Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Impact of Single-Sex Education on African American Reading Achievement: An Analysis of an Urban Middle School's Reform Effort

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Impact of Single-Sex Education on African American Reading Achievement: An Analysis of an Urban Middle School's Reform Effort

Article excerpt

Introduction

The academic underperformance of African American students continues to be a serious issue in American public schools. Despite the increased rhetoric surrounding the racial disparities in American public schools, evidence suggests that African American student achievement continues to lag (Schott Foundation, 2008). Most notably, African American male achievement continues to cause concern for communities, school systems, and policymakers. According to Few (2004), by the time they reach high school 42% of African American boys have failed at least one grade level. Furthermore, African American males are overrepresented in special education and remedial courses, grossly underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, and disciplined at disproportionately high rates (Schott Foundation, 2008). As a consequence, African American males attending urban public schools continue to be represented at the bottom rung of virtually every measure of student achievement (Polite & Davis, 1999; Schott Foundation, 2008). Consequently, African American males are among the most "at-risk" subgroups being educated in American public schools.

According to Kunjufu (2002) and Porter (1998), the academic underperformance of African American males is nothing less than an epidemic that continues to limit the academic and career opportunities for millions of African American males. Nationally, less than 50% of African American males graduate from high school, and less than 8% of African American males earn college degrees (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2006; Schott Foundation, 2008). These rates of school completion for African American males correlate with high rates of incarceration, high rates of unemployment, poor health, and a limited overall quality of life (Gibbs, 1998; Lips, 2008). The Kaiser Foundation (2006) supported Harrison's and Beck's findings when it presented data showing that by 2005 more than 10% of African American males between the ages of 18 and 29 were incarcerated. In terms of unemployment rates, in 2006 the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 19.5% of African American males were jobless. This rate of unemployment was more than double the unemployment rate for White and Hispanic males. These data lend support to Kunjufii's notion that the American public schools have been ineffective in meeting the academic needs of African American males (Kunjuiu, 2002). All of these facts underscore a troubling reality for African American males during their time as public school students and thereafter.

Reemergence of Single-Sex Schools

In 2006, President George W. Bush and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings enacted legislation that would permit single-sex education as a public school option. The intent of this legislation was to provide increased flexibility in which schools could better address the needs of a rapidly changing and diverse student population. In other words, a concept that single-sex education can better serve the needs of urban, African American students was posed (Aranti, 2007; Hubbard & Datnow, 2005; Maryland State Department of Education, 2006). Consequently, single-sex education as a public schooling option is a topic that continues to draw interest and a great deal of debate among school officials, policymakers, parents, and researchers.

Single-Sex Education as an Urban School Reform

American public schools are in dire need of reforms that better account for the very distinct and complex needs of African American male students. Single-sex education is among the newest and most intriguing reform efforts being implemented in schools where low academic achievement for African American students persists. Notable urban school districts including Baltimore, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. are among the many school districts that are now offering gender-specific education. However, research on single-sex education in public schools, especially in urban districts, remains limited (Datnow, Hubbard, & Woody, 2001). …

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