August 11, 2010
They say boys are from Mars, and girls are from Venus, and Imagine Southeast Public Charter School in D.C. couldn't agree more. Part of a growing experiment in single-sex education, Imagine is a "dual academy," which means it serves both boys and girls, but keeps them separated in different classrooms except for special occasions. Imagine’s is one of three popular single-sex models: serving just one gender, serving both genders in only single-sex classrooms, as Imagine does, or serving both but using a mix of co-ed and single-sex classrooms. The uptick in gender-specific education comes after a 2006 change to federal regulations made single-sex classrooms and schools easier to create. But the research is fuzzy. On the one hand, there's evidence that boys and girls not only have different learning styles—boys are competitive and can't sit still, while girls are collaborative and calm—but also biological differences. For example, girls need more time to complete an activity because stress decreases blood flow to a girl's brain, making her less ready to learn, whereas stress increases blood flow to a boy's brain, making him more alert. On the other, early childhood studies show that boys and girls have similar aptitude and preferences at birth, and it's cultural influences, such as that girls should play house and boys never cry, that account for much of the difference. Single-sex education arguably exacerbates these. Then there's the practical side: Wiggling boys distract girls, while girls' ability to read sooner frustrates boys and may make them disengage. Doesn't seem like there's much agreement, but this is certainly an interesting development on which it's worth keeping an eye.
“Separate but equal: More schools are dividing classes by gender,” by Karen Houppert, Washington Post Magazine, August 8, 2010