Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Female-Only Classes in a Rural Context: Self-Concept, Achievement, and Discourse

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Female-Only Classes in a Rural Context: Self-Concept, Achievement, and Discourse

Article excerpt

Two middle schools in rural east Texas implemented an optional, single-sex program. Although previous studies have documented the effects of single-sex instruction, and recent educational innovations have focused on its benefits, little research has investigated its effects in rural contexts. This study found that for rural populations, patterns of discourse differ between female-only and coeducational classes, with all-female classes participating in higher levels of thinking and engaging in more discourse overall. However, girls in single-sex classes had significantly lower levels of general self-concept than girls in coeducational classes. There were no statistically significant differences in the achievement test scores between the groups. This research indicated that findings from urban contexts may not be generalizable to rural populations.

Studies have shown differences between rural, urban, and suburban contexts in educational settings (e.g., Jimerson, 2005). Specifically, the effectiveness of educational interventions can vary greatly depending on the community of learners (e.g., Bishop, 2004; Knapczyk, Rodes, Chung, & Chapman, 1999; Strange, Johnson, Showalter, & Klein, 2012), demographics (e.g., Hemphill, Vanneman, & Rahman, 2011), and cultural contexts (e.g., Qing, 2010). As rural communities search for ways to improve academic achievement and educational attainment for students, it becomes increasingly important to research the effectiveness of interventions in rural settings. This study looks at one such trend, single-sex instruction, and the social and academic outcomes for female students in a rural school district.

A year-long quantitative study of three sixth-grade classes with seven teachers (representing four core content areas) in a rural east Texas community was conducted to determine the effects of female-only classroom grouping on reading and math achievement, discourse, and academic self-concept when compared to females in coeducational classrooms. Although some studies have documented the benefits of single-sex education in urban contexts (e.g., Sullivan, 2009; Tully & Jacobs, 2010), and the trend has been much touted by some educational reformers (e.g., Chadwell, 2010; Gewertz, 2007), little research has focused on rural contexts. It is theorized that the effects of single-gender education may change in rural contexts.

There are several reasons why the researchers anticipated differing results in a rural population. First, research has shown that rural communities tend to have higher levels of parental involvement (Provasnik, Ramani, Coleman, Gilbertson, Herring, & Xie, 2007). As single-gender instruction is a voluntary program, requiring parents to register their children, parental involvement is a crucial factor in the effectiveness of the intervention. Specifically, as parents in rural communities are closely tied to their school systems, their perceptions of new programs and initiatives will play a large role in the success of the endeavors. Thus, in this context of voluntary single-gender instruction in a rural community, parental support was critical to the outcome of the intervention.

In addition, researchers in the field of rural education have emphasized the importance of the specific cultural norms of each community (Flora & Flora, 2007). As each rural community represents unique values, beliefs, and demographics, the specific context of the intervention is important to the eventual outcome. Within the east Texas community that provided the context for this study, political and cultural values tended to be conservative. In the most recent general election, over two-thirds of the county voted for Republican candidates (Office of the Secretary of State, 2012), with local elections demonstrating stronger support for conservative platforms. The community has a higher affiliation with religious congregations than the national average, with the highest proportion of the population regularly attending Evangelical Protestant Christian congregations (Association of Religion Data Archives, 2010). …

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