Schools try separate classes for boys, girls

More schools are dividing classes by gender, reports the Washington Post, looking at Imagine Southeast Public Charter School, a D.C. elementary school that separates boys and girls starting in first grade.

“I need the cleanup crew here,” shouts (Soheila) Ahmad, a 23-year-old first-time teacher, sweeping her arm around the central area of the class, where a few books lie scattered on the blue rug, and six blue beanbag chairs are arranged in a reading circle. Three boys hop to it, hoisting and heaving the beanbags into a pile against the far wall. A fourth boy collects the books and reshelves them. It is 10:30 a.m. and time for math.

“Let’s practice counting by 10s to 100,” Ahmad says.

The boys, standing behind their chairs, begin to chant, jumping in place as they say each number: “Ten, 20, 30, 40, … ” they sing, as their jumps and hops get bigger.

“Now let’s count by 2s to 100.”

The boys find their rhythm. Some do scissor jumps. Some do jumping jacks. One pounds his thighs. Another dances wildly, huffing out the numbers as a breathy backbeat. Yet another channels Michael Jackson, moonwalking backward, each sliding step punctuated by his counting. The decibels rise — a stampeding herd of elephants racing toward 100 — and the pace quickens. Ahmad doesn’t blink an eye.

She quizzes them for 15 minutes on their addition facts and divides them into their math groups: Persevering Penguins, Ferocious Foxes, Eager Eagles. The Penguins test each other with addition flashcards. The Foxes play math games on three computer terminals in the corner. The Eagles sit on the floor and have a math lesson with Ahmad. When it is time for the groups to trade places, Ahmad asks, “All set?”

“You bet!” the boys shout, swapping places in a raucous bustle.

Ginene Pointer’s first-grade girls sit quietly at their desks till their math group is called.

“Strawberry Shortcake House,” she says, as four girls stand quietly, push their chairs in and walk to the carpet, where they sit in tidy rows at her feet. “Unicorn House. SpongeBob House …”

When all the girls are seated, Pointer, 31, who has taught for nine years, gives three of them plastic baggies with their supplies: small white boards, construction paper and markers. The leaders distribute the materials and return to their spots on the floor, crossing their legs with military precision. The girls carefully arrange scraps of construction paper on one corner of their slates, sock erasers on their laps and markers in their hands. They are ready for the game.

“Six plus unknown partner equals 15?” Pointer asks.

The girls scribble furiously on their boards. A student named MaKayla raises her hand.

“Nine!” she says softly when the teacher calls on her.

“What?” Pointer asks. “Use your big girl voice, please.”

“Six plus nine equals 15,” MaKayla responds firmly.

“Yes,” Pointer says. “Let’s give her a round of applause.”

The girls clap.

“You go, girl! You go, girl!” one chants.

The boys are allowed to move around during lessons and teachers introduce competition through games. The atmosphere for girls is more relaxing, though they like games too.

Like students nationally, Imagine’s girls do better than the boys in reading and about the same in math.

According to the DC Benchmark Assessment System (DC BAS), which measures students’ progress annually in reading and math, 100 percent of Pointer’s girls scored “advanced” in reading, compared with 50 percent of Ahmad’s boys. Almost the same percentage of girls and boys scored “advanced” in math (40 percent and 38 percent, respectively), but 60 percent of the girls were “proficient” in math (the next step down from “advanced”), compared with 38 percent of the boys.

I’m not persuaded that single-sex classes are more effective. Once the boutique effect wears off, kids seem to do about the same. And the research on boys’ and girls’ brains is sketchy, as the story indicates. But it’s the sort of option that may work well for some students in some schools. If the parents want it, why not try it?

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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Whether or not this has immediate gains in terms of learning particular math or reading material that year, this sort of sociological dimorphism is probably going to do wonders for the boys’ attitudes towards school five years hence.

    And *that* may make a huge difference in overall outcomes.

    Note the string of qualifiers in this speculation: “Probably… may….” None of this is certain, but I think it’s a plausible notion.

  2. And what about girls who are more competitive and boys who prefer a more social more cooperative approach?

    Good elementary school teachers should be able to mix up learning styles for all students.

  3. I can’t imagine how much I would have hated school had I been in a class full of girls. Once I got over my initial shyness, I loved being competitive with the boys! I thought that girls had way too much drama.

  4. prometheus says:

    I find having a 50-50 mix is preferable to all of one or the other, at least in elementary school. Too many boys is far too noisy for my peace of mind, and too many girls usually fight too much for my peace of mind. I would not be in favor of such segregation.

  5. I’m all for it. I wish I had the money to send my children to single sex schools. I only went to a single sex college and it made a world of difference for me. I’m not sure about long-term studies on this, but I do know that Michael Gurian has written favorably about the subject in his excellent parenting books for raising girls and boys.

  6. tim-10-ber says:

    If this will help more boys focus on school, stay in school, truly learn, graduate and graduate from college I am all for it…As is it now boys, especially minority boys, are getting the short end of the stick from government schools..they need all the help they can get…having more male teachers would be a huge plus…especially in elementary and middle school

  7. I agree that single-sex classes ought to be an option for those parents who want it, but my high energy almost-8 y.o. DD would *LOVE* the kind of activities mentioned for the boys’ class and *HATE* the quiet crafty activities mentioned for the girls’ class.

  8. From a teacher’s perspective, I enjoyed teaching at an all-boys Catholic school way more than at the public school where I teach now. It was fun, and there was no backbiting and drama. Guys go with the flow. Girls make issues out of nothing.

  9. I wonder if the boy’s “gains” are more the effect of them being allowed to move around than from the separation of genders.

    I get a little nervous about “single sex” education…both because most of the really bad treatment I got in school was at the hands of my fellow females (I had a number of boys who were friends – not boy-friends, but guys I hung out with and who would stick up for me) and also because of the risk of there being separate and unequal education…


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