Single-Sex Education: A Viable Option for Today's Students

Single-sex education is seeing a reemergence and could be a key to helping low- to middle-income minority students succeed in the classroom.
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Like many, I was pleased to read about the ongoing success of Chicago's all-male Urban Prep Academy; the charter school will once again watch all 167 of its graduates head off to college in the fall. Amazing stuff! In thinking about Urban Prep, we should also acknowledge the work that Nina Gilbert has done with Ivy Prep Charter School in Atlanta, an all-girls school which boasts some of the best academic results in the state. Other schools like The all-male Boys Latin Charter School in Philadelphia; the all-male Eagle Academy for Young Men in the Bronx, New York and Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tennessee all are showing academic prowess educating kids from challenged and low-income backgrounds in a single-sex environment. Indeed, Booker T. Washington was a 2011 Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge winner, in part because they went from a graduation rate of 55 percent in 2007 to nearly 82 percent four years later thanks to the implementation of the school's all-girls and all-boys programs.

All worth replicating, right? Well, hold on. Some groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union are trying to stop the proliferation of single-sex schools on the basis of discrimination.

What is interesting and ironic about this backlash is that prior to the 1970s, single-sex education was the norm for many American students, especially those from more affluent families. Today, single-sex education is seeing a reemergence and could be a key to helping low- to middle-income minority students succeed in the classroom.

According a study conducted by researchers at Stetson University in Florida in the mid 2000s, 75 percent of female students in single-sex classrooms achieved proficiency on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Only 59 percent of female students in co-ed classes scored proficient.

These results were even more staggering for male students. A whopping 86 percent of male students scored proficient were learning in a single-sex environment, compared to 37 percent in a mixed environment.

While single-sex education may not be the answer for every student, thousands across the country are finding benefits in such programs. High school life can be tough for many students as they focus their attention on attracting the opposite sex. Many students may find themselves afraid to speak up in class for fear they will seem less desirable to their boyfriend or girlfriend. A single-sex education removes this distraction and allows students to focus on what is most important: receiving a quality education.

Plus, as is now evident, one size does not fit all. We need to encourage as many creative and effective educational approaches as possible. Especially, ones that work.

A single-sex education is not the magic silver bullet for repairing our nation's education issues. It is, however, a viable option for many students, and should be considered as a tool for administrators looking for new and innovative ways to deliver a quality educational experience to students in need. And the more diverse array of quality options for parents, the better - for all of us. And let's hope more of these schools are made available to help more kids learn according to their needs, even if it means we have to fight in the courts to get these programs implemented.

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