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Panel explores effects of single-gender classes in county

October 16, 2006|by BERNADETTE WAGNER / Washington County Board of Education

Editor's note: Once a month, Washington County Board of Education members and school staff will use this space to write about school system issues. This month's column is written by Bernadette Wagner.




School Board members are required to make numerous decisions on a wide variety of issues. More often than not, the issues are very complex and have important ramifications for students, staff and the community. In order to ensure that we become thoroughly knowledgeable about the issues at hand, we have developed a board committee structure for five major areas of board responsibilities - policy, curriculum and instruction, facilities, finance and human resources.

Each committee is made up of three board members and a staff liaison. The committees meet regularly and are open to the public. Meetings and agendas are posted on the board's Web site. The committees provide an opportunity for board members to study in depth an issue, topic, need or concern pertinent to education. Board members carry the information learned back to the full board so that informed decisions can be made. Each year, board members rotate participation on the committees so that every member gains expertise in the five areas covered by the committees.

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This year, I am serving as chair of the Curriculum and Instruction Committee. Ed Forrest and Russell Williams serve with me.

One of the recent issues that our committee has been exploring is that of the benefits and effects of single-gender classes. The No Child Left Behind legislation has heightened the urgency to explore a variety of programs tailored to the individual needs of students.

One idea that has resurfaced in recent years is educating students in single-gender classes. Our committee was briefed on brain-research findings that suggest boys and girls have different learning styles, and that this might account for learning gaps that have been found among boys and girls. To remedy this problem, researchers are telling us, teachers must adjust their methods to teach to innate gender differences.

To that end, a number of Washington County public schools have established some boys-only and girls-only classes. Assignment to the classes is strictly voluntary and requires parent permission.

While it is too early to draw definitive conclusions about the impact of these classes on student achievement, there have been some positive indications that, at least for some students, learning in single-gender classes is beneficial. Observational reports from teachers indicate that boys' behavior referrals have dropped dramatically and participation level during lessons has increased in all-boy classes. In the all-girl classes, students also felt more comfortable participating, and there was a greater sense of collaboration and less negative peer pressure among elementary school girls.

In addition, teachers were able to better focus on students' strengths and weaknesses, such as low math scores in one all-girl class. Parents also have been very positive in their feedback about single-gender classes.

Data collection currently is under way to determine what effects, if any, single-gender classes have on academic achievement, and for which students, subject areas and grade levels such classes might be beneficial. This information will help our school board make informed decisions of what is in the best interests of students.

In future articles, we hope to highlight the work of the other committees and the issues they address.

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