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Single-Gender Education:
A Strategy to Help Boys in Urban Charter Schools Achieve

by Aileen Dodd

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Single-Gender Education:
A Strategy To Help Boys In Urban Charter Schools Achieve

Nearly 2,000 Georgia public school students – most of whom are minorities – are learning in single-gender classrooms that use research on the emotional, physical and intellectual development of children to create a culture and curriculum that inspires students to achieve. These creative same-sex classrooms are housed in urban public charter schools in metro Atlanta.
Supporters of single-gender education maintain that offering an all- male or all-female environment allows students to learn in schools free of distractions. With boys out of the picture, girls can feel free to ask questions without embarrassment and emerge as leaders. With girls out of the classroom, teachers can tailor lessons that focus on the competitive nature and curiosity of boys.
National data exploring whether single-gender education leads to increased student achievement, however, is mixed with most formal studies concluding that there is no real scientific evidence to prove that children in single-gender public schools perform better than their coeducational counterparts. A 2014 report by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that separating genders resulted in little to no difference in student achievement besides providing only modest advantages in math. The APA report “The Effects of Single-Sex Compared With Coeducational Schooling on Students’ Performance and Attitudes: A Meta-Analysis” analyzed 184 studies testing nearly 2 million K-12 students from more than 20 nations. The report echoed the findings of a 2005 U.S. Department of Education comparison of same-sex and coeducational schools, which also found that separating genders doesn’t guarantee student success.
Nevertheless, scientific evidence does reveal that the brains of girls and boys develop at different rates. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the occipital lobe — the region of the brain most associated with visual processing — develops faster in girls between the ages of 6 to 10, while boys show the largest growth in this region after age 14.
Using research on the brain to enhance teaching, some charter schools are having success moving the needle on achievement when genders are separated. Anecdotal evidence and school data from select charter school campuses across the country suggest that a single-gender education can be a tool to help improve the academic progress of students, particularly for African-American and Hispanics, who as subgroups lag behind their white counterparts in achievement.

Nationally, only about 50 percent of black males on average graduate in four years. Blacks and Latinos also face higher rates of suspension and expulsion, which can cause them to fall behind in their studies and drop out of school.

Pedro Noguera, an author and professor of education at New York University who has conducted extensive research on urban schools (Theories of Change among Single-Sex Schools for Black and Latino Boys: An Intervention in Search of Theory), documented the approach of several single-gender schools serving low-income neighborhoods that are narrowing the achievement gap among minorities. Their success at achieving higher graduation rates than some of their coeducational counterparts, Noguera has said, is fueled by their approach to education more than their single-gender classrooms. Single-gender schools for boys often focus on grooming students to be future leaders, building brotherhood, improving a student’s self-confidence and providing role models for kids.
Bryant Marks, executive director of Morehouse Research Institute, agrees. His single-gender college boasts a six-year graduation rate of 60 percent for black males that is one of the highest in the country and is 25 percentage points higher than the national average for black males graduating from co-educational colleges. “There is an added benefit of role-modeling and relationship-building,” Marks said of single-gender education. “When you have a critical mass of black boys and they have a limited perception of what’s possible — they don’t believe they can go to college or graduate school and be a doctor — they are going to perform to that minimal perception if they don’t have someone to change their attitude about education.”
Marks said, however, that students of color don’t have to attend a single-gender school to get the same kind of positive reinforcement. “The key to running a successful single-gender school with sustained achievement is basically the same as the operating co-educational public schools: Offer extended hours and days. Provide breakfast and after school homework support. Hire highly qualified teachers who care about the population of students they serve. Provide a challenging curriculum with high expectations of all students.”
Successful single-gender schools can be found in urban centers including Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies, a group of college prep charter high schools in Chicago and Eagle Academy in New York. At these schools:
• The four-year graduation rate in 2012 for the Bronx Eagle Academy was higher than the city and state average. Eagle seniors graduated at a rate of 67.5 percent compared to the citywide average that year of 64.7 percent. Eagle also out- paced the state average for boys, which was 59.9 percent.
• For five consecutive years, 100 percent of high school seniors in Chicago graduated from Urban Prep’s Englewood and West campuses and were accepted to four- year colleges. The state average graduation rate for that same year was about 70 percent.
Single-gender education has vocal critics. Many say that the approach rolls back the clock on progress made to desegregate schools, and that it is by definition a violation of the Title IX educational amendment requiring gender equity for programs receiving federal funds. Single-gender schools began to spread across the country under the freedoms of The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which encouraged using same-sex education as a strategy to help students learn, among other reform methods. In Georgia, public charter schools serving single-gender populations of males are also making some tangible gains in student achievement and improving attitudes about education. One of those schools had the state’s highest ranking on the Georgia College and Career Readiness Performance Index in 2013.
This report explores single-gender schools educating boys and the methods used to narrow the achievement gap.

