We are celebrating Women’s History Month in March and yesterday was Women’s International Day, we should use this time to think about options in public education for our girls. When LAUSD’s new Superintendent Michelle King came out in support of single gender education, it seemed right. She’d just become the first black woman to head the district. Her daughter attended the prestigious, private Archer School For Girls in West LA.
King didn’t get specific about single gender education, except to say it might improve academics and attract more families.
If your son or daughter is approaching middle school, there are four things you need to know about single gender ed, or SGE.
First, even educators who think it’s a good idea say it’s not for everybody. An advocacy group that supports SGE calls itself the National Association for Choice in Education (emphasis on choice).
Professor Margaret Ferrara of the University of Nevada supports SGE. She’s focused much of her research on boys.
“The best outcome is the boys learn to be cooperative, not competitive,” says Ferrara. “They won’t do that as much when girls are around, because they’ve been conditioned to preen around girls.”
Here’s fact number two about SGE; it’s rare. The US has a long tradition of co-education. There are only about 80 public campuses in the country designated as SGE. It’s estimated about a thousand separate girls and boys for some instructions.
Young Oak Kim Academy in Koreatown is one of those. You’ll find both girls and boys on campus, in grades six through eight. YOKA’s students are about 80% Latino. They’re separated for core subjects. Edward Colación is the principal.
“We’re building girls’ confidence in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) early on,” he says. “We build that capacity starting in the sixth grade.”
Colación also says YOKA’s model helps boys struggling with collaboration, communication and problem solving.
If any of this is sounding good to you as a parent, consider fact number three. Other than YOKA, there are only two LAUSD schools offering any form of SGE. Those schools will open in the fall. Both are for girls only.
One is GALS, the Girls Athletic Leadership School. It’s a charter middle school opening near Van Nuys.
“I went to an all-girls high school,” says Executive Director Carrie Wagner. “I had the confidence to speak up in class. The newspaper editor was a woman, and so was the class president. There were a lot more leadership opportunities.”
Also opening this fall in mid-city is GALA, the Girls Academic Leadership Academy. Like other SGE schools, GALA middle school hopes to pull girls up to greater participation in science and technology.
“For women of color, only 4% are engineers and 3% are computer scientists,” says Principal Liz Hicks. “Girls start to lose interest in science in middle school, then a gap develops.”
Hicks is accepting applications, and says many Latino families are applying.
“It’s a model that a lot of immigrant families are used to, and they like that, and it’s free. When they realize it’s a college-bound culture, and the kids are expected to do high-level work, that’s a big plus.”
Hicks and Wagner cite research that shows girls do better in STEM courses when they’re separated from boys. Educators for and against SGE don’t see themselves as adversaries. They just have different ideas about what’s best for kids, especially when it comes to the science and math proficiency that can lead to full university scholarships and lucrative careers.
“I would never want the entire district to go single gender,” says GALS Executive Director Carrie Wagner. “This is about parent choice. It’s really about options.”
Alma V. Marquez
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