Are All-Boys Schools Actually Better for Boys?

by Leigh Anderson
Originally Published: 

According to The Atlantic, Washington D.C. will soon be home to a new all-boys charter school that plans to offer a rigorous education to boys of color—an academically at-risk group. The Empowering Males of Color Initiative will dedicate $20 million to creating a charter high school for black and Latino boys in one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods.

This raises a couple of questions: Can you have a publicly funded school that selects by race? Well, no. While the outreach for admissions will target minority boys, the district’s Chief of Innovation and Research, Robert Simmons, notes that any boys may apply. Title IX is another question: There aren’t that many single-sex public schools—UrbanPrep, in Chicago, runs charter schools for boys, but their legality is murky, especially if there aren’t corresponding options for girls. The ACLU has sent a letter to Washington officials raising questions about possible Title IX violations.

But the bigger overall question is whether single-sex education, with all other things being equal, actually provides an advantage. A 2011 article in Science took on the various neurological rationales for single-sex education and found that none of them held water. There’s also the question of how charter schools—for instance, Urban Prep in Chicago—measure achievement. UrbanPrep boasts high rates of college attendance amongst its graduates, but doesn’t factor in the number of students who leave before graduation, either voluntarily or not. The American Psychological Association conducted a meta-study of 184 studies on single-sex education and found that only the studies with no control group found that single sex education was beneficial, and the advantage was still slight. Those with control groups found that co-ed schools still held the advantage, especially for girls.

Single-sex schools, especially if they promise a more rigorous curriculum and a path to college, remain attractive to parents, particularly for families with limited education options. But the distractions of the opposite sex are not really the problem in American education, poverty is. If your kid starts kindergarten already behind her more affluent peers, what does it matter if those peers are boys or girls?

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