Note: This is a guest post by Darryl Williams, principal of the Brighter Choice Charter Schools for Boys' elementary and middle school programs in Albany, New York.
In an article recently published in the New York Times, Tamar Lewin presents the idea that single-sex schooling may be detrimental to the educational development of students. She writes, "Single-sex education is ineffective, misguided and may actually increase gender stereotyping," a paper to be published Friday asserts.
Gender stereotyping is pervasive in many under-performing public schools because excuse-making has remained an acceptable form of educational reform in some states. And our boys' poor performance on standardized exams, their suspension rates and over identification in special education usually are on the table for discussion when districts start looking for an explanation for their mediocre results.
According to Lewin, the strongest argument against single-sex education is that it reduces boys' and girls' opportunities to work together, and reinforces sex stereotypes. More specifically, she cites from the report that "Boys who spend more time with other boys become increasingly aggressive...similarly, girls who spend more time with other girls become more sex-typed." The scientific research has been mixed on both brain-based learning and the effectiveness of single-gender programs.
However, we cannot ignore the gender bias teachers bring to co-ed classrooms, especially in our urban schools. "Why can't you write neat like Jessica....The girls are just much calmer than the boys...The girls can sit quietly longer than the boys at the assembly."
All these beliefs, assumptions and biases are developed in some co-ed classrooms and prove truly influential in teacher's expectations for our young men. Our scholars at Brighter Choice are expected to meet the expectations we set irrespective of the norms usually associated with boys or girls. The benefit here is that we strive to create a college-bound culture that supports scholars in developing the habits necessary for success in high school, college and life. Single-sex schools, as Dr. Leonard Sax asserts, should be a choice for families. Furthermore, parents must be encouraged to visit, tour and "inspect" single-gender programs to determine if the school is a right fit for their child.
I would argue that the success of any educational program, single-gender or co-ed, rests in the quality of teaching provided to scholars. We've found that there are some approaches like using competition as motivation, presenting visual anchors to accompany instruction and carefully scaffolding independent practice effective in teaching our scholars. We have not found allowing "boys to be boys" or relaxing our structure to be particularly effective, but with some demographics, this may serve students well.
I wish this study focused on the teachers in single-gender schools. What qualities do the effective teachers possess? What approaches and methods are they using to provide high-quality instruction? How are they building relationships with their scholars? I'm no researcher (yet) but I would bet my last dollar that if a single-gender school has many great teachers, the program will be a success for its scholars.