistics. (2005). Status and trends in the education of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

(10)  Child Trends. (n.d.). High school dropout rates. In Child Trends Data Bank. Retrieved November 27, 2007, from

(11)  Child Trends. (n.d.). High school dropout rates.

(12)  Vitaro, F., LaRocque, D., Janosz, M., & Tremblay, R. E. (2001). Negative social experiences and dropping out of school. Educational Psychology, 21, 401–415.

(13)  Child Trends. (n.d.). High school dropout rates.

(14)  Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., & Olson, L. S. (2001). Schools, achievement, and inequality: A seasonal perspective. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 23, 171–191.

(15)  Ceballo, R., McLoyd, V. C., & Toyokawa, T. (2004). The influence of neighborhood quality on adolescents’ educational values and school effort. Journal of Adolescent Research, 19, 716–739.

(16)  Scales, P. C., Roehlkepartain, E. C., Neal, M., Kielsmeir, J. C., & Benson, P. L. (2006). Reducing academic achievement gaps: The role of community service and service learning. Journal of Experiential Education, 29, 38–60.

(17)  Crum, R. M., Storr, C. L., & Anthony, J. C. (2005). Are educational aspirations associated with the risk of alcohol use and alcohol use-related problems among adolescents? Substance Use and Misuse, 40, 151–169.

(18)  Catalano, R. F., Haggerty, K. P., Oesterle, S., Fleming, C. B., & Hawkins, D. J. (2004). The importance of bonding to school for healthy development: Findings from the Social Development Research Group. Journal of School Health, 74, 252–261.

(19)  Williams, J. H., Davis, L. E., Johnson, S. D.Williams, T. R., Saunders, J. A., & Nebbitt, V. E. (2007). Substance use and academic performance among African American high school students. Social Work Research, 31, 151–161.

(20)  Feldman, S. S., & Wentzel, K. R. (1990). Relations among family interaction patterns, classroom self-restraint, and academic achievement in preadolescent boys. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 813–819.

(21)  Stewart, E. B. (2007). Individual and school structural effects on African American high school students’ academic achievement. High School Journal, 91, 16–34.

(22)  Vitaro, F., Larocque, D., Janosz, M., & Tremblay, R. E. (2001).

(23)  Stewart, E. B. (2007).

(24)  Ceballo, R., McLoyd, V. C., & Toyokawa, T. (2004).

(25)  Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., & Olson, L. S. (2001).

(26)  Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Klebanov, P., et al. (2007).

(27)  Stewart, E. B. (2007).

(28)  Scales, P. C., Roehlkepartain, E. C., Neal, M., Kielsmeir, J. C., & Benson, P. L. (2006).

(29)  Jeynes, W. H. (2005).

(30)  Mandara, J. (2006). The impact of family functioning on African American males' academic achievement: A review and clarification of the empirical literature. Teachers College Record, 108, 206–223.

(31)  Stewart, E. B. (2007).

(32)  Whitlock, J. L. (2006). Youth perceptions of life at school: Contextual correlates of school connectedness in adolescence. Applied Developmental Science, 10, 13–29.

(33)  Scales, P. C., Roehlkepartain, E. C., Neal, M., Kielsmeir, J. C., & Benson, P. L. (2006).

(34)  Davis, K. D., Winsler, A., & Middleton, M. (2006). Students’ perceptions of rewards for academic performance by parents and teachers: Relations with achievement and motivation in college. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 167, 211–220.

(35)  Feldman, S. S., & Wentzel, K. R. (1990).

(36)  Jones, K. (2004). Assessing psychological separation and academic performance in nonresident-father and resident-father adolescent boys. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 21, 333–354.

Product Type
Fact Sheet
Youth | Children