The Boy Factor: Can Single-Gender Classes Reduce the Over-Representation of Boys in Special Education?

Article excerpt

Since the early 1990s numerous studies have concluded that there is an over-representation of males and minorities in special education. This paper examines the question if a different educational format, such as single-gender education, can help boys' behavior and thus reduce the number of special education referrals? The rationale for single-gender education is based on the belief that there are inherent biological differences between males and females and these differences may manifest themselves in classroom behavior having implications for pedagogical practices. With this in mind, we examine the perceptions of students, parents, and teachers regarding how single-gender classrooms have impacted males. The results presented provide preliminary evidence that the single-gender format is an option that should be explored to reduce the overrepresentation of males and minorities in special education.

Since the early 1990s numerous studies have concluded that there is an over-representation of males and minorities in special education. Coutinho's and Oswald's (2005) analysis of state variation in gender disproportionality in special education found that the male-to-female ratio hovers somewhere between 2:1 and 3.5:1 depending on the severity of the disability. However, for students labeled severely emotionally disordered, the ratio increases to 3.43:1 with Black and Hispanic students averaging 3.42 and 3.65 respectively. Further, Samuals (2007) found that minority students are more likely to be found in the "judgmental" disability categories that require some degree of subjectivity on the part of the school-based team during the evaluation process. Samuals defines these "judgmental" disabilities as learning disabilities, mental retardation and emotional disturbance. Moreover, Monroe (2006) suggests that the overrepresentation of black males in emotional/behavioral categories is related to an "uneven hand" applied to discipline. Wehmeyer & Schwartz (2001) cite research that suggests there are three reasons for these disproportionate rates of males and minorities in special education. The first explanation suggests there are biological factors because boys are vulnerable to some genetically determined disorders. A second explanation is that there is gender bias relating to the referral, classification and placement processes. This suggests that the root of gender bias is due to stereotypical expectations of higher standards for men (which they may or may not be meeting), while tolerating lower achievement in girls. The third contribution to the overrepresentation of males in special education may be because boys are more active and more likely to act out or misbehave in classrooms perhaps due to boys' early social learning. Wagner's (1976) research suggests that boys' active behavior is encouraged outside of school, but not tolerated in school.

Gender bias and early gender socialization have been common arguments used to explain many academic and behavioral differences between boys and girls. Throughout the late part of the 20th century, the accepted theory regarding gender or sex differences was a theory of social construction, which quickly found its way to the classroom. Rousso & Wehmeyer (2001) suggest that teachers hold gender biases and expectations based on differential socialization patterns and sex role stereotyping. In addition, boys are more likely to have higher levels of activity and exhibit behaviors that do not fit the class norm, and as such are more likely to be referred to special education (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1978). This socially constructed view of gender differences and bias lead Wehmeyer & Schwartz (2001) to question whether there is an over-representation of males in special education or if there is an under-representation of females.

Knowing whether or not a gender is over-represented or under-represented in special education does little to positively impact the success of males or females in schools. …