Single gender classes: Is is time to separate some boys and some girls?

17 Oct

Here’s today’s COMMENT FROM AN OLD FART: Moi’s mantra is: There is no magic bullet or “Holy Grail” in education. There is what works to produce academic achievement in a given population of children.

Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a republican and Barbara Mikulski, a democrat have written a common sense opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, A Right to Choose Single-Sex Education:

Education proponents across the political spectrum were dismayed by recent attempts to eradicate the single-gender options in public schools in Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Maine and Florida. We were particularly troubled at efforts to thwart education choice for American students and their families because it is a cause we have worked hard to advance.

Studies have shown that some students learn better in a single-gender environment, particularly in math and science. But federal regulations used to prevent public schools from offering that option. So in 2001 we joined with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Susan Collins to author legislation that allowed public schools to offer single-sex education. It was an epic bipartisan battle against entrenched bureaucracy, but well worth the fight.

Since our amendment passed, thousands of American children have benefited. Now, though, some civil libertarians are claiming that single-sex public-school programs are discriminatory and thus illegal.

To be clear: The 2001 law did not require that children be educated in single-gender programs or schools. It simply allowed schools and districts to offer the choice of single-sex schools or classrooms, as long as opportunities were equally available to boys and girls. In the vast and growing realm of education research, one central tenet has been confirmed repeatedly: Children learn in different ways. For some, single-sex classrooms make all the difference.

Critics argue that these programs promote harmful gender stereotypes. Ironically, it is exactly these stereotypes that the single-sex programs seek to eradicate.

As studies have confirmed—and as any parent can tell you—negative gender roles are often sharpened in coeducational environments. Boys are more likely, for instance, to buy into the notion that reading isn’t masculine when they’re surrounded by (and showing off for) girls.

Girls, meanwhile, have made so much progress in educational achievement that women are overrepresented in postgraduate education. But they still lag in the acquisition of bachelor’s and graduate degrees in math and the sciences. It has been demonstrated time and again that young girls are more willing to ask and answer questions in classrooms without boys….

No one is arguing that single-sex education is the best option for every student. But it is preferable for some students and families, and no one has the right to deny them an option that may work best for a particular child. Attempts to eliminate single-sex education are equivalent to taking away students’ and parents’ choice about one of the most fundamentally important aspects of childhood and future indicators of success—a child’s education.

America once dominated educational attainment among developed countries, but we have fallen disastrously in international rankings. As we seek ways to offer the best education for all our children, in ways that are better tailored to their needs, it seems not just counterproductive but damaging to reduce the options. single-sex education in public schools will continue to be a voluntary choice for students and their families. To limit or eliminate single-sex education is irresponsible. To take single-sex education away from students who stand to benefit is unforgivable.

All options for types of institutional structure must be on the table.

Denise Williams had a hit with a catchy little tune, “let’s hear it for the boy.” The question for many parents and schools is how are boys doing? Time summarized the issue of the “boy crisis.” Boy Crisis

There was, for example, Harvard psychologist William Pollack’s Real Boys (1998), which asserted that contemporary boys are “scared and disconnected,” “severely lagging” behind girls in both achievement and self-confidence. The following year, journalist Susan Faludi argued in Stiffed that the cold calculus of global economics was emasculating American men. In 2000 philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers blamed off-the-rails feminism for sparking The War Against Boys, and two years later writer Elizabeth Gilbert found The Last American Man living in a teepee in the Appalachian Mountains.

The Seattle Times reported on the study by the respected women’s group American Association of University Women (AAUW) AAUW Report

Both boys and girls are doing better in school, so there’s no reason to fear that school systems favor girls at boys’ expense, a women’s advocacy group says in a study to be released today.

It’s the freshest argument in the boys vs. girls debate in education, one in which the group, the American Association of University Women (AAUW), has been a major player. Having said in an influential 1992 study that the education system worked against girls, it now argues that the real crisis is racial and economic disparities, not gender. “The mythology of the boy crisis continues to be influential,” said Catherine Hill, the association’s director of research. One reason, she added, is that “people feel uncomfortable with the success of girls and women.”

