Now the worry is that boys are falling behind in almost every academic category from standardized test scores to college enrollment rates.
Educators are searching for new tools to help tackle the problem
And therapists are calling attention to new research, showing that boys are biologically, developmentally and psychologically different from girls. Given those differences, there is a growing movement to teach teachers how to bring out the best in everyone.
Michael Gurian is a family therapist and the author of a new book on the subject, The Minds of Boys. To
Gurian explained that learning differences in the classroom are at least partly due to the fact that boys do not have as many active verbal centers as girls, meaning reading, writing and speaking centers.
"They also don't have as much linkage between other parts of the brain to those centers, like memory, like their sensory intake, what things smell like," he told co-anchor Hannah Storm.
"When they read something, they don't get from it what girls get from it and they won't use as many words and won't have as much sensory detail," he said. "That's one of the primary reasons, since our classrooms are so verbal, that we are seeing boys fall behind girls."
Gurian trains thousands of teachers on how to handle the differences between girls and boys, showing them brain scans to point out the specific gender differences. And he makes suggestions on how to help boys in the classroom.
"They need to touch and move things around and they need to move their bodies around and they'll learn better," he says. "The male brain many times per day just shuts down. So (boys) get bored very easily. So we give them a squeeze ball, a nerf ball, and those boys will squeeze that in their non-writing hand. That keeps their brains alert."
Gurian also advises teachers to let boys move around in a small space when they are taking tests.
Boys' troubles in the classroom also point back to problems at home, particularly in households without a father. Goodman says, it is important for a boy to "hear from a dad or some male that education is important."
If there is a learning issue, "they can hear it sometimes better from a male than, let's face it, from t heir mom or another female," she says.
"I think every parent knows at some deep level that when a boy hits puberty and starts moving into adolescence, he is trying to follow in the footsteps of a man," says Gurian.
"He still adores his mother but he knows he's not biologically her." Without a father, Gurian says, a boy "has a hole inside of him and he'll fill the hole with stuff, with goods, video games, with drugs, with just laziness."
Goodman stresses that learning problems do not indicate that a child lacks intelligence. But they are an important warning sign, which parents should act upon immediately.
"Parents shouldn't wait," she says. "They should really go after a problem as soon as possible."
To read an excerpt from The Minds of Boys, click here.