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More public schools trying single-sex education

Seeking to raise student achievement, a growing number of schools are separating boys and girls during instruction

Separating boys and girls during instruction can minimize distractions, proponents say.

Single-sex education appears to be making a comeback, but with a new twist: A small but growing number of traditional public schools are experimenting with separate instruction for boys and girls to help meet each gender’s needs.

No longer is single-sex education defined only by all-girl or all-boy schools, in which the entire student body consists of just one gender. Other single-sex education models have emerged as well, such as the “dual academy” format, where boys and girls are in the same building but are separated all day except for special occasions; and the single-sex classroom model, which separates the sexes only for specific courses.

In some cases, these single-sex education programs are an attempt to combat lagging test scores, especially among male students. In March, the Center on Education Policy released a report of reading test scores showing that boys trailed girls in each of the more than 40 states that provided data. Separating boys and girls removes a potential source of distraction during class and can help them focus more on school, proponents say.

In other cases, single-sex education programs aim to bolster girls’ confidence in subjects that many lose interest in later on in their schooling, such as math, science, and technology.

Whatever the reason for the approach, advocates of single-sex education say there is evidence to suggest that it can be effective—though experts caution that it might not be ideal for every student.

Imagine Southeast Public Charter School, founded two years ago, operates under the dual academy format. It is one of at least four publicly funded schools in the District of Columbia using single-sex education, while there are a few others in Maryland and Virginia.

Imagine was founded as a single-gender environment, but other schools are making the switch from coed to single-sex classrooms to help improve student achievement levels. For example, educators from Arthur F. Smith Middle Magnet School in Louisiana say they’ve noticed improvements in behavior and schoolwork since switching to single-sex education this year.

“I thought it was crazy, I really did,” said seventh-grade English teacher Camille Shelfo. A short time into the new academic year, however, he has quickly changed his opinion.

“The first day, I saw my boys like I’ve never seen them before. They were focused, they seemed to be more challenged, they take more pride in their work—it just blew me away. I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Shelfo, who has been an educator for 23 years.

There are at least 10 other public schools in Louisiana that have adopted a single-sex education model, three of which transitioned from coeducation last fall, reports the Associated Press.

While public schools are experimenting with single-sex education as a possible fix to academic pitfalls, the debate over which form of education is actually better for students is far from resolved.

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Comments:

  1. mango mole

    November 22, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Our district is facing an increasing number of discipline problems at the high school level pertaining to fights over boyfriends and girlfriends, and to boys harrassing girls. At least that would be lessened in same sex schools.

  2. mango mole

    November 22, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Our district is facing an increasing number of discipline problems at the high school level pertaining to fights over boyfriends and girlfriends, and to boys harrassing girls. At least that would be lessened in same sex schools.

  3. eburton

    November 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    While single sex schools and options are advantageous for many students there is evidence to suggest that we are not pre-wired but rather our society influences our male/female experiences with subjects such as math/science and language arts. We can help our children become less stereotypical by constantly checking and being aware of our tendencies exposing each sex equally to the joys and explorations available with typically male/female subject pursuit likelihood.
    Erika Burton, Ph.D.
    Stepping Stones Together, Founder
    http://www.steppingstonestogether.com

  4. eburton

    November 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    While single sex schools and options are advantageous for many students there is evidence to suggest that we are not pre-wired but rather our society influences our male/female experiences with subjects such as math/science and language arts. We can help our children become less stereotypical by constantly checking and being aware of our tendencies exposing each sex equally to the joys and explorations available with typically male/female subject pursuit likelihood.
    Erika Burton, Ph.D.
    Stepping Stones Together, Founder
    http://www.steppingstonestogether.com

  5. anbooth

    November 22, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    I am an advocate of single-sex classrooms, but I am not an advocate for single-sex schools. With my 6th graders, I see some flirting in the classroom that is distracting. There are two types. The first is the lovestruck boy who gazes into space (or at the object of his affection) and is not focused. Then there is the showoff who is not focused because he is too busy trying to be cool.

    I know there were times (especially in high school) when I would not speak up just because of the boys in the room. I would have been a stronger student in math and science if I had been in a single sex classroom.

