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More public schools trying single-sex education

By Jenna Zwang, Assistant Editor
November 19th, 2010

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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