Equity & Diversity

Advice Given on Single-Sex Schools for Boys of Color

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 05, 2010 4 min read
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Single-sex schools for Latino and African-American males use such interventions as fostering a feeling of “brotherhood” among students, providing relevant instruction, and countering negative messages in the media and in their daily lives—among them that school is more suitable for girls.

Those are the findings of a study conducted by the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University of seven single-sex public schools that enroll primarily boys of color.

The qualitative study is part of a more comprehensive inquiry conducted from 2006 to 2009 by Pedro Noguera, the executive director of the center and one of the authors of the study, into the effectiveness of single-sex public schools for Latino and African-American males. Edward Fergus, the deputy director for the center, is a co-researcher in that work.

Preliminary quantitative data from the larger study, yet to be published, that compare each of the seven schools with a similar coed school do not find that single-sex schools overall have better academic outcomes for males of color than do their mixed-gender counterparts, Mr. Noguera said in an interview this week. “In some cases, coed schools came out ahead,” he said.

The smaller study, released last week, comes at a time when single-sex schools for Latino and black males are proliferating. Also, a new coalition that provides support for them is growing in strength.

The number of single-sex public schools or public schools offering single-gender classrooms has increased from about a dozen to 540 in the past eight years, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, based in Exton, Pa. The organization defines at least 91 of those 540 schools as “single-sex schools,” meaning that students attending them have all classes, as well as lunch and electives, in a single-sex environment.

Mr. Noguera hopes that the findings of common practices backed by leaders of single-sex schools shown in the study will shift the focus in discussions about why boys of color aren’t doing well academically in school from the boys themselves to the school environment.

The growth of single-sex schools for boys of color is a reflection of the number of districts that don’t know how to be effective with such young men, according to Mr. Noguera. If single-sex schools have the proper ingredients of good leadership, safety, a caring environment, and good curriculum and instruction, boys can do well, he said.

But Mr. Noguera was quick to add that he doesn’t endorse single-sex schools over coed ones as a solution for improving schooling for Latino and African-American boys. “There’s no magic to separating boys. We’re finding good schools that are coed where boys are thriving.”

Every member of this year’s graduating class at Urban Prep charter school, which serves young African-American men in Chicago, has been accepted into college. Such single-sex schools are successful because their administrators have been thoughtful about instruction and curriculum, which is not necessarily the case for all founders, Mr. Noguera said.

Not all of the seven schools in the study—located in Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, and Houston—are academically successful, Mr. Noguera said. But by linking the responses of students in surveys with their academic outcomes, he and his co-researcher are identifying in the larger study some practices for educating boys of color that translate into student achievement, he said.

The goal, he said, is to learn from single-sex schools what works to make them as effective as possible. The researchers are also giving individual feedback to the seven schools they studied.

Sharing Experiences

The qualitative study summarizes a number of aims of the schools, such as their attempt to address gaps in basic skills for many of the students, incorporate instruction that connects to the students’ cultures and lives, and provide a college-prep curriculum.

The authors write that “in order for the young men to succeed, the schools’ interventions need to be primarily directed towards creating nurturing environments that provide alternative messages to what black and Latino boys have received in traditional public schools.”

Clyde Cole, the founder and principal of the Academy of Business and Community Development, a public school in the Brooklyn borough of New York City serving boys in grades 6-10, says resources such as the new study will prevent educators from having to reinvent the wheel when starting new single-sex schools for boys of color. “There’s no reason that if someone opens up a school two years from now, they have to do it like I did, on my own,” he said.

His school, founded in 2005, took part in the study.

Mr. Cole is active in a new organization, the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color, in Lynn, Mass., that is bringing together educators both in single-sex and coed public schools to focus on how to boost achievement for black and Latino males.

At the organization’s third annual meeting, held at Howard University in Washington last month, Mr. Cole gave a workshop on how to weave the teaching of basic skills that students might have missed into lessons otherwise on grade level.

Ron Walker, the executive director of the coalition, founded in 2008, said the study underscores the importance of educators’ addressing the social and emotional needs of boys of color and about helping them understand what it means to be male. “If I’m an African-American and not familiar that there are many many contributions that have been made historically by black people, I may be drawn to things about being a super stud,” he said.

Mr. Walker said the organization is not pushing single-sex over coed schools. “We go where the boys are.”

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A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 2010 edition of Education Week as Advice Given on Single-Sex Schools for Boys of Color

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