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.

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