  6. anbooth

    November 22, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    I am an advocate of single-sex classrooms, but I am not an advocate for single-sex schools. With my 6th graders, I see some flirting in the classroom that is distracting. There are two types. The first is the lovestruck boy who gazes into space (or at the object of his affection) and is not focused. Then there is the showoff who is not focused because he is too busy trying to be cool.

    I know there were times (especially in high school) when I would not speak up just because of the boys in the room. I would have been a stronger student in math and science if I had been in a single sex classroom.

  7. pafagan

    November 23, 2010 at 8:56 am

    I have read some pretty compelling arguments for the pre-wiring of the brain especially for PK-3. Based on MRI scans of the brain on average, girls had 11% more synapse firings than boys in the English/Language Arts area (an area where PK-3 boys are lagging according to the numbers in ELA testing). And boys had more brain synapse firings in terms of geospacial reasoning. NCLB focuses so much on ELA in PK-3 that it puts boys at disadvantage. Even math has become excessively filled with word problems at these grade levels. Many schools/state now require in K-6 a 90 minute uninterrupted ELA period in the school day. So I am more firmly in the camp of nature over nurture in this argument.

    Peter Fagan, Ph.D.

  8. pafagan

    November 23, 2010 at 8:56 am

    I have read some pretty compelling arguments for the pre-wiring of the brain especially for PK-3. Based on MRI scans of the brain on average, girls had 11% more synapse firings than boys in the English/Language Arts area (an area where PK-3 boys are lagging according to the numbers in ELA testing). And boys had more brain synapse firings in terms of geospacial reasoning. NCLB focuses so much on ELA in PK-3 that it puts boys at disadvantage. Even math has become excessively filled with word problems at these grade levels. Many schools/state now require in K-6 a 90 minute uninterrupted ELA period in the school day. So I am more firmly in the camp of nature over nurture in this argument.

    Peter Fagan, Ph.D.

  9. patty o novak

    November 23, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Same gender schools or classrooms do have their merits. But with over 50% of the workforce now comprised of women, it’s essential for both genders to learn how to work together, stand up for themselves, calm their hormones, etc.

  10. patty o novak

    November 23, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Same gender schools or classrooms do have their merits. But with over 50% of the workforce now comprised of women, it’s essential for both genders to learn how to work together, stand up for themselves, calm their hormones, etc.

  11. kstubblefield

    November 24, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    I can see benefits and downfallsof same sex classrooms. I can see where it would be less distracting for girls and boys, but I can also see where if you have all boys…you may have more issues. I do agree that girls need to be encouraged to participate more…but I am not sure this is the answer.

  12. kstubblefield

    November 24, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    I can see benefits and downfallsof same sex classrooms. I can see where it would be less distracting for girls and boys, but I can also see where if you have all boys…you may have more issues. I do agree that girls need to be encouraged to participate more…but I am not sure this is the answer.

  13. dvanryn

    November 28, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    There are at least two issues here. One is how boy/girl relationships are impeding education and another is about teaching individuals. One way to change the relationship issue is single gender classes or schools (but there are varying opinions on what this change would be and whether it is positive in the long run or not).

    Speaking to the second, look at this quote from Sadker: “As soon as you make assumptions that all boys learn one way and all girls learn the other, you start building the ruts and reducing potential,” I would say his comment can easily be expanded to ‘as soon as you make assumptions that any group of kids learn the same way as another, you start building ruts and reducing potential ‘ All students need to be treated as individuals and have education geared for them. Teachers need to know how to recognize differences and how to differentiate. When you create classrooms targeted at a particular group, you will marginalize some of the students because there is a range in any group and education targeted at one part of the range will marginalize the others.

  14. dvanryn

    November 28, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    There are at least two issues here. One is how boy/girl relationships are impeding education and another is about teaching individuals. One way to change the relationship issue is single gender classes or schools (but there are varying opinions on what this change would be and whether it is positive in the long run or not).

    Speaking to the second, look at this quote from Sadker: “As soon as you make assumptions that all boys learn one way and all girls learn the other, you start building the ruts and reducing potential,” I would say his comment can easily be expanded to ‘as soon as you make assumptions that any group of kids learn the same way as another, you start building ruts and reducing potential ‘ All students need to be treated as individuals and have education geared for them. Teachers need to know how to recognize differences and how to differentiate. When you create classrooms targeted at a particular group, you will marginalize some of the students because there is a range in any group and education targeted at one part of the range will marginalize the others.