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Education and Gender

Renewed Interest in Separating Boys and Girls

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, JAN. 22, 2008 (Zenit) - There is increasing interest in single-sex education in the United States, with a spate of recent news stories on the issue. Commenting on the planned closure of almost two dozen schools in the nation's capital, a Jan. 4 article in the Washington Times newspaper suggested some be transformed into single-sex charter schools.

A 1972 amendment to federal law regulating public education led to the closure of most separate-sex schools. By 1995, only 3 public schools offered single-sex education, according to the Washington Times.

Subsequent changes to education laws have allowed a comeback for schools wanting to educate boys and girls apart. The article reported that currently Washington has two public schools offering single-sex options.

In a May 22 article last year the paper reported on the experience of a Washington D.C. school, the Hope Community Charter School, in separating the sixth-grade students for most of the day. The experiment was a success and the program was planned to expand to grades five through seven.

According to information posted on the Web site of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education as of November 2007, there are at least 366 public schools in the United States offering single-sex educational opportunities.

Most of those schools are actually coed, the association noted, and offer some single-sex classrooms. Nevertheless, 88 of the 366 schools qualify as single-sex schools.

Initiatives are under way in a number of states to expand single-sex education. In Minnesota the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune newspaper reported Dec. 22 on plans to offer a girls-only class in math and engineering.

High school teachers in Rosemount and Lakeville plan to start the classes next fall. Participation in the classes will be voluntary. The proposal is being backed by the Society of Women Engineers.


"The research shows that women are motivated by different kinds of challenges than the men are," said Steve Ullrich, an engineering teacher at Lakeville South High School.

According to the article, in the Twin Cities area about a dozen public schools have tried some form of single-sex education in the past five years. Many of the programs were limited to just one or two courses, but some have separated boys and girls for most of the school day.

From Florida, on Dec. 23 the St. Petersburg Times newspaper reported that the Spring Hill Westside Elementary School has had success with classes splitting boys and girls. The students started studying separately last August. Teachers use different methods to teach boys and girls, with the former being kept more physically active.

The article cited school principal Charles Johnson as saying he is committed to the optional program of separating the sexes, particularly for boys. "The research shows that boys are falling behind," he said. "We need to create an environment where they aren't turned off to school."

Single-sex education is also on the rise in the state of Michigan, reported a Nov. 13 article in the Detroit News. The state legislature approved a law in 2006, allowing public schools to educate boys and girls separately.

"In programs where you don't have girls, boys tend to be more collegial and work with each other," commented Sean Vann, principal of Frederick Douglass Academy, an all-male public high school.

The academy transformed from a program for troubled boys to a college prep school two years ago. At the same time a girls' high school, Detroit International Academy, opened its doors. It now has 500 students in grades 9-12.

Better academic results

The Detroit News also cited research carried out at Stetson University in Florida. A three-year project compared single-sex and coed classrooms at a Florida school and found that in most cases students in single-sex classes outscored students in coed classes on state tests.

The same positive results have been observed in West Virginia, reported the local Charleston Daily Mail newspaper Nov. 7. Three schools in Kanawha County have begun dividing some classes by gender. Academic results improve while behavior problems decrease, said Johnny Ferrara, one of the principals involved.

Karen Richmond, a teacher at the Anne Bailey Elementary School in St. Albans is convinced, the article reported. Richmond has taught for 30 years at the school, and this is her second year teaching an all-boys class. "These last two years have been some of the best," she said.

South Carolina is also experimenting with single-sex education, according to a Sept. 30 report by the Associated Press.

David Chadwell, the state's coordinator of single-sex education, believes that in the middle school years, when boys and girls are undergoing puberty, students are best taught in ...

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