Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Single-Sex Classes and Academic Achievement in Two Inner-City Schools

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Single-Sex Classes and Academic Achievement in Two Inner-City Schools

Article excerpt

In response to the low academic achievement and school motivation of disproportionate numbers of African American students, some inner-city schools have experimented with single-sex classes as a strategy to improve academic and personal development. This study reports a comparison of two single-sex and two coeducational fifth-grade classes (N = 90). Class grades were consistently higher in the single-sex classes, although the difference was not always statistically significant. Standardized test data showed no trend; however, in three subject areas, the coeducational groups performed better. It is possible that test scores are more resistant to change and reflect cumulative learning, while class organization and environment exert stronger influence on class grades. More research is needed in this area.

In recent years, a great deal of attention has been focused on the lower academic achievement of African American students, especially those in urban U.S. schools, compared to students of other racial and ethnic groups. Research has revealed that due to their poor academic performance, a disproportionate number of African American students, males in particular, have been channeled into special education programs, tracked into less challenging course work, and perceived as lacking the ability and motivation to succeed and perform well in school (Murrell, 1992). The need to improve the school performance of African American students has challenged educators to become more knowledgeable about the factors and conditions related to these students' academic achievement. Many strategies have been attempted, with differential success, to improve Black students' motivation to learn. Schools have experimented with mentoring programs, special tutoring, in-school counseling, and other programs to enhance academic achievement and school-related motivation among this critical population.

Creating conditions that improve students' motivation to learn remains a top priority in many urban, "majority-minority" school districts. Some districts have organized, or tried to organize, single-sex classrooms in inner-city African American schools as a strategy to improve boys' and girls' academic and personal development. Some of these experiments were abandoned for fear of litigation, or they were challenged in court as being in violation of Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act, which stipulates equal consideration for girls and women in federally funded school athletic and other programs (Kelly, 1991; Lawton, 1990). A few efforts circumvented legal challenges by accepting the few girls who wished to attend primarily all-male classes. Pilot programs were initiated in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Lawton, 1990); Detroit, Michigan (Wilkerson, 1991); Baltimore, Maryland (Kelly, 1991); and New York City, New York City, New York (Berger, 1991; Navarro, 1991).

The rationale for most such programs has been that the coeducational environment creates unnecessary distractions that impede these youths' learning and overemphasize a youth culture that may be inimical to their academic achievement and personal development (Coleman, 1961). Advocates have argued that single-sex class organization provides a better learning environment for at-risk urban African American youth-especially the males among this population. They further claim that gender-separate schooling both enhances academic motivation and lessens behavioral problems among Black students (Riordan, 1990). They further view sex-segregated classrooms as offering these students an experience of genuine equality of opportunity that is unattainable in a coeducational setting.

Many of the claims about the potential pedagogical benefits of single-sex education for urban African American male students have not been empirically investigated. Few quantitative studies have examined the benefits of single-sex schooling for at-risk African American youth in inner-city schools. The present article describes an empirical research effort that was undertaken with that goal in mind. …

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