Local News

Education Officials OK More Single-Sex Classes

Posted October 25, 2006 9:14 a.m. EDT

— Federal officials have relaxed restrictions on single-gender classrooms in public schools, prompting area school officials to look at the idea.

The U.S. Department of Education announced the change Tuesday after reviewing studies that suggest higher achievement and less disciplinary issues in single-sex classrooms. The current rules, implemented in 1975, only allow same-sex classes in gym or sex education classes.

The proposed changes would enable school boards to segregate any course if it would offer an educational benefit. Any school that segregated classes based on gender would be required to offer a co-ed version of the course, and enrollment in a same-sex class would be voluntary.

McDougle Middle School in Carrboro is one of six North Carolina schools that have experimented with the idea. About 240 public schools nationwide offer gender-separate classes.

Peggy Dreher, a math teacher at McDougle Middle, said co-ed classes can stifle the learning process. When she and other teachers separated their classes by gender, Dreher found certain students flourished.

"I saw the quiet kids raise their hands a lot more and ask a lot more questions," Dreher said.

Students agreed that, when boys and girls sit next to each other in class, it's easy to get distracted.

"When we had guys in the class, I didn't feel comfortable saying things because I was scared I'd get the question wrong," student Monika Rueckel said.

McDougle teachers said they saw disciplinary problems nearly disappear -- referrals went from two to three a week down to zero in some classes -- while grades improved.

"I started getting involved more. I guess it was less embarrassing for me," student Camille Mellott said.

"I went from a D or C to an A or B," student Ben Pepe said.

"You could be more open because it was just the guys," student Jason Moore said.

Critics of single-gender classes warn that separate instruction might result in inequalities and say such classes don't prepare students for the real world.

But students and teachers at McDougle said they saw none of that.

When the students returned to co-ed classes at the end of the single-sex experiment, they took lessons learned with them. The quiet students have become boisterous, the girls compete with the boys and the focus is more on the work and not each other, they said.

Officials with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools said they don't have any plans to make single-sex classes a permanent part of the curriculum.