Do boys need single-sex schools?

Boys are more likely to be labeled disabled, less likely to be in gifted classes and much less likely to earn a high school diploma, New York City schools have found. The city is looking for ways to help boys succeed in school that probably will include “more single-sex schools, as well as mentoring, tutoring and other after-school programs,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

“A high level of physical energy and impulsivity tends to be devalued or even punished in schools,” says Steve Nelson, head of the progressive Calhoun School, a private school.

Charter schools are opening boys-only schools in low-income black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The Eagle Academy, which started in the Bronx in 2004, was aimed to combat citywide graduation rates of 30% or lower for African-American males. Although the school has an 83% graduation rate this year, up from 80% in 2009, citywide numbers for African-American men are in the mid-40s, and are still “very, very troubling,” said (David) Banks, Eagle’s president and founding Principal of Eagle Academy.

. . . Young men who want to attend the school are selected by lottery. Mr. Banks — whose schools feature mandatory parental involvement, longer school days and Saturday classes — wants to open four more schools in the next five years.

“All-boys schools create safe environments in which boys can learn,” concludes a recent report on single-sex schools (pdf) serving black and Latino boys, notes Susan Sawyers on HechingerEd.  “An emphasis on building strong relationships among the boys, teachers, and staff proved important to engaging the boys in the learning process,” said New York University professor Pedro Noguera, an author of the Black and Latino Male Schools Intervention Study, at a conference in April. The study looked at seven schools that were traditional public, public charters and private schools.

The authors found that all-boys schools nurtured their students social and emotional development; challenged stereotypes about African-American and Latino male identity; infused strong academic expectations and college preparation as part of the boys’ social identity; and made strong efforts to shore up basic academic skills before moving on to more challenging offerings.

However, Noguera also said that the push toward single-sex schools for low-income boys is “an intervention in search of a theory” and named the report just that. Unlike all-girls schools, which are based on the theory of expanding gender role options for girls, all-boys schools are not based on a “shared understanding” of what boys actually need.

But it’s clear they need something more than they’re getting now.

About Joanne


  1. J. D. Salinger says:

    Any reaction from Sara Mead on any of this, or is she on to new and better issues?

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    I agree with the article. My older son needed the flexibility to stretch out in class when they were in circle time on the floor. Thank goodness his teacher understood.

    Watching boys…if they are interested in something they become fully engaged and shut out everything else around them. If they are not interested you can tell it by their actions and words…

    So…with the emphasis on sitting still, reading girly books, being quiet, etc. all things girls tend to excel at out…boys need to be able to be boys.

    Another challenge is how to interact with boys that are viewed “as the man of the house” at home only to be treated as a child or in seemingly degrading manner at school — huge disconnect and huge need for correction/understanding/connection/respect.

    My boys both excelled in school. Yet my older one who stayed in a government default ie zoned school longer than the younger one clearly felt that education was slanted towards girls. My younger one who spent more time in academic magnets than the default school did not feel this as much.

    In their private school this was never an issue for either one…

  3. “not based on a “shared understanding” of what boys actually need”

    What does “shared understanding” have to do with science? I would submit that this is a political construct, not a scientific one, and has no place in a scientific paper.

  4. thing is, i would’ve been totally screwed in an all-girls school.
    and the reason is that there are very few girls at the extreme ends of math/science achievement.

    if a =few= girls are allowed into an all-boys school as honorary males, that would be cool. 😉

    more seriously, for the massive middle, it’s probably a good idea, for both girls and boys. But for those at the extreme ends, it might not be a good idea.

  5. Here in Chicago, we have an all-boys charter school called Urban Prep. I think Urban Prep does well not simply because it’s single sex, but rather because it takes the concept of “community” and “brotherhood” and runs far with it.

  6. Susan Sawyers says:

    Hi Joanne, thanks for the HechingerEd link.

    Sharon Cohen wrote a story for AP about Urban Prep, as mentioned by Amy above. 100 percent of the first graduating class is college bound. President and CEO Tim King points out that the proof of success will be in four years when these men graduate from college. The story doesn’t say what happened to the 55 students who started school in 2006 but didn’t make it to graduation. Nonetheless, for those that do make it to Urban Prep and/or to graduation and/or to college and/or beyond, it would seem clear that a school like Urban Prep is a step in the right direction. Beats the alternatives.


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