Critical Voices in School Reform: Students Living through Change

By Beth C. Rubin; Elena M. Silva | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Constructing and resisting a theory of difference

Student experiences in California's Single Gender Academies

Elisabeth L. Woody


Introduction

The last decade of educational reform is notable for the wide array of alternative initiatives introduced in the public school system. Alongside the more nationally renowned charter school and voucher movements is a resurgence of interest in single-sex education. At this point, at least fifteen states have experimented with single-sex schooling, either in the form of all-girls or all-boys classes within a coed institution or as separate institutions. The Bush administration has recently brought national attention to the movement with a recent appropriation of funds to expand single-sex schooling in the public sector (Education Bill, 2002). In 1997, California's former Governor Pete Wilson introduced single-sex education into the public secondary school system through the funding of "Single Gender Academies," the largest experiment with public single-sex education to date. California's Single Gender Academies were proposed as a means to expand choice in the public sector and to address the perceived "different" needs of girls and boys (CA Education Code 58521). 1

The recent interest in public single-sex education is perhaps all the more significant given the lack of conclusive data, with virtually no research conducted in public single-sex schools. 2 Indeed, the research conducted thus far reveals many more contradictions than patterns of commonality (AAUW, 1998). Existing research on single-sex schooling tends to employ quantitative approaches, using student outcome measurements (standardized test scores, grades, career aspirations) to assess its effectiveness as compared to coeducational environments (Lee and Bryk, 1986; LePore and Warren, 1997). While these measurements are important to consider, they provide little attention to the complexities of students' experiences. Until now, we have had little knowledge of social and cultural elements of students' experiences of single-sex schooling.

The introduction of the Single Gender Academies in California led to the use of gender as a category to define and organize students' academic and social lives. Gender became a marker of students' identity, and in many

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