Approach to help boys learn

[The Day, 7/26/2008 ]

The decision to end gender-specific classes at the Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in New London is unfortunate for the students who may have benefited from them, and for the district that is already the subject of criticism for its inability to close the achievement gap between its urban population and students in the suburbs.

These same-sex classes may have been the answer for some students who are struggling in school, particularly young males. But by city schools' staff members' own admission, they may have moved too quickly to set up the same-sex classrooms, and therefore doomed them.

We think the city should try again, but plan accordingly first. And the state could help the effort, and those of other districts, by offering incentives or by encouraging recruitment of more male teachers for the elementary and middle-school levels.

One failure in New London's case was the inability to find a male teacher for the class of boys. National data shows that some boys, particularly in the younger grades, do better with male teachers.

Many little boys have trouble sitting still. And there is clear evidence that boys are active learners. They learn better by doing, not by sitting and listening. Give a boy a hands-on project, and he has a better chance of successfully completing it.

Not to take anything away from studious young girls, but educators know that much of early education is language-based, and girls, on average, are stronger than boys in language. That's one reason why girls typically outpace boys academically in the earlier grades.

So there are valid reasons for trying same-sex classrooms. Not for every student, but for those whose parents think it is the right fit for their child. It is an idea that is catching hold across the country, with more and more public schools offering the option.

So it was unfortunate that New London's pilot project failed. But we believe the district should rethink its plan and resuscitate it for the 2009-2010 school year. And rather than do it in the sixth grade, perhaps New London should consider such a class for elementary school.

New London schools have big obstacles to overcome. No one program or service will solve all the problems. But a few gender-specific classrooms, taught by gender-specific teachers, might provide the formula for success for some students.