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Expert studies single-sex classroom concept

November 17, 2006; Page 01C

DELAND -- DELAND - Dr. Leonard Sax found the boys where they were most comfortable - sprawled across the classroom floor - and went down to their level to help them sort out fact and fiction from a book they were reading.

Mary Catherine Michaels didn't mind a bit that Sax, a widely-recognized expert on single-gender education, found most of her second-graders out of their chairs when he visited Woodward Avenue Elementary School on Thursday.

It was just one more demonstration of the way she has tailored her teaching techniques to the learning style many boys prefer.

"They're more active learners (than girls)," Michaels said of the boys she teaches as part of Woodward's experiment with single-gender classes, a growing trend in public schools across the United States.

Sax, a physician and psychologist who is executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, visited Woodward and Stetson University on Thursday to observe the local single-gender classes and talk about the differences in the ways boys and girls learn.

It's a hot topic in education that Sax expects to get even more attention since the U.S. Department of Education released new rules three weeks ago giving public schools more freedom to separate boys and girls as long as they offer a choice of co-ed classes as well.

About 240 public schools now offer single-gender classes nationwide, according to Sax's group, compared to only three in 1995. Woodward offers parents a choice of both types in each grade.

DeLand Middle School teachers have been studying single-gender education for more than a year, Principal Matt Krajewski said Thursday, and may seek School Board permission to try that approach in science classes beginning in August.

Sax expects single-gender classes to grow rapidly under the new federal rules, although some organizations such as the American Association of University Women and the American Civil Liberties Union contend single-gender classes threaten to undercut equal opportunities for boys and girls.

But Sax said research shows significant differences in the brains, genes and development sequences of boys and girls that lead to contrasts in the ways they learn best. "Boys are no worse than girls or better; they're just different," he said.

Stetson professors and Woodward teachers worked together closely in developing the single-gender classes that started three years ago as a way to improve lagging achievement among boys.

Test scores are up schoolwide since then, with boys in single-gender classes generally outperforming those in co-ed classes. Woodward Principal JoAnne Rodkey believes the schoolwide improvement is largely the result of teachers' better understanding of the way children learn.

"We don't want the gender classes to outperform the other classes; we want to pull everybody up," she said.

Cutline: Leonard Sax visits Woodward Avenue Elementary on Thursday and speaks with, from left, Carter Long, Benjamin Hans and Noah Sapp.

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