- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 13, 2003

Single-sex education is taking public school students to a new level, providing them with a greater variety of academic opportunities. More importantly, studies show that single-sex education vastly improves students’ reading scores, their overall grades and their acceptance into college.

Benjamin Wright, outgoing principal of Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Seattle, says his students improved significantly when he began offering single-sex classrooms three years ago. The average boys’ score in reading went from the 10th percentile to the 66th percentile after single-sex education was implemented, Mr. Wright said at a recent forum sponsored by the National Association for Single Sex Public Education (NASSPE). Discipline referrals were dramatically reduced, from an average of 30 per day to fewer than two per day. Other benefits include an improvement in student morale, the doubling of the number of students going to college and a reduction in teen pregnancies.

In Washington, Moten Elementary School began offering single-sex programs in 2001. Prior to the change, the performance of the students on standardized tests at Moten was among the worst in the District. By the end of the school year, the percentage of the math portion of the Stanford 9 test went from 49 percent to 88 percent. The reading scores also shot up from 50 percent to over 91 percent. The discipline problems among the students dramatically decreased by 99 percent. These results ranked Moten, which is located in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, alongside some of the top public and private schools in the District.

Some critics believe single-sex education is “strange” and “old-fashioned,” not in tune with the reality that men and women have to live and work together. They also contend that single-sex education, instead of breaking down gender stereotypes, reinforces them, creating a wider gulf between the sexes.

However, the opposite is true. Single-sex education helps break down gender stereotypes by giving students greater freedom in taking a wider variety of classes. Says psychologist and NASSPE founder Leonard Sax, “girls who attend single sex schools are more likely to take courses in computer science and physics,” while boys “are more likely to study non-gender-traditional subjects such as art, music, dance, drama and culinary arts.”

Single-sex education has bipartisan support. Two years ago, four senators — Republicans Susan Collins and Kay Bailey Hutchison, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barbara Mikulski — crafted single-sex education legislation that now is part of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. The legislation is “a solution to a problem that we have seen over many years: that is, obstacles put in a place against public schools being able to offer single-sex classrooms and single-sex schools,” Mrs. Hutchison told us.

Currently, there are only 62 single-sex programs in public schools. As the school-choice movement gains broader acceptance, we urge educators to develop more single-sex programs to boost student achievement.

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