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Education Reporter

Single-Sex Class Makes Fans of Students & Teachers 
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MIDLOTHIAN, VA - An experiment in single-sex education that began with a computer glitch is having positive results at Bailey Bridge Middle School. Some of the 6th-grade teachers at the 1,600-student school were surprised last fall when they found that the computer had mistakenly assigned classes of nearly all boys or nearly all girls.

After pondering the problem for three days, principal Dr. Deborah Marks decided to accept the computer's mistake and create one all-girls "team" and one all-boys "team." At Bailey Bridge, students are divided into teams of 120 to 130 students, each team with five teachers. Three other 6th-grade teams remained coed.

At the end of the year, the single-sex classroom teachers and most of the parents and students pronounced the experiment a success. A Bailey Bridge spokesman told the Jim Lehrer Online NewsHour (5-19-03) that only one parent preferred to have her child moved out of the single-sex class, while several other parents requested that their children "be taken out of coed and put into the single grouping."

One parent whose child was placed in the single-sex class observed, "Wow, this is kind of a nice little taste of both worlds. It's almost like he's in his own little private school there, with an all-boy team." Another parent stated: "I didn't really realize the full aspect of what it would do for my child, but I absolutely love it. It has been amazing."

One teacher of an all-girl class said that after at first experiencing some reluctance, she felt as if she "had died and gone to heaven."

Most students also reacted positively. A boy told Online News Hour, "My grades have gotten better than they were." A girl noted: "You're not afraid to ask questions. If you don't understand something, you can raise your hand and ask."

Although there are no plans to expand the single-sex classes, Bailey Bridge hopes to offer the option again next year. Deborah Marks told the Chesterfield (VA) County Observer: "Teaching methods have been adapted to meet the unique learning style of each gender with boys having information provided in smaller, more incremental portions and hands-on experience. Unified grouping does not result in additional costs and maintains the same student-teacher ratio as others classes."

In an interview with Online News-Hour reporter John Merrow, psychologist Leonard Sax said his organization, the National Association for Single-Sex Education, found that the chief benefit of single-sex schooling for both girls and boys is improved educational opportunity. "It allows girls to pursue their interests in math and computer science. It allows boys who might be interested in art, music, drama, to pursue those interests. In single-sex schools you break down gender stereotypes, you enhance educational opportunity."

Student performance in single-sex classrooms bears out Sax's observations. In a number of the approximately 50 schools around the nation where single-sex classes are being tried, both improved academic achievement and behavior are the result. (See Education Reporter, November 2002.) But critics including the NEA, the ACLU, and various feminist groups have blasted single-sex education as discriminatory.

These critics often invoke Title IX, the law passed in 1972 to end gender discrimination and which barred separation of the sexes in public schools. However, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 includes an amendment authorizing single-sex education. Last year, Education Secretary Ron Paige pledged that Title IX regulations would be rewritten to reflect the new law, but to date, new regulations have not materialized. Some, including Leonard Sax, question whether they will ever be rewritten.

According to the Washington Times (5-08-03), the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has announced that it "is currently in the process of reviewing the approximately 170 comments received" (during a 60-day period that expired July 8, 2002). "After the Department has completed its review and assessment of all comments received," the announcement stated, "the Department will decide if amendments to the regulations are warranted."

If the OCR is successful in thwarting the intent of Congress to allow public schools to offer single-sex classes as an option for parents and students, many believe the very children its foes claim to champion will be hurt. At least one school intended to offer the option of single-sex math classes to parents of 5th-grade girls in Maryland last year, but cancelled the plan.

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