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Single Gender Education in Public Schools: Not Like When Grandpa Attended School. School District of LaCrosse Dr. Steve Salerno

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single gender education in public schools not like when grandpa attended school

Single Gender Education in Public Schools: Not Like When Grandpa Attended School

School District of LaCrosse

Dr. Steve Salerno

(Based on presentations from Dr. Leonard Sax, author of Why Gender Matters, Mr. David Chadwell, Director of Single Gender Initiatives for South Carolina,and the Somerset Public School District)

What is




why the need for single gender education
Why the need for Single Gender Education?
  • There is an increasing disparity in achievement between genders.
  • Beginning in MS, there is a decline in girls’ math performance and athletic participation (nosedives in HS)
  • Girls have been conditioned to overlook sciences and mathematics, although they are perfectly capable.
  • Boys have stopped reading for pleasure.
  • Declining enrollment for males in colleges
why the need for sge continued
Why the need for SGE (continued)?

According to Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Boys, The Good Son, and The Mind of Boys:

  • Boys achievement
  • Boys - learning disabilities diagnoses
  • Boys - discipline referrals.
  • High school dropouts are male.
interesting facts about the brain
Interesting Facts About the Brain
  • Brain tissue can be

distinguished by sex,

but cannot be by race.

  • Adulthood in terms of brain


gender brain differences continued
Gender/Brain Differences (continued)
  • Girls’ brains mature faster linguistically by about 4 years (found across all cultures).
  • Boys and girls process language in different areas of their brains.
  • Boys’ brains mature faster mathematically by about 4 years.
  • Boys and girls process math in different areas of their brains.
  • Girls hear better.
  • Girls and boys notice different things (boys: motion; girls: bright colors and people).
a disclaimer
A Disclaimer
  • The information being shared is only what we have found in our four year study – more to follow.
  • Suggested practices may not apply to all girls and all boys. Every student is unique.
  • Not all practices are currently being implemented – we see this as a progressive approach (evolutionary not revolutionary)
classroom dynamics in mixed gender classrooms
Classroom Dynamics in Mixed Gender Classrooms
  • Girls talk less often and say fewer words.
  • Girls are interrupted more.
  • Teachers don’t pause long enough for thinkers/less aggressive students.
  • Teachers spend more time with boys.
  • Boys receive more feedback, and more specific feedback, from teachers ( including praise and correction).
As we began our research we discovered some facts about how boys and girls learn. In single-gender classrooms:
  • Boys are less distracted. They are less focused on girls and impressing them, therefore boys act out less often and concentrate on academics.
  • Girls have higher self esteem. The #1 determinate of a girl’s confidence in co-ed high schools is how she feels about her looks (not her academic or athletic ability, or how kind she is, or how many offices she has or clubs or jobs or volunteer work). In single-gender classrooms, girls are less obsessed by clothes, hair, make-up and popularity. They concentrate more on academics.
gender differences
Gender Differences


  • are more easily distracted than

boys and prefer quiet setting

which permits focus

  • prefer cooperative work.
  • prefer problem solving tasks

that help people.


  • are more kinesthetic.
  • Prefer more freedom of


  • Do better when they can be

louder and less restricted.

in single gender classrooms

Are less distracted so they can focus on learning.

Can practice social skills more comfortably.

Participate more often and more freely.


Ask more questions

Do more hands-on-work

with equipment

Take more leadership roles

Talk more

Learn more

In Single Gender Classrooms…

In single-gender classrooms, girls have increased confidence in academic ability. Academic confidence leads to higher aspirations.

suggested best practices classroom management

Face-to-face interactions

Get together to talk

Friendship focuses on each other

Friendship is central to relationship

Hierarchies destroy friendship

Self-revelation is the most precious badge of friendship

Girl friends must be equal


Side-by-side interactions

Get together to do stuff

Friendship is peripheral to relationship

Hierarchies organize the camaraderie

Self-revelation is to be avoided at all costs

Boys have friends cross all equality lines. Teams work for boys as boys sometimes value team affiliation above friendship.