Some readers might be thinking, a women’s group declaring there is no crisis. Right. Is there a crisis or a problem with boys? For every book, report, or study citing the difficulties that some boys are having, there is another book or study that questions the findings. Vanderbilt University researchers conducted a study of how boys and girls differ in some activities. Vanderbilt Study According to the Vanderbilt study, girls have an advantage over boys in timed tests and tasks. That finding is significant because many classroom activities are timed. A good summary of gender issues is provided by the Kansas Education Association. Gender and Achievement Issues

Boys’ Barriers to Learning and Achievement

Gary Wilson has a thoughtful article about some of the learning challenges faced by boys. Boys Barriers to Learning He lists several barriers to learning in his article.

1. Early years

a. Language development problems

b. Listening skills development

2. Writing skills and learning outcomes

A significant barrier to many boys’ learning, that begins at quite an early age and often never leaves them, is the perception that most writing that they are expected to do is largely irrelevant and unimportant….

3. Gender bias

Gender bias in everything from resources to teacher expectations has the potential to present further barriers to boys’ learning. None more so than the gender bias evident in the ways in which we talk to boys and talk to girls. We need to be ever mindful of the frequency, the nature and the quality of our interactions with boys and our interactions with girls in the classroom….A potential mismatch of teaching and learning styles to boys’ preferred ways of working continues to be a barrier for many boys….

4. Reflection and evaluation

The process of reflection is a weakness in many boys, presenting them with perhaps one of the biggest barriers of all. The inability of many boys to, for example, write evaluations, effectively stems from this weakness….

5. Self-esteem issues

Low self-esteem is clearly a very significant barrier to many boys’ achievement in school. If we were to think of the perfect time to de-motivate boys, when would that be? Some might say in the early years of education when many get their first unwelcome and never forgotten taste of failure might believe in the system… and themselves, for a while, but not for long….

6. Peer pressure

Peer pressure, or the anti-swot culture, is clearly a major barrier to many boys’ achievement. Those lucky enough to avoid it tend to be good academically, but also good at sport. This gives them a licence to work hard as they can also be ‘one of the lads’. …To me one of the most significant elements of peer pressure for boys is the impact it has on the more affective domains of the curriculum, namely expressive, creative and performing arts. It takes a lot of courage for a boy to turn up for the first day at high school carrying a violin case….

7. Talk to them!

There are many barriers to boys’ learning (I’m currently saying 31, but I’m still working on it!) and an ever-increasing multitude of strategies that we can use to address them. I firmly believe that a close examination of a school’s own circumstances is the only way to progress through this maze and that the main starting point has to be with the boys themselves. They do know all the issues around their poor levels of achievement. Talk to them first. I also believe that one of the most important strategies is to let them know you’re ‘on their case’, talking to them provides this added bonus….

If your boy has achievement problems, Wilson emphasizes that there is no one answer to address the problems. There are issues that will be specific to each child.

Single Sex Classrooms

Wesley Sharpe offers the pros and cons of single sex classrooms. Single Sex Classrooms Seattle Child describes the atmosphere at O’Dea and reports that for some boys, this is an environment where they thrive. Seattle Child Some children have achievement problems and social adjustment problems. When other solutions have not yielded results, single sex classrooms are seen as a possible solution. The New York Times reports on single sex classrooms in the Bronx. Single Sex Classrooms

The single-sex classes at Public School 140, which started as an experiment last year to address sagging test scores and behavioral problems, are among at least 445 such classrooms nationwide, according to the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education. Most have sprouted since a 2004 federal regulatory change that gave public schools freedom to separate girls and boys.

The nation’s 95 single-sex public schools — including a dozen in New York City — while deemed legal, still have many critics. But separation by a hallway is generally more socially and politically palatable. And unlike other programs aimed at improving student performance, there is no extra cost.

We will do whatever works, however we can get there,” said Paul Cannon, principal of P.S. 140, which is also known as the Eagle School. “We thought this would be another tool to try.”

Wilson and Cannon are correct in stating that there is no one solution to solving a child’s achievement problems and a variety of tools may prove useful. Whether there is a “boy crisis” can be debated. The research is literally all over the map and a variety of positions can find some study to validate that position. If your child has achievement and social adjustment problems, whether there is an overall crisis is irrelevant, you feel you are in a crisis situation. There is no one solution, be open to using a variety of tools and strategies.

So, how is your boy doing?

There should not be a one size fits all approach. Strategies must be designed for each population of kids.

Other Resources:

Classroom Strategies to Get Boys Reading

Me Read? A Practical Guide to Improving Boys Literacy Skills

Understanding Gender Differences: Strategies To Support Girls and Boys

Helping Underachieving Boys Read Well and Often

Boys and Reading Strategies for Success

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