Yesterday in New York, the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education released a report analyzing a burgeoning trend in public education: The proliferation of public schools designed to serve only a single sex. In particular, the report’s authors, led by NYU education professor Pedro Noguera, sought to ask and answer an essential question: What does a good single sex school for boys of color do, and why does it do it?

Single-sex education is nothing new, but single-sex schools in US public education has been on the rise since 1999, when only four public schools were designed to serve either boys or girls, according to the report. Less than a decade later, 223 single-sex public schools were open in American cities.

The report looked at seven New York-area schools that enrolled boys from age 9 to 18. All of the schools were relatively new – having opened in 2004, 2005, and 2006 – and all served predominantly African-American and Latino boys. But other characteristics varied. In some schools, classes and student teacher ratios were very small; some teachers had years of experience, while others were relatively new to the profession. Each school enrolled different proportions of students learning English and those with special needs. Poverty was a characteristic that most students at all five schools shared.

Single-sex schools for girls often focus on advancing academic opportunities in traditionally male subject areas like math and science. But the schools for boys, the authors found, all evolved to focus on certain factors crucial to their students’ success: They developed programs that nurtured their students social and emotional development; challenged stereotypes of black and Latino male identity; inculcated strong academic expectations and college-preparation as part of the boys’ social identity, and made strong efforts to shore up basic academic skills before moving on to challenging, socially relevant curricula and enriched offerings, like early-credit college classes.

Practically speaking, this meant daily ‘community’ meetings to build connections in one school; in another, classrooms were named for instructors’ alma maters; in a third, frequent college trips, SAT prep courses, and visits from college graduates helped students develop their “academic identities” as part of their “social identity.”

Although all five schools developed independently, the study observed, they evolved to share a similar framework for nurturing their students’ personal and academic success. The authors propose that the ‘common ground’ shared by the five boys’ schools can serve as a template for similar schools going forward, and potentially lay the groundwork for increased academic achievement, high-school graduation, and college success.

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