By Aileen Dodd
Nearly 2,000 Georgia public school students – most of whom are minorities – are learning in single-gender classrooms that use research on the emotional, physical and intellectual development of children to create a culture and curriculum that inspires students to achieve. These creative same-sex classrooms are housed in urban public charter schools in metro Atlanta.
Supporters of single-gender education maintain that offering an all- male or all-female environment allows students to learn in schools free of distractions. With boys out of the picture, girls can feel free to ask questions without embarrassment and emerge as leaders. With girls out of the classroom, teachers can tailor lessons that focus on the competitive nature and curiosity of boys.
National data exploring whether single-gender education leads to increased student achievement, however, is mixed with most formal studies concluding that there is no real scientific evidence to prove that children in single-gender public schools perform better than their coeducational counterparts. A 2014 report by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that separating genders resulted in little to no difference in student achievement besides providing only modest advantages in math. The APA report “The Effects of Single-Sex Compared With Coeducational Schooling on Students’ Performance and Attitudes: A Meta-Analysis” analyzed 184 studies testing nearly 2 million K-12 students from more than 20 nations. The report echoed the findings of a 2005 U.S. Department of Education comparison of same-sex and coeducational schools, which also found that separating genders doesn’t guarantee student success.
Nevertheless, scientific evidence does reveal that the brains of girls and boys develop at different rates. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the occipital lobe — the region of the brain most associated with visual processing — develops faster in girls between the ages of 6 to 10, while boys show the largest growth in this region after age 14.
Using research on the brain to enhance teaching, some charter schools are having success moving the needle on achievement when genders are separated. Anecdotal evidence and school data from select charter school campuses across the country suggest that a single-gender education can be a tool to help improve the academic progress of students, particularly for African-American and Hispanics, who as subgroups lag behind their white counterparts in achievement.
Nationally, only about 50 percent of black males on average graduate in four years. Blacks and Latinos also face higher rates of suspension and expulsion, which can cause them to fall behind in their studies and drop out of school.
Pedro Noguera, an author and professor of education at New York University who has conducted extensive research on urban schools (Theories of Change among Single-Sex Schools for Black and Latino Boys: An Intervention in Search of Theory), documented the approach of several single-gender schools serving low-income neighborhoods that are narrowing the achievement gap among minorities. Their success at achieving higher graduation rates than some of their coeducational counterparts, Noguera has said, is fueled by their approach to education more than their single-gender classrooms. Single-gender schools for boys often focus on grooming students to be future leaders, building brotherhood, improving a student’s self-confidence and providing role models for kids.
Bryant Marks, executive director of Morehouse Research Institute, agrees. His single-gender college boasts a six-year graduation rate of 60 percent for black males that is one of the highest in the country and is 25 percentage points higher than the national average for black males graduating from co-educational colleges. “There is an added benefit of role-modeling and relationship-building,” Marks said of single-gender education. “When you have a critical mass of black boys and they have a limited perception of what’s possible — they don’t believe they can go to college or graduate school and be a doctor — they are going to perform to that minimal perception if they don’t have someone to change their attitude about education.”
Marks said, however, that students of color don’t have to attend a single-gender school to get the same kind of positive reinforcement. “The key to running a successful single-gender school with sustained achievement is basically the same as the operating co-educational public schools: Offer extended hours and days. Provide breakfast and after school homework support. Hire highly qualified teachers who care about the population of students they serve. Provide a challenging curriculum with high expectations of all students.”
Successful single-gender schools can be found in urban centers including Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies, a group of college prep charter high schools in Chicago and Eagle Academy in New York. At these schools:
- The four-year graduation rate in 2012 for the Bronx Eagle Academy was higher than the city and state average. Eagle seniors graduated at a rate of 67.5 percent compared to the citywide average that year of 64.7 percent. Eagle also out- paced the state average for boys, which was 59.9 percent.
- For five consecutive years, 100 percent of high school seniors in Chicago graduated from Urban Prep’s Englewood and West campuses and were accepted to four- year colleges. The state average graduation rate for that same year was about 70 percent.
Single-gender education has vocal critics. Many say that the approach rolls back the clock on progress made to desegregate schools, and that it is by definition a violation of the Title IX educational amendment requiring gender equity for programs receiving federal funds. Single-gender schools began to spread across the country under the freedoms of The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which encouraged using same-sex education as a strategy to help students learn, among other reform methods. In Georgia, public charter schools serving single-gender populations of males are also making some tangible gains in student achievement and improving attitudes about education. One of those schools had the state’s highest ranking on the Georgia College and Career Readiness Performance Index in 2013.
Read the full Impact Paper here: Single Gender Education Impact 2015