Sunday, January 18, 2009

Detroit, Boston and the Great Single-Sex School Debate

Living in Boston has brought up education issues that weren't part of the discussion in the Rio Grande Valley, giving me a lot more to think about. There's a wide range of innovative charter school models here (and indeed, I came here in part to work at one) and now Boston officials are considering a push for single-sex school options. The Boston Globe reported recently that city officials are looking at successes in Detroit, which seems to be a test bed of sorts, for inspiration.

Bostonist pointed out how Fark had labeled the idea "amusing" but ignored the issue at hand: Are single-sex schools a good idea? Can they be successful? I wasn't surprised to read many outraged comments, but some people acted as if this was being hailed as the solution to all of the problems in our education system or a sign of the end of gender equality. That seems to be taking it a bit too far.

No one was suggesting that coed schooling should end, or that single-sex schools would comprise anything more than one small option among many. I don't think kids should be forced in to it, especially by parents, because it will completely defeat the purpose. If it was offered as an option--perhaps two schools with parallel programs, curriculum design and funding, open to students via lottery--I don't see what the harm is. It won't work for all students (maybe even most students), but it would work wonders for some. With so many things working against the success of our students, isn't that a possibility worth exploring?

This article in Psychology Today quickly highlights two sides of the issues, but reading it lead me to think that all-girls schools might be more beneficial than all-boys schools, which is an issue I don't hear discussed a lot. Sometimes it feels like a debate I've heard before--about the merits and drawbacks of homeschooling. In the end, I draw the same conclusion: if it can be a successful option for some young people, isn't it worth trying?

There is no such thing as a one-step, all-encompassing solution to improve America's educational system. People seem to get upset when a partial solution is offered because if it doesn't solve every problem, its not worth pursuing. It's as silly as arguing that America's dependence on foreign oil would be solved by only wind power, only solar power, only electric cars, etc--we'll only be successful by embracing any and all technologies and implementing them where they'll be effective. The real answer to both problems is the same: we need as many options as possible, some big, some small, but with strong leadership striving to make it work for everybody.

I'm sure this will be another topic that stirs debate, as my post about social networking and the issues it brings up for teachers did last week, so here's some guiding questions:
  1. Have you or someone you know attended a single-sex public or private school? What was your experience?
  2. Have you taught at this kind of school? What insights can you share?
  3. What should a single-sex school look like in 2009? What can we do to ensure a quality education in these schools?
  4. What are some other innovative and/or controversial school models that might be worth exploring or expanding?
I'm looking forward to reading your comments!