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Committee recommends ending pilot program for same-sex classrooms

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
May 30, 2012
— An experiment in same-sex instruction at Marshall Middle School appears to be on its last legs.

A school board committee Tuesday voted unanimously to recommend that the full board end the program at the conclusion of this year.


The administration proposed ending the four-year pilot program.


The theory behind single-gender classrooms was that they would reduce behavior problems while improving academic performance, officials said.


Research to support those claims was "a little sketchy from the beginning," said Kim Ehrhardt, director of instruction.


The test scores and discipline data comparing the single-gender classes to co-ed classes at Marshall have been "inconclusive," said Marshall Principal Synthia Taylor.


Test-score comparisons showed single-gender boys with some of the highest and some of the lowest test scores when compared with co-ed classes and with girls-only classes, depending on subject and grade. The same was true for girls-only classes, although the girls did better than the boys overall.


"We're not getting the return as a result of that investment that was made in 2007," Taylor said.


Making those data even more questionable, officials discovered in 2009-10 that the co-ed classes have much higher rates of students who have disabilities, whose first language is not English and who are considered at-risk.


"We have been trying to rectify it ever since, given the staff that we have," Taylor told The Gazette.


The discovery also raised a budget issue. If students with disabilities were shifted to single-gender classrooms, additional special-education staffing would be needed, costing an extra $126,000 a year, Taylor said.


Taylor said teachers' enthusiasm for the program also has waned.


Teachers were asked for their opinions in March. Some teachers said that as class sizes have increased, it had become harder to teach in single-gender classrooms.


An increase in the number of students who needed special education and other services also undercut the effectiveness of single-gender classes, some teachers said.


Kristen Hesselbacher, chairwoman of the committee, asked what officials should say to parents who believe the program benefited their children, especially in the social aspects of school.


Taylor and Ehrhardt said they believe a new program they used this year, which boosted test performance, will continue and will be better for students than single-gender classrooms.


The program, called "guaranteed and viable curriculum," is well researched and widely accepted as highly effective, Ehrhardt said.


"Marshall Middle School has experienced phenomenal results this year" with the guaranteed and viable curriculum, Taylor said.


Ehrhardt said ending single-gender classrooms makes it easier to mix and match students to classrooms, something middle schools often do to create good "chemistry."


School board member David DiStefano complimented the administration for its willingness to end a program that wasn't working well.


"I think the only failure is in not trying something," Hesselbacher said.


The program was never completely single-gender. Boys and girls were separated to learn math, science, English and social studies, but they joined co-ed classes for foreign languages, gym, music and other classes.



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