Suggested Best Practices: Classroom Management
relationships with teachers

Being friends with the teacher enhances your status with other girls

Teacher is considered an ally and friend

When encountering difficulties will consult teacher at the initial encounter with difficulty

(so encourage girls to work on own – DO NOT SPOON FEED)

Use first names to address girls


Being friends with teacher lowers your status with other boys

Teacher is assumed to be adversary

When encountering difficulty will consult teacher as a last resort

Use last names to address


Relationships with Teachers
suggested classroom arrangement

Arrange chairs in circle.

Position your spot randomly – move often.

Tables are problematic as they promote cliques and apathy.

Explain that they will need to sit with these people for a set amount of time.

Do not allow them to choose partners as some will be excluded.

Make sure you have no favorites!


Widely spaced rows and aisles

Always moving

Establish teacher authority. Allow no personal questions until authority is established.

Humor raises your status in the eyes of boys. Use it to establish your authority.

Learn better in cooler classrooms (69 degrees).

Suggested Classroom Arrangement
more suggested best practices

Make and keep eye contact


Sit and listen, don’t talk

Nod head affirmatively


Show unconditional positive regard.

For most girls to feel motivated to work, she has to believe you care about her.

More Suggested Best Practices
  • Boys
  • Shoulder-to-shoulder
  • Know when to use eye contact and talk louder
  • Move around classroom
  • If boy turns in poor quality work – take for a walk or stand and put work in front of you to discuss
  • Be very direct, not smiling, be very explicit about what you expect
  • Do not give him opportunity to talk. Ask at end “Are you ok with this?” Every minute or two interrupt yourself to ask a question or for a summary.
  • Occasionally even get in boys faces to increase brain blood flow, which raises achievement.
small group work
Small Group Work
  • Does not work well for boys because when boys encounter difficulties they do not

ask for help.

  • Group work can work when

time is severely restrained,

group work has a narrow

target/topic, and work is

organized along team lines.

  • Use a stop watch and call out time left

for boys to keep on task

1 st week with the students
For Girls

Create class rules together

Discuss and negotiate agreements

Post the agreement

Identify the ringleader

Assign ringleader and victim to work together. By compelling them to work together we give them a way out and still save face.

For Boys

Communicate who is top dog – you

Alpha is one who doesn’t smile

1st week you have to be tough, no nonsense, lay down rules, never turn your back.

1st Week With the Students
  • Girls:
  • Manipulatives help girls (not boys)
  • Bring in examples to show math concepts
  • Begin with real world applications before emphasizing computation
  • Boys:
  • Use concrete numbers – start with and stay with numbers
  • Do not use manipulatives
mathematics continued
Mathematics (continued)
  • Single-sex educations is most beneficial for girls in grades 6-12.
  • Single-sex education is most beneficial for boys in grades 4-8.
  • It is VERY hard to teach math so both boys and girls get advantages
  • Drill computations are boy friendly
  • CMP2 is girl friendly
social studies

Start in the middle of things at the precipice of the climax to engage them, then back up to beginning to inform them

Begin with history rather than social studies

Middle school boys like technical details

Use maps

Tell stories of individual men making choices

Avoid how would you feel questions


Start with similarities between people now and then

Begin with life of girls in that era

Avoid long stories about dead white men

Girls are not interested in women who are famous because they were married to famous men until they can make connections to what life was like

Encourage “how you feel” questions

Social Studies
  • Several schools have successfully closed the achievement gap between black/white students;
  • Girls in all girls classes did better than CE girls (factoring in Special Ed & F/R lunch status);
  • SS classrooms breakdown gender stereotypes (e.g. Boys got excited about writing poems, art, music, drama, foreign language in comparison to their co-ed counterparts);
  • Studies continue to show not just better academic performance but more "well rounded" people;
  • Increased parental involvement; and
  • NASSPE website showcases several international studies (
marshall middle school s rationale
Marshall Middle School’s Rationale

WKCE test results show gaps in three areas, one of which is the area of gender. Results show that in some subjects girls perform better than boys while in other subjects the reverse is true. A goal of our school is to work to close this gender gap. With this in mind, our sixth and eighth grade teams met and decided on the following reasons for studying gender differences:

