Lost in all the noise about helping girls achieve their potential is a growing body of evidence that boys are in trouble. It's the real "gender gap." Consider this: A recent study by two MIT economists found that men, not women, are less likely to graduate from high school and finish college. As a result, the study said, "over the last three decades, the labor market trajectory of males in the U.S. has turned downward along four dimensions: skills acquisition, employment rates, occupational stature and real wage levels."

The authors say the declining economic value of men and the rise in women's achievement contributes to the breakdown of the American family by making marriage less valuable. Then, with more out-of-wedlock births and single-parent households headed by women, the lack of a male role model hurts boys in particular, both economically and academically.

This isn't a new finding: Multiple studies over the past 40 years have shown that boys suffer more than girls from divorce because they tend to externalize their reactions and act in ways that make them more likely to cause trouble at school or get arrested. Simply put: Boys need fathers to learn how to become men. And too many of them don't have one.

The social cost of this is not just the obvious burden from spiraling welfare and prison populations -- a 2008 study estimated that family fragmentation cost taxpayers more than $112 billion a year -- but in the lost potential as well.

What to do? The first step to solving a problem is recognizing that one exists. And in this case that means ignoring all the political nonsense about a "war on girls" and "war on women," and taking a serious look at whether the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. The research indicates this is so.

The place to start is the family. Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee is among those in Congress who have called for new pro-family legislation that would eliminate marriage penalties in the tax code and welfare programs, and put more money in the hands of working families for child-rearing. Adults need to understand how much harm they cause kids when they divorce or have children out of wedlock.

Schools also need to be more responsive to boys' needs. Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men, notes that risk-averse school administrators across the country are too aggressive in "policing and punishing the distinctive, assertive sociability of boys," and many others have complained that instructional programs are geared too much to the needs of girls at the expense of their male counterparts.

And, most of all, it's time to stop the grievance competition between the sexes and ensure all the nation's children get what they need to grow into productive citizens.