More schools will­ing to try split­ting stu­dents by sex

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Amy Fa­gan

The dis­cus­sion was lively and an­i­mated as the sixth-grade girls chat­ted with their teacher about search for iden­tity, racial ten­sion and other themes in the book they were read­ing: Maya An­gelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Were the boys quiet through it all? Not ex­actly. They were next door, dis­cussing a his­tory les­son with an­other teacher.

This year, the two-year-old Hope Com­mu­nity Char­ter School in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. sep­a­rated its six­th­grade boys and girls through­out the school day, ex­cept for Span­ish class and lunch. The 10 boys and 10 girls trade time with Ed­win Caldie, who teaches his­tory and math, and Vanessa Kalter-Long, who teaches English and science.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors and teach­ers are pleased with the ar­range­ment and plan to ex­pand it to grades five through seven next year. “This was our first year do­ing it and it has just been a great suc­cess,” said Prin­ci­pal Ge­orge Sanker. “We just saw real growth” in both groups, he said.

Sin­gle-sex school­ing is hotly de­bated in aca­demic cir­cles. Since more le­nient reg­u­la­tions were cre­ated un­der the 2002 No Child Left Be­hind Act and fi­nal­ized last fall, re­searchers on both sides of the is­sue have been re­port­ing a re­newed in­ter­est in sin­gle-sex class­rooms across the coun­try. Guide­lines are even more flexible for pub­lic char­ters such as Hope.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Sin­gle Sex Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion (NASSPE), the num­ber of pub­lic schools in the United States of­fer­ing sin­gle-sex ed­u­ca­tion rose from three in 1995 to 262 in March this year: 52 sin­gle-sex schools and 210 coed schools with sin­gle-sex classes.

Leonard Sax, founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of NASSPE and au­thor of “Why Gen­der Mat­ters,” ar­gues that a sin­gle-sex en­vi­ron­ment, if in­tro­duced cor­rectly, can break down stereo­types and em­power both sexes far bet­ter than a coed set­ting can. Girls in sin­gle-sex ed­u­ca­tion are more likely to take math, science and com­puter classes and boys are more likely to take art, mu­sic and for­eign lan­guages, Mr. Sax said.

“The ben­e­fits are quite di­verse,” he said. “The key is­sue how­ever [. . . ] is choice. We’re not say­ing ev­ery child should be in a sin­gle-sex school. But why not of­fer par­ents a range of choices?”

Crit­ics say sin­gle-sex school­ing is war­ranted only in lim­ited sit­u­a­tions and can re­in­force harm­ful sex stereo­types if not im­ple­mented prop­erly. The Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, the Na­tional Women’s Law Cen­ter and the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Univer­sity Women said the new fed­eral reg­u­la­tions have not en­sured that safe­guards are in place.

“There’s no ac­count­abil­ity what­so­ever,” said Lisa Maatz, di­rec­tor of pub­lic pol­icy and gov­ern­ment re­la­tions for the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Univer­sity Women.

“All the in­di­ca­tions we have got­ten is that schools have be­come em­bold­ened to ex­per­i­ment with sexseg­re­gated ed­u­ca­tion in cir­cum­stances that may end up be­ing a dis­ser­vice to stu­dents and may vi­o­late statu­tory and con­sti­tu­tional law,” said Jo­ce­lyn Sa­muels, vice pres­i­dent for ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment at the Na­tional Women’s Law Cen­ter.

Ms. Maatz cited as an ex­am­ple a school where an all-girls math class counted birds and charted the re­sults, while the all-boys math class pro­duced small-busi­ness mod­els. The groups said they will be ob­serv­ing sin­gle-sex ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams and tak­ing le­gal ac­tion where needed.

Mean­while, NASSPE noted that a six-year Aus­tralian study of 270,000 stu­dents found that boys and girls ed­u­cated in sin­gle-sex class­rooms scored on av­er­age 15 to 22 per­centile points higher than their co­ed­u­cated coun­ter­parts.

A 2002 study in Eng­land, also cited by NASSPE, found ben­e­fits for boys and es­pe­cially girls ed­u­cated sep­a­rately in high school. Dis­ci­pline prob­lems plum­meted while boys’ writ­ing and read­ing test scores spiked af­ter Thur­good Mar­shall El­e­men­tary School in Seat­tle switched to sin­gle-sex class­rooms in 2000, ac­cord­ing to the NASSPE.