  • To improve academic rigor in classes, with a sub-goal of diminishing the gender gap on WKCE and Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) tests.
  • To improve student behavior and attitudes through increased student competence, confidence and class participation.
  • To increase the maturing / “schoolsmanship” of the individuals in the group
  • To put an additional emphasis on reading/writing skills
  • To integrate the content areas in a cross curricular approach (where appropriate)
  • To build an environment where a “team” can develop where each is invested in the success of the whole
  • To increase focus on Responsibility and Respect
  • To build a classroom where failure is not accepted. Thus, instilling success and confidence, that accompanies that success, into each student.
  • To increase the oral presentation skills of each student, which is also a confidence builder
During the past few years we were able to visit schools that currently have gender specific classrooms:
  • Kennedy Middle School – Germantown, WI
  • Robert Frost Middle School – Markham, IL
  • Summer Institute on June 11 – David Chadwell
  • NASSPE Convention – October 2006/2007
preparing marshall s readiness
Preparing Marshall’s Readiness
  • Conducted book studies (Why Gender Matters by Sax,Boys and Girls Learn Differently, by Gurian)
  • Engaged the public in a discussion
  • Attended trainings (ASCD, NASSPE)
  • Developed Professional Learning Communities to study and make recommendations
  • Invited Dr. Sax to visit Janesville
  • Dr. Sax is serving as our school’s consultant
  • Collected newspaper artifacts from SSE schools.
  • Participated in telephone conferencing
  • Visited SGE schools in IL, MI, and WI
2007 2008 pilot
2007-2008 Pilot
  • SGE on one team in the sixth grade and eighth grades;
  • Students participate through an "implied consent" process (as recommended) and be randomly placed;
  • Teams would remain CE; however, certain core academic courses would be gender specific;
  • A varied format for participating students during the first day of school;
  • Baseline data will be collected (WKCE, MAP, disciplinary referral rates, attendance, and other student performance data; and
  • Teachers volunteered for this process and made a minimum commitment of two years.
comments from boys
Comments From Boys
  • Subject matter directed more towards boys.
  • More physical education and movement.
  • Don’t have to sit next to girls.
  • Boys learn better with other boys.
  • Less arguing between kids in the class.
comments from parents of boys during conferences
Comments From Parents of Boys(during conferences)
  • Teaching is focused on boys’ learning styles.
  • More camaraderie and team building.
  • My son was more interested in learning.
  • My son seems more polite and thinks of others more.
  • Made more friends and wants to partake in group activities.
  • Much more comfortable with school.
  • Made good friendships and bonds.
  • Now he really enjoys school.
  • Having all boys around helps them feel more “normal” at an age with lots of changes.
  • Started to enjoy reading and writing more.
comments from girls
Comments From Girls
  • Quieter classroom.
  • More focus on girl’s subjects and discussions.
  • Easier to get along with other classmates.
  • More hands-on activities.
  • Don’t feel intimidated.
  • Easier to concentrate.
  • Get more work done.
  • Don’t get teased if you don’t know the answer.
  • Other girls will help you.
comments from parents of girls during conferences
Comments From Parents of Girls(During Conferences)
  • Less distracted without the boys.
  • Improved social skills.
  • Learned how to resolve conflicts in a more constructive and positive manner.
  • Less behavior problems.
  • Taught by style of teaching where girls learn better.
  • Better sense of community.
  • More confidence, socially and academically.
  • HOW single-gender classes are implemented is critical to success or failure. Single-gender settings are not, by themselves, going to help girls and boys.
  • Teaching methods and classroom environment must be adapted differently for boys and girls.
  • Teachers and administrators need to continue to learn about the motivations for single-gender education and how to effectively implement it.
  • Single-gender classrooms and schools show promise in improving learning and confidence in girls and boys.
  • Rather than using stereotypes, the knowledge of gender differences in learning should be used to make decisions.
  • The goal is to provide an even playing field for the development of academic interests and to break down any artificial barriers to achieving success for both girls and boys
Students who are more engaged, who ask more questions, who participate more in class discussions and debates, who take leadership roles, who do more hands-on work and who have greater confidence in their academic abilities will


We think it is important that the all-boy and all-girl classes consist of a similar cross-section of academic performance as the mixed classes. How is this achieved?

What happens if it wasn’t working out or if a child didn’t like being in a gender specific classroom?

When a student struggles in a certain academic area will the pressure of same gender peers be more harmful than helpful?

If the pilot goes well, will gender-specific classes be implemented throughout Marshall Middle School?