Monday, December 14, 2009

To Co-ed or not to co-ed...

Another difference between that high performing school in Cincinnati and most traditional public schools was that, although the school is co-ed, classes are single gender.  For 9th and 10th graders this is true for every class, with some mixing going on in the upper grades as students take on electives.  The students are allowed to socialize with whomever they want at lunch time.

There is a debate about single gender education and advocates on both sides.  There are even a few books written about brain differences in boys and girls and the implications for schooling.  If you read the U.S. Department of Education's latest report on this topic you will see that the jury is still out.  Most of the studies, however, look at entire schools that are either all male or all female.  This school is only separating the genders for classes and is mixing the genders as they are more mature (there are logistical reasons for mixing as well as electives made single gender classes untenable).

At the school we visited administrators, teachers, and students, for the most part, applauded this approach.  Teachers told us they are able to teach differently, use different examples, and work at different paces given a roomful of all boys or all girls.  Students told us they feel it is an easier environment in which to learn and that as they became more mature it becomes ok to mix together for instruction.  The only complaint is the lack of moderating influence one gender can have on another's behavior.  They said this is true for both boys and girls.

The Condition most in play here is Spirit of Adventure, which QISA thinks about in terms of healthy risk-taking.  There was almost universal agreement that boys and girls alike are more willing to take risks in a single gendered classroom and, therefore, learn better.  But it is not just the risk-taking of individual students I want to acknowledge.  I also want to celebrate is the "third way"--being co-ed as as school and having single-gender classrooms--being used by the school itself.  As our traditional educational systems continue to show signs of wear, we are going to need public schools (not just charter schools) willing to experiment with different ways of being school to help all students succeed.  It is this Spirit of Adventure at the structural level that we need to see more and more of.

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