This is the kick-off post for an ongoing series on Pass the Chalk called Point/Counterpoint, where two bloggers will argue opposite sides of a pressing issue in education. Today, blogger Erin Teater argues for gender-segregated schools. For the other side of the issue, check out "Boys Have Cooties: The Trouble with Separating the Sexes."
Single-sex schools seem to be a hot topic right now. Single-sex education in public schools was legalized in 2006, and today, there are only 116 public schools across the country that are truly gender specific. I have had the opportunity to work with 3 of those 116 schools: Walipp in Houston, and Urban Prep and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Chicago.
Data supporting or contesting single-sex schools varies, depending on who you ask, so I will only speak to my experiences and what I have seen. When the opportunities are leveraged, I have seen tremendous things come out of all boys and all girls schools. Simply segregating the sexes does not alone close the achievement gap. Sorry, it’s not that easy. You still need all that other stuff (you know, strong teachers, high expectations, purposeful leaders, etc.).
However, when the focus is on character development, leadership, and culture building, these schools surpass every other model I have seen. Chicago graduates less than half of its young black men. 44%. That’s it. This keeps me up at night. It keeps the folks over at Urban Prep up at night as well, and that is why they founded three campuses in some of Chicago’s most struggling neighborhoods.
For the past three years, 100% of their graduating seniors have been admitted to college. How’s that for a proof point? With a narrow focus on educating African American males in urban neighborhoods, Urban Prep is able to tailor their curriculum to the unique needs of their students and invest them in shifting the assumptions of others by defying the odds.
I also recognize that separating boys and girls can limit perspectives at times, which is why I also adore another model coming out of Chicago: that of the Noble Network. Instead of separating boys and girls for the entire day, they offer advisories that are gender specific and led by teachers of the same gender. This advisory model provides students with a daily opportunity to discuss all of the “extra” stuff: study skills, personal goal setting, behavior accountability, leadership development, and general character development in a safe space where they feel comfortable being vulnerable and open with their advisor and peers.
The advisors are tremendous role models for the kids, and they are able to build a special camaraderie fostered among people of the same gender. There is an openness and honesty that comes from women speaking to women about female-specific challenges, and men speaking to men about male-specific challenges. These advisories become an integral part of the development of Noble students into self-advocating scholars.
Same-sex education is not a silver bullet solution that will put an end to abysmal dropout rates among students growing up in poverty, but I do think it is incredible to see what can happen when sex-specific campuses and advisories prioritize character development and address terrifying gaps in student achievement along gender lines. Urban Prep and Noble have both challenged statistics and have put their students on different life paths, and I believe there is something to learn from their models.
Don't forget to check out counterpoint to this post: "Boys Have Cooties: The Trouble with Separating the Sexes."