A com­pre­hen­sive re­port is­sued by the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion in 2005 was largely in­con­clu­sive. The re­port said many stud­ies sup­ported same-sex ed­u­ca­tion, but oth­ers found bet­ter re­sults in coed set­tings and some found no dif­fer­ence.

More ev­i­dence is forth­com­ing. Us­ing a grant from the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, Prov­i­dence Univer­sity so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor Cor­nelius Rior­dan is con­duct­ing a large study of pub­lic sin­gle-sex ver­sus coed schools for at-risk chil­dren.

Rose­mary Salomone, a law pro­fes­sor at St. John’s Univer­sity, said many of the newer pub­lic sin­gle-sex schools are in low-in­come, ur­ban ar­eas and are “very clearly fo­cused on aca­demic achieve­ment.”

She doesn’t rec­om­mend sin­gle­sex school­ing for ev­ery child said that for some “it gives them the op­por­tu­nity to find them­selves and de­velop their self-con­fi­dence.”

At Hope — a pub­lic char­ter el­e­men­tary school where 89 per­cent of stu­dents are black and 51 per­cent come from low-in­come fam­i­lies — ad­min­is­tra­tors haven’t fully an­a­lyzed an­nual test data for the six­th­graders. Mr. Sanker said, how­ever, that he has seen growth in con­fi­dence lev­els, wider in­ter­est in dif­fer­ent sub­jects and in­creased mo­ti­va­tion. He said the boys have taken an in­ter­est in lit­er­a­ture in a way that is “not the norm,” and the girls are com­pet­ing more over their grades than over the at­ten­tion of boys.

“It’s eas­ier for a boy to get up and ex­press him­self in a class of all boys than he would in front of girls,” and vice versa, he said. “You’re no longer shaped by the pres­ence of the op­po­site sex.”

Sin­gle-sex schools well-known for their suc­cess in­clude West­ern High School in Bal­ti­more and Philadel­phia High School for Girls. New York City has sev­eral such schools and Sep­tima Clark Pub­lic Char­ter School, the first all-boys pub­lic char­ter school in the Dis­trict, opened last fall.

Crit­ics said it’s of­ten hard to mea­sure the true suc­cess of sin­gle­sex ed­u­ca­tion be­cause many of th­ese schools have other fac­tors: smaller classes, mo­ti­vated teach­ers with pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment and in­volved par­ents.

Hope has many of those qual­i­ties too, most no­tably small classes with am­ple op­por­tu­nity for the teach­ers to in­ter­act with each stu­dent.

The sixth-grade teach­ers, both of whom are teach­ing in a sin­gle-sex set­ting for the first time, praised the ar­range­ment.

“Pos­i­tives out­weigh” neg­a­tives, said Miss Kalter-Long. “Their fo­cus is on their in­tel­lect,” she said, adding that girls ask her ques­tions in class that there is “no way” they would ask in front of boys.

Al­though the les­son con­tent is the same, the pre­sen­ta­tion some­times dif­fers, the teach­ers said. Re­ward sys­tems are struc­tured dif­fer­ently: Boys com­pete with one an­other for re­ward points while the girls work to­gether as a unit to earn re­ward points.

Mr. Sax said boys and girls learn dif­fer­ently, partly be­cause of vari­a­tions in the brain and the way they hear.

Ms. Salomone dis­misses that no­tion and said schools should not cater to stereo­types. “You don’t want to teach math wrapped up in pink rib­bons,” she said.

The sixth-graders at Hope said they are pleased with the ar­range­ment.

“You can talk about stuff that you wouldn’t with the boys,” said 12year-old Bri­anna But­ler.

James Foote, 11, ac­knowl­edged, “I kind of al­ways want the girls around,” but said he still en­joys the boys-only class dis­cus­sions.

Jalia In­man, 11, said boys in class make it hard to fo­cus, and she would ac­cept sin­gle-sex classes in higher grades as well. “I ac­tu­ally wouldn’t mind,” she said.

Bar­bara L. Sal­is­bury / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Boys only: From left, Michael Jones, Mar­quise Light­foot and Tim Hursen are sixth-graders at Hope Com­mu­nity Char­ter School in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

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