A Culture Of High Expectations
At Fulton Leadership Academy, students who receive grades of 85 percent or lower on any test or quiz receive a referral for mandatory academic enrichment.
Fulton Leadership Academy, a public charter school for boys considers itself one of the best-kept secrets in metro Atlanta. In 2013-14, the predominantly black school earned the equivalent of an “A” rating on Georgia’s College and Career Ready Index. It was among the highest-scoring school districts in the state and was recognized for student achievement by Governor Nathan Deal.
FLA’s brand of “no-excuses” single-gender education is helping scholars, to “soar to new heights” as its motto promises. The school requires dress uniforms for boys everyday. The curriculum has a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) focus with an emphasis on aviation and aeronautics to take advantage of its close proximity to the Hartsfield Jackson Airport in Atlanta. Six of every 10 students qualify for free and discounted lunch.
“We have homeless students in the gifted program who come to school neatly dressed,” said Richardean Anderson, founder of Fulton Leadership Academy. “Their parents want a better life for them. They are struggling to make it better for them. We have students who are the sons of teachers and administrators in traditional public schools in Atlanta and Fulton County.”
At FLA, teachers are expected to be laser focused on student progress. Reports are due weekly. The school has a “no zero” policy.
“If a student has a zero we don’t allow it to sit. A student gets basically ‘harassed’ until the work is turned in,” joked Henderson. “If a student makes an ‘F’ on a test or class assignment, the expectation is he will be remediated by a teacher.”
Henderson said FLA’s strict academic policies are rooted in research about the intellectual and emotional development of boys. The school’s strategy is paying off. A recent study by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement ranked FLA as the No.1 middle school in Fulton County for out-performing district progress and improving student test scores.
FLA received a 95 percent rating on the state’s College and Career Ready Performance Index in 2013, ranking it among the top 5 percent of Georgia school districts in student achievement. The rating dropped to an 85 percent for middle school and high school in 2014, but was still higher than state and Fulton County Schools’ index averages.
In FLA’s middle school, 97 percent of students were meeting or exceeding expectations in English/language arts; 98 percent were meeting and exceeding in reading; and 91 percent were meeting and exceeding standards in math. Fulton Schools’ data shows that 94 percent of students were meeting and exceeding English standards; 97 percent were meeting and exceeding in reading; and 87 percent were meeting and exceeding benchmarks in math. The state averages in the same areas were 93 percent, 96 percent and 97 percent respectively.
As FLA’s focus on character-building and high expectations moves the needle on student achievement, the school’s principal is exploring partnerships so high school scholars can afford college.
“We are trying to do what is right for young males,” said Doug Ward, FLA’s new principal. “We have very smart kids that attend school here. We have small class sizes. Our parent involvement is amazing. Some of our high school parents have been here since their children were in the sixth grade. I would like to partner with a university to establish a pipeline to college for our students.”
sley International Academy

Wesley International Academy:
A Global View Of Education

Boys at Wesley International Academy are exposed to an International Baccalaureate curriculum that is giving them a competitive edge in high school.
Wesley International Academy appears from the outside to be a traditional

public school. Boys and girls in crisp uniforms file into the building for classes on weekdays. Eager teachers await their arrival. Laughter and chatter fill the hallways before school begins.

But when learning starts, that’s when Wesley breaks from the traditional routine and emerges as an innovator. The K-8 school of 780 students offers Mandarin

Chinese language classes and an internationally accredited academic program to students in single-gender classrooms. Ninety-five percent of classes are taught in same-sex settings. Socialization between boys and girls is mostly reserved for lunch and recess.

Wesley has an enrollment that is 70 percent African-American, 25 percent white and 5 percent Asian or other. More than half of the population is low income. Nearly 6 in 10 students qualify for free or discounted lunch.
In male classrooms, boys are challenged by a curriculum with a worldview that appeals to their sense of adventure and need to see tangible rewards for the time and effort invested into their studies. Lessons are reinforced with guest speakers, case studies of current events, and games.
“We have been trained by the Gurian Institute on the development of boys,” said Duke Bradley, principal of Wesley, who has a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College and a law degree from John Marshall School of Law. “We do a lot of activities that ignite their competitive fire. In girls’ classrooms, we do more group activities. As a school, we are performing well academically.”
Wesley received “Exceeding the Bar” points for its innovation on the Georgia College and Career Ready Performance Index. Records show at least 97 percent of students earned passing scores in at least three middle school courses in fine arts, world languages, or career exploratory subjects by the end of eighth grade. More than 30 percent earned a high school credit.
Wesley is one of 3,900 international baccalaureate schools worldwide that have earned an endorsement for providing strong leadership and a rich course of study that meets international academic standards. As students study core subjects, they are taught to see their place in society and how education can help them impact the world. A lesson about the water cycle in science is elevated by pushing students to consider water and the environment in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
“Our goal is making sure that our students are competitive on an international stage,” Bradley said. “We make sure that our students begin looking at the world through a global lens at a very early age.”
For boys, that worldview inspires them to use critical thinking skills to solve problems. They get their hands dirty conducting experiments and learn to embrace diversity through the study of a foreign language.
In Mandarin classes, boys learn how to write and read Chinese characters and to introduce themselves by saying “Nihao” (Hello. How are you?) The language lessons help Wesley’s students to gain an appreciation for the culture, history and art of Asia.
The school exposes students to opportunities to travel to Asia to build their connection to the language program. This summer a group of sixth, seventh and eighth graders who were screened in an interview process and selected to travel to China, will spend four weeks in an immersion program at Nanjing University. The group is raising funds to cover the costs of the trip. They have all

taken Mandarin at Wesley for at least four years. The international travel will allow them to continue their study of the language and visit some of the historical sites they have been learning about. Students also will take field trips and participate in cultural exchange and enrichment classes at a local Chinese middle school.

Learning Mandarin has helped to impact student literacy overall at Wesley. As students learn the foreign language, they also come to understand the importance of being fluent in their native language indirectly improving reading, writing and language comprehension.
According to state data, Wesley is making gains in literacy. The percentage of middle school students who met and exceeded standards in language arts and reading in 2014 were 95 percent and 97 percent respectively, a slight increase over the previous year. The scores for 2014 also were higher than the state averages of 93 percent and 96 percent and the local averages

of 90 and 93 percent. Wesley’s elementary school students also out-performed the state and local district in reading and language arts.

On achievement in math for middle school, however, Wesley trailed the state average by about three percentage points with nearly 87 percent of middle school students statewide meeting and exceeding standards in math compared to about 84 percent for Wesley. The charter school’s math scores for middle school students, however, were higher than APS’s average of about 78 percent in math.
Nevertheless, Bradley says the success of his program can be seen in the lengthy list of names on the waitlist to enroll and the spike in the number of rising freshman being snapped up by elite Atlanta private schools. Wesley’s IB program is providing boys from economically disadvantaged communities greater choices for high school education in private school. Many of Atlanta’s prestigious private schools boast a graduation rate of 100 percent and a college placement rate just as high.
“Last year, 20 percent of our kids went to private schools on scholarship,” Bradley said. “Our kids are attractive because they are reasonably proficient in another language and have attended a school with an internationally recognized academic program. That makes our students prime candidates for schools looking for good quality kids.’’
Students who choose to continue the IB track are making the transition to Atlanta’s IB high school, Maynard Jackson High, where they can continue their studies in Mandarin with an advantage over their peers. Students with an IB diploma gain a competitive edge on college entry because the credential shows they have experience with college-level classes. According to the 2011 study “Postsecondary Enrollment Patterns of IB Certificate and Diploma Candidates from U.S. High Schools,” 71 percent of all IB students were accepted and enrolled in two-and-four year universities compared to the national average of about 55 percent.
Wesley’s overall rating for middle school on the state index report rose slightly to a grade of 67 percent, which is seven percentage points below the state average. Wesley’s elementary school scores remained at a high “C“ on its state index scorecard.
Bradley is determined to improve his school’s overall scores. He will spend the next few years supporting staff with professional development and coaching as they deliver single-gender education in the IB framework. The school executive said he also will comb through years of data from his single-gender classrooms so that he can understand which teaching methods are working best with students and why they are producing gains. Bradley will use the analysis to address areas of improvement for student learning in K-8, he said.
“I’m not sure whether single-gender education gives our black boys an advantage any more than it does or white or Asian students,” Bradley said. “Having a single-gender setting that includes students of all races and economic backgrounds really helps us to create much more of a tolerant and cooperative school community. Our students have respect for each other.”

Ivy Prep Young Men’s Leadership Academy:
A Supportive Network

Ivy Prep Young Men’s Leadership Academy is working to improve literacy and strengthen partnerships to reverse declines in student achievement. Classes are held in rooms named after colleges to help scholars believe that they can achieve success in higher education.

Ivy Preparatory Academy is changing the lives of children with an academic program that creates a pipeline to college for K-12 students, including some who have struggled in the classroom. The single-gender charter school network educates more than 1,000 kids in separate schools for boys and girls. Students are taught the PREP Values of perseverance, responsibility, engagement and professionalism to help them transform into scholars. Their exposure to higher education begins as soon as they walk in the door.

At Ivy Prep Young Men’s Leadership Academy, and its sister schools, homerooms are named after state colleges, Ivy League schools and HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities.) Teachers share their college stories. Students go on college field trips. Members of alumni associations adopt classrooms that bear their names and become “boosters” donating money for school supplies and decorating walls with the spirit colors and memorabilia.
It is this network of support that is pushing boys at Ivy Prep Young Men’s Leadership Academy (YMLA) to believe in themselves and persevere in their education even when test scores show that YMLA is seeing sharp declines in achievement. Ivy Prep Network officials are tweaking some of the school’s academic program to meet the pressing needs of YMLA’s most at-risk students -young males who enroll with deficiencies causing them to be years below grade level in reading and math.
“In some grades we have not seen the progress that we’d hoped for,” said Nina Gilbert, founder of Ivy Preparatory Academy Net- work Schools. “IPYMLA is working aggressively to improve the academic outcomes of our scholars by addressing human capital, school culture and instructional gaps.”
Ivy Prep’s single-gender focus is helping boys to take ownership of their education. Teachers are given the freedom to do what it takes to inspire boys to learn and grow. Lessons come to life with music, movement, props and video to help students recall important concepts. Elementary school students work in small groups and rotate through stations designed with their attention span in mind. High school students get their own laptops that allow them to work in groups and interact with online curriculum.
Boys need changes in the instructional day to keep them focused on learning, said Jamie Roy, an instructional coach and administrator at Ivy Prep YMLA. “Boys in elementary school tend to have testosterone spikes seven to 10 times an hour. Every five to 10 minutes we need to change their state in the classroom to keep their attention. We incorporate movement and music. You might hear teachers getting the boys to chant something. Boys tend to do well with call and response.”
Praise is also big at Ivy Prep YMLA. Good work and outstanding efforts are publicly celebrated in a big way by rewarding scholars with coupons for free food and spirit cheers from the entire class. The display encourages classmates to model the effort and good behavior of a successful student. Extremely high praise can summon a cheer recognizing a student for being “the bomb”: “Tick. Tick Tick. Booomb!” Another cheer gives students a “roller coaster applause” complete with hand gestures showing rolling hills.
“I felt like I hit the lottery,” said a third grader after being recognized as being “the bomb” for staying on task, completing his work correctly, and finishing early.

In addition to high praise, YMLA students receive double daily doses of math and language arts to help them learn content and get on grade level. On Friday,

YMLA scholars take 10-question quizzes called “exit tickets” to determine if they mastered the week’s main concepts and can answer review questions. Student progress is reviewed on Wednesdays during data talks between teachers and administrators. Students who are falling behind in their studies are referred to Saturday school for enrichment. Teachers also provide tutoring at school.
“Single-gender models are not silver bullets, and can only work well when the environment successfully and consistently promotes brotherhood, scholarship and character,” Gilbert said. “Phenomenal schools like Eagle Academy in New York, Boys Latin in Philadelphia, and Chicago’s Urban Prep have clearly shown us what is possible when schools that serve African- American males have the talent, time and resources that are required to create a community of engaged learners.”
YMLA is using a new reading program to build the vocabulary of students in elementary, middle and high school.
“If you don’t have that reading comprehension you are not successful in any subjects,” said Roy said. “If you have middle schoolers who are not reading on grade level, you sometimes have those behaviors going on. This helps us to understand what is really behind their frustration and to differentiate to meet the needs of students.”
YMLA was recently listed among 141 struggling schools – 27 of which are neighboring DeKalb schools – that could face a state takeover to improve student performance on standardized test scores tracked by the Georgia College and Career Ready Performance Index. Many of the 141 schools on the list, like YMLA, have high populations of low-income students. At YMLA nearly eight in 10 scholars qualify for free or discounted lunch. Several also left neighborhood schools that have been designated as “struggling.”
Leaders of Ivy Preparatory Academies say they are not waiting on state intervention to address declines in student achievement at YMLA. Christopher Kunney, board chair of Ivy Preparatory Academies, said the charter schools network has been taking proactive steps to turn around student since declines were noted on the state Criterion-Referenced Competency Test and benchmark exams.


In May 2014, Ivy Prep Academies contracted the services of Yardstick Learning, one of the nation’s leading strategic management consulting firms that specializes in the organizational transformation and turnaround of struggling mission-driven organizations. Yardstick, part of a task force to improve student achievement at IPYMLA, has been meeting with administrators to discuss enrollment, instruction, and examine policy and procedures at Ivy Prep schools. The school also added a new level of coaching and support for IPYMLA teachers called “Ivy University” (Ivy U), which is led Nina Gilbert, founder of Ivy Preparatory Academies.

“We're the first to admit when a policy or procedure isn't working, and we work tirelessly to fix it - that's what being a charter school is all about for us,” said Mrs. Victoria Wiley, executive director of Ivy Preparatory Academies.  “The Yardstick team is eager to continue its work with Ivy Prep and respond to the urgent needs of IPYMLA. Their track record of successfully turning around struggling organizations is impressive.” 
According to Georgia Department of Education state data, YMLA is trailing state averages in English. About 77 percent of YMLA elementary school boys met and exceeded standards in English/Language Arts in 2014 and about 94 percent - 2 percentage points fewer than the previous year - met and exceeded standards in reading. The state average for elementary school students who met and exceeded standards in English and reading is 90 percent and 95 percent respectively. DeKalb County school district averages for students who met and ex- ceeded standards in English in 2014 was nearly 84 percent, also higher than YMLA.
YMLA, however, did out-perform DeKalb’s reading exam average scores for elementary and middle school. Approximately 91 percent of DeKalb Schools’ elementary students met or exceeded standards in reading, which was three percentage points lower than YMLA’s reading achievement scores.
In middle school, 83 percent of YMLA boys met and exceeded standards in English/language arts and about 88 percent met or exceeded standards in reading. Both scores were below DeKalb County Schools’ averages of 88 percent and 92 percent and state averages of 93 and 96 percent. YMLA scholars, however, out-performed their district counterparts in math 82 percent to 76 percent and only lagged behind the state in math by about five percentage points. YMLA’s overall middle school performance rating declined to 58.7 percent in 2014.
YMLA launched a pilot program this year to continue to improve test scores. The outreach gets parents more involved in the education of their scholars and equips them with the tools and training to enrich their children’s studies in language arts and math. Parents join forces with the school in Academic- Parent Teacher Teams and commit to attending training sessions at after school. They also commit to attending scheduled meetings with language arts and math teachers to get regular reports on their child’s progress.
At a recent parent coaching session, third grade teacher Lashanta Crawford met with parents to teach them how to give reading tests to their kids at home. “Our goal for third grade for the end of the year is reading 137 words per minute,” she said. “Everybody was assessed. We created a graph to show where they were in relationship to our end of the year goal. We will go over the stories that they will do at home and help you work with them.’’
Parents and teachers check-in about every 60 days to set new reading goals for kids. Rebekah Thomas, mother of a third grader, said the face time and coaching tips from experienced educators outside the traditional parent-teacher conference has been invaluable. She said her son has a team focused on pushing him to succeed. “I kind of feel privileged to be honest,” Thomas said. “The fact that the teacher and the school wants to reach out and find out what works best for my son means a lot to me. That is not something you see often in an academic setting. At the end of the day, it’s all about giving him the best quality education that he can get.”
Being single-gender gives Ivy Prep a framework to structure teaching and learning as the school follows its mission to help students to succeed at the colleges and universities of their choice. Ivy Prep teachers understand that their role is not only to educate scholars, but also to encourage them to be responsible citizens when they grow up.
“With boys we have to focus on how they respect themselves and how they respect others and the responsibilities of being a man,” said Kendra Shipmon, a principal at Ivy Prep Kirkwood School for Girls. “It is important to give them that safe space to develop. That sense of identity is going to carry them even farther than some of the skills we are teaching them in class because it is what makes them who they are and helps to develop their character.”

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