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Education Reporter

Single-Sex Classes Making Comeback
Christina Hoff Sommers
Christina Hoff Sommers
In approximately 15 public schools across the country, teachers and administrators are bucking the tide of political correctness and feminist outrage by segregating students according to sex. A few of these schools have held single-sex classes for a year or more, and students are showing gains in achievement and improved behavior.

At the low-performing Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Seattle, Washington, principal Benjamin Wright incited a firestorm of protest from state education officials and feminists last year by separating boys and girls. He reported to Education Week (5-15-02) that after children began attending sex-segregated classes, "discipline referrals to his office dropped from 30 a day to one or two," and the number of boys meeting state standards skyrocketed from 10% in 2001 to 73% in 2002. "I'm fixing a problem," Wright asserted in response to his critics.

Some single-sex classes operate in single gender schools, such as the new WALIPP Preparatory Academy in Houston (for middle-school boys) and the Young Women's Leadership Charter School in Chicago (for girls in grades 6-12). Other schools, including the Ellenville Middle School in Ellenville, New York, segregate students for core-subject classes but allow mixed-sex classes for electives. At the Southern Leadership Academy in Louisville, Kentucky, boys and girls see each other only for band and chorus.

Teachers, students and administrators involved in single-sex schooling are generally enthusiastic about the results. Teachers report that students pay more attention to their work and are less disruptive and rowdy. At WALIPP Academy - the brainchild of a Baptist minister's wife and partly funded by her church's foundation - teacher Clayborne Polk Jr. told the Dallas Morning News (9-17-02) that because there are no girls, his students "stay focused, without distractions." He expects them to reach "a higher level of thinking" by the end of the year.

Chicago's Young Women's Leadership Academy, now in its third year, is so successful that it boasts a student body of 325 and a waiting list of 400. The mostly minority students "have a feeling that they can do whatever they want to do," stated Joan Hall, president of the Academy's board of directors, in an interview with CNN Student News. Hall stated that one of the reasons for the school's success is its "school-wide reading program that gets struggling readers up to grade level."

While most single-sex class experiments are taking place in schools plagued by poor test scores and serious discipline problems, some experts say race and socio-economic status make little difference in the results. Medical doctor and psychologist Dr. Leonard Sax points out that "boys and girls are wired differently" and that single-sex classes allow teachers to tailor their instruction to the different ways children learn.

Single-sex schooling has received a high-profile boost from the Bush administration, and this development has the NEA, the ACLU, feminists in academia, and some women's groups up in arms. A clause in the president's "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 encourages expanded educational choices, and the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Rod Paige has announced it will interpret Title IX - the gender-equity law - more loosely to encourage single-gender class options for students.

"It's a red flag immediately if you're talking about changing long-standing civil rights legislation," commented Leslie Annexstein, a senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, in Education Week. "We're concerned about how the [U.S. Education] department might be trying to circumvent the law."

The NEA has called single-sex classes "bad educational policy," and an NEA spokesman claimed "there really aren't any studies" that show single-sex classes improve academic achievement.

But according to author and American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers, that's because single-sex classes haven't been given a chance. She cited as an example six experimental single-gender schools that opened in California in September of 1997, part of a joint effort between then-Governor Pete Wilson and a group of concerned parents and teachers to improve educational prospects for disadvantaged children. In 2001, the Ford Foundation released an 83-page report on these schools that was heralded as "the most comprehensive study of single-sex public schooling in the United States to date." It failed to show, said Sommers, whether the schools improved students' grades, test scores or attendance. "Most of the study was devoted to 'critiquing' parents, teachers, and students for their 'gendered perceptions.' "

The Ford report classified as sexist any teacher who believed there are differences between girls and boys that call for different instructional approaches. The report "made it a point not to evaluate any of the academic benefits of the schools," Sommers asserted.

Many observers believe the single-sex class concept will spread, and teachers and administrators involved in the programs seem satisfied so far. "From what I've seen going around the classrooms, it's much more orderly," said Southern Leadership Academy's Assistant Principal Bill Redmon. "We don't have the boy-girl hormonal thing going on."

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