Lawndale discontinues single-gender classes

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Lawndale Elementary School’s two-year pilot program with single-gender classes has ended.
The classes were designed to help the school better address different learning styles between males and females.
However, the district made the decision in May to discontinue them for the upcoming school year in order to focus more attention on an upcoming curriculum shift.
“Tupelo Public Schools has a rich tradition of being an innovative leader in Mississippi,” new TPSD Superintendent Gearl Loden said in a statement. “Two years ago, one of our elementary schools piloted single-gender classes.
“In order to align our practices and resources so we