|Separating the girls and boys|
|[Chicago Final Edition]|
|Chicago Tribune - Chicago, Ill.|
|Date:||Nov 18, 2006|
|Text Word Count:||415|
(Copyright 2006 by the Chicago Tribune)
Three years ago, administrators at Woodward Avenue Elementary School in DeLand, Fla., noticed that the boys were lagging behind the girls on academic achievement tests. Hoping to stop the slide, Woodward gave parents the choice of enrolling their youngsters in single-gender classrooms. The school became one of the first in the country to do so.
Woodward's decision was based on research that suggests the brains of girls and boys develop differently. Girls tend to learn better in environments that are more quiet and orderly. Boys tend to learn better when they're freer to roam about. Test results from the first year of Woodward's experiment showed significant gains for pupils in the single-gender classes. In some grades, those pupils continue to outperform their counterparts in traditional classrooms.
Federal education officials recently announced a plan to give public schools greater latitude in developing single-gender education programs. Woodward, considered a model for such programs, offers a solid example of how school districts can create these programs without running afoul of Title IX, the law that banned sex discrimination in schools.
The key here is choice. Parents can choose which model works best for their child. Research shows that some children may benefit from single-gender education in part because of the differences in brain development between boys and girls. For example, the area of the brain that governs fine motor skills develops earlier in girls. The part of the brain that governs spatial relationships develops earlier in boys.
A teaching strategy that takes these differences into account can help some children learn better. For instance, girls in all-girl classes are more likely to enroll and excel in science and math courses.
There can also be differences in social and emotional learning. "The research shows that girls in single-sex classes are far less likely to get pregnant than girls in coed education," said Leonard Sax, executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. Why? Because girls in all-girls classes seem to develop a higher sense of self-esteem.
Still, not every pupil benefits. Parents and teachers have to work together to identify the pupils for whom this approach is best. Teachers need training and should be given the choice of whether to participate. The thought of teaching a class of rambunctious 10- year-old boys may not be appealing.
For years affluent parents have been able to choose single-sex education if they thought it was right for their children. Relaxing the rules in public education rightfully extends the choice.
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