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Can Rural Schools Learn From Single-Gender Urban Classes?

Education reforms that have proven effective in urban areas might not see the same results in rural schools, particularly those involving single-gender education.

That's one of the key findings of a new study, "Female-only classes in a rural context: Self-concept, achievement, and discourse," published in the Journal of Research in Rural Education.

The study's authors say rural educators need to consider their local context when implementing reforms, and they wrote that factors such as community support and the availability of resources can affect results.

"For example, the level of community support for the education reform itself in this study was not strong, which is of particular importance for tight-knit rural communities," they wrote. "In urban and more ethnically diverse communities, single-gender classes have been embraced for both male and female students as a way to curb the lack of academic success. However, in this rural community, parents of male students were hesitant to embrace single-gender classes."

The year-long qualitative study of three 6th grade classes in a rural east Texas community aimed to look at the effects of female-only classes on reading and math achievement, discourse, and academic self-concept (or the perception of one's competency) when compared to peers in co-ed classes.

The study's authors said little research has focused on single-gender education in a rural context, and they expected different results from urban settings.

The middle schools with the all-female classes hoped to boost students' test scores, but the study found those classes didn't accomplish that, nor did they improve students' college attainment or expectations.

And, unlike other studies that showed single-gender education either had a positive or no affect on female students' self concept, this study found students in all-female classes had a lower self-concept and no difference in achievement. Still, all-female classes demonstrated higher levels of complex thinking in classroom discussions, and they engaged in more conversation overall.

"This finding indicates a need for carefully controlled studies of single-gender classrooms in a variety of contexts, including rural districts," according to the study.

The study's authors noted that because this program only was implemented in one school district, their findings should not be generalized to other rural communities.

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