As a girl, author Peg Tyre didn't like recess.

But as a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for Newsweek and CNN, Tyre noticed a trend: As schools across the country cut recess, music and other subjects not required by state tests, the number of students taking medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder went up.

"The American Medical Association tells us that 3 to 5 percent of Americans have ADHD," said Tyre, who spoke at Book Passage in Corte Madera Tuesday and will appear at Redwood High School in Larkspur Thursday night. "Yet the Centers for Disease Control tell us that 14 percent of boys younger than 15 are diagnosed with the condition. I worry about why we're medicating all these children."

In her new book, The Trouble With Boys, Tyre argues that the changes schools have made during the past two decades – driven by a focus on standardized test scores – have created a huge disadvantage for boys.

"It used to be that boys did well in math and science, and girls did well in reading and writing," Tyre said. "But in the last 20 years, girls have caught up in math and science, while boys have been taking a whipping in reading and have fallen behind in writing – at the same time that the whole curriculum has become literacy-based."

In Marin, seventh-grade girls scored an average of 6 percentage points higher in English and 1 point lower in math on the 2008 California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) exam, according to the state Department of Education. Eleventh-grade girls scored 6 percentage points higher in English and 2 points higher in math on the state's high school exit exam test for 2008.

Statewide, the gender gap is even greater, with seventh-grade girls scoring 10 percentage points higher on the English portion of the STAR and 10th-grade girls scoring 8 points higher in English on the exit exam.

The problem, Tyre argues, isn't that boys are less intelligent or capable than girls. It's that the two genders reach mental and emotional maturity at different ages, she said, and that schools increasingly reward skills like organization and neatness over innovation and risk-taking.

"Girls are completely mature at age 15 to 16, while boys are not there until they're 25," said Tyre, basing her argument on neurological studies of adolescent brain scans.

Virginia Dunn nodded in agreement.

"She's right about the developmental pace," said Dunn, a retired teacher who works as a reading intervention tutor and family therapist in San Rafael. "I used to teach high school, and around junior year, it was as though something magically happened, and boys began to catch up."

At a time when success in school can determine so many aspects of people's lives – where they work, where they live and even when they can retire – the evidence suggests the deck is stacked against boys, Tyre said.

Boys are expelled from preschool at a rate five times that of girls and are twice as likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder or a learning disability, she said. Students in the lowest-performing group at each school tend overwhelmingly to be boys, whether the school is a wealthy private institution or an impoverished neighborhood school.

"Boys learn early on that school is a game they can't win, and so they decide they don't want to play," Tyre said.

Educators have addressed gender as an element of the "achievement gap" between successful and struggling students. Yet county Director of Alternative Education Lisa Schwartz noted that every student falls into a variety of groups, and that each student needs to be treated as an individual.

"Boys probably do better in a more active learning environment," Schwartz said. "But we need to be paying attention to each individual child. Boys may need a more active, problem-solving curriculum; gifted and talented students need the opportunity to stretch themselves; our English language learners need intensive support to develop their English language skills. We need to focus on a variety of strategies to help kids succeed better in order to be doing our job."

Tyre doesn't assign blame to parents, teachers or even distractions like television or video games. Instead, she says parents and teachers need to work together, armed with data, to find ways to make the educational experience better for both genders.

"I grew up with teachers who told me, 'You don't have to be a secretary. You can be a lawyer. You don't have to be a stewardess; you can be pilot.' That changed the world for girls. They can apply that same attitude to boys."

Source: Marin Independent-Journal, CA