Schools Looking At Single-Gender Classrooms

Sunday, February 11th 2007, 6:11 pm
By: News On 6

HULBERT, Okla. (AP) _ Damon Ford's noon-hour science class at Hulbert Elementary looks pretty much like any other classroom, with one exception: There aren't any girls.

Down the sidewalk in the elementary annex, Pat McMahan's English class is the exact opposite: no boys.

Hulbert is just one of a few public schools in the state to implement single-gender classes. The practice has been common in private schools, but very rare in public education until last year, when the U.S. Department of Education issued a new interpretation of Title IX, the 1972 amendment to federal education law that prohibits discrimination based on sex.

According to Shelly Hickman, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, the move to single-gender classes isn't a widespread trend by any means. Only a couple of other schools in the state, one in Oklahoma City and one in Edmond, have started pilot programs to measure the benefits and drawbacks. Those programs began this school year, after the reinterpretation of Title IX.

Hulbert, on the other hand, has had single-gender classes for several years at the fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade levels.

``We originally did this when they put football in for the sixth-graders,'' said McMahan. ``We just couldn't work a schedule out without splitting the classes. Some of the parents didn't care for it at first, but I think, now, most of them don't have a problem with it.''

McMahan has taught traditional mixed-gender classes, but as a teacher, she prefers the single-gender system.

``I think they're easier to teach when they're split,'' she said. ``You don't have all that silliness that goes on when they're together.''

Elementary principal Cole Purget agreed the system appears to be helpful, especially for kids in the grades that are divided at Hulbert.

``This is the first school I've been in where they've done it, and I thought it was a novel idea,'' he said. ``It's one less thing to deal with in the classroom, in that the boys aren't trying to impress the girls, and the girls aren't trying to impress the boys. It might not work in every school, but so far, nobody has had any concerns about it. I think it's a case-by-case situation: If it works in your school, good. If not, scrap it.''

Ford said the system seems to work very well for the kids because it lets them pay more attention to their schoolwork, instead of the opposite sex, at a time in their lives when their prioritization of those two subjects is starting to change.

``I didn't think I'd like it as first,'' said Ford. ``But I don't think I'd want to go back to the old way. Instead of concentrating on girls, the boys can concentrate on their schoolwork, and the girls aren't bothered by the boys.''

Linda DeSpain, associate superintendent for Edmond Schools, said the Edmond school system is trying out single-gender classes, so far, with apparent success in one of their three high schools. The program, which involves about 600 students and operates on a voluntary basis, divides boys and girls into separate English and algebra classes.

``We are finding positive results with a little bit higher achievement levels in those classes,'' said DeSpain. ``We are probably going to continue that (program) next year, and may extend it to some of our other high schools.''

DeSpain said Edmond will probably never implement single-gender classes school wide, but in the ninth grade, they seem to work well.

``Our teachers are pretty positive about it,'' she said. ``They feel like there's more interaction in the classroom in terms of the girls feeling more free to speak up during class _ especially in the math classes.''

So, how do the kids feel about it?

A group of Hulbert fourth-grade boys summed it up like this: ``It's cool! The girls don't bug us!''

But providing a little more insight on the matter, fourth-grader Bryson McGowan said the single-gender system does allow him and his buddies to concentrate more on their school work, although it takes a little getting used to.

``It's a little weird, because this (fourth grade) is the first year our classes have been like this,'' he said. ``We went through Pre-K, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade all together, and now it's split. It's different, but I think it's all right.''