All-Boys Charter Sets Educational First

March 19, 2012

For release March 20 and thereafter (665 words)

ISTEP passage rates at the Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School in Indianapolis are among the state’s highest, but the school’s leaders and supporters believe they can be higher still.

That confidence lies behind the school’s announcement that it will open an all-boys middle school in 2012-13 with an all-girls middle school to follow. Chancellor and CEO Marcus Robinson has data to show that urban children excel when offered challenging curriculum, an extended school day, exceptional teachers and the expectation that all students will go to college.

Tindley is a charter school that opened in 2004 and serves students in Grades 6-12, most of them African-Americans and on free or reduced price lunch. In 2010-11, Tindley students scored an 82 percent “performance rate” (percent passing the ISTEP and GQE/End of Course Assessment) in language arts and an 86 percent in math, both well above state average. Yet boys typically underperform girls there by 5 to 8 percentage points.

Robinson expects the next set of numbers to show boys and girls learn more effectively when separated by gender and when pedagogy is tailored to learning styles. Thus the plan to go beyond single–sex classes, which are currently offered, to all-boys and all-girls campuses for grades 6-8.

Separating children by gender, by itself, is not the secret, Robinson said, but must be accompanied by proven instructional techniques delivered by highly-trained staff. “You’ve got to come at their differences,” Robinson said, which is why his teachers receive professional development in programs like Chris Biffle’s Whole Brain Teaching and Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion.

Among other differences, the all-boys school will use a competitive approach to academics, add organized movement to its school day and rely heavily on mentor relationships with groups like 100 Black Men. Eighty percent of its staff will be male.

Although the Tindley Preparatory Academy will be the first all-boys public charter school in Indianapolis, the one-gender design is nothing new. Single-sex private schools have long been an option, and single-sex public schools have been growing in popularity since 2006. That’s when the U.S. Department of Education issued regulations making clear that they did not fall afoul of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs.

The National Association for Single Sex Public Education has posted on its website an overview of research on single-gender education. Although results appear mixed depending on factors such as age level and school size, overall the data is promising.

One of the bigger studies analyzed performance of 270,000 Australian students in 53 subjects and found that those in same-sex settings scored 15 to 22 percentile ranks higher than peers in coed settings. Further, the report found that “boys and girls in single sex schools were more likely to be better behaved and to find learning more enjoyable and the curriculum more relevant.”

Closer to home, results of a pilot project in Florida found both boys and girls performed better on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test when assigned to single-sex classrooms.  Of boys in coed classes, 37 scored at the proficient level compared to 86 percent of boys in single-sex classes.  Fifty-nine percent of girls in coed classes scored proficient while 75 percent of girls in single-sex classes did.

People don’t talk about this data because it flies in the face of modern understanding of gender equity and of our country’s historic commitment to coeducation. But teaching must follow science, and science confirms what parents and teachers suspect. The brains of boys and girls develop differently.

In scientific terms, “total cerebral volume” peaks at age 10 or 11 in girls and at 14 or 15 in boys. This may explain why single-sex education is considered most effective in the middle school years.

Research on how this plays out in the classroom is scant, but Tindley hopes to change that.

To that end, Tindley is looking for research partners to document results of the endeavor. “First things first,” Robinson says. “We have to prove that it works.”

Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s Episcopal School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at aneal@inpolicy.org.



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