- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

Finding the right school isn't easy. Even if you've got money, there are choices that must be made. If you're on the other end of the money wheel, or even claim lower middle-class status, there are far fewer options. For those families, public education is the usual way to go. Fortunately, the schoolhouse doors to vouchers, public charters and, for families with children who need rigid regimens, military schools, are opening wider and more frequently than expected.

Let's look at yet another option: Single-sex programs.

Now, some of you are already frowning. All-girl what? Schools. Guy-ifying classes? Sounds good to me. Isn't that discrimination? No.

Do single-sex programs work?

You bet.

The oldest public, single-sex schools are all on the East Coast, with the first established in Baltimore in 1844. The nation's capital has bragging rights to one of the newest programs.

Moten Elementary is near historic Cedar Hill, which was home to abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass. Academic recognition has not been its claim to fame in recent years. In fact for years, Moten had no claim; it merely existed from year to year like other D.C. schools until last year, when the quiet revolution emerged.

George Smitherman, Moten's principal, started last school year by separating boys from girls in the fourth through sixth grades. He spoke with his teachers, but he didn't consult administrators. No dummy, he consulted the folks who matter most his faculty and Moten parents. His goal was two-fold: decrease discipline problems and raise academic achievements.

The results were astounding. The discipline problems? Gone. The taunting and teasing are no more during class time. Students' standardized reading scores rose 50 percent, and math scores rose 80 percent, exceeding even his expectations.

"Our kids worked hard all day, every day," he told reporter Denise Barnes in a recent interview. "Everything centers on math and reading."

The students boast about how many books they've read, and about special projects, like the quilt they designed for the captain and the crew of the Amistad, the traveling replica of the historic slave-era ship.

These students, mind you, are your average urban adolescents, interested in video games, music and fashion. But they have come to accept the fact that their teachers and parents have raised the bar, and they are meeting the challenge minus the girl-boy shenanigans.

The success of the Moten program particularly in such a short period of time has folks scratching their heads. Some have even insinuated that the answers on the tests were changed and that teachers finagled curriculum for test preparation, suggesting that poor black children couldn't possibly be so studious.

I don't think they would suggest as much regarding Western High in Baltimore, a racially diverse all-girls public school in Baltimore (established in 1844) that consistently ranks among that city's academic elite. Ninety-three percent of Western's graduates entered college, 2 percent chose military service and 1 percent enrolled in vocational schools. And, I don't think those skeptics would raise their eyebrows at the largest single-sex public school in the nation the 157-year-old Philadelphia High School for Girls, where better than 97 percent of graduates attend four-year colleges.

So far, there are only 16 public schools in the United States that offer single-sex programs, and each has its own success stories. Several other schools are scheduled to open next school year.

A new single-sex school is WALIPP Prep Academy in Houston, which opened its doors this year (with the help of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison). An all-boys school, WALIPP has black male teachers instructing black boys not a new approach to education but certainly a much-need approach to public education.

I hope there are lots more Motens and Westerns and WALIPPs on the drawing board. D.C. school administrators are considering whether other schools should follow Moten's path. The Bush administration, meanwhile, should do what it can to move the bureaucracy out of the way of such potential success stories. After all, parents need and want all the choices they can get when it comes to raising their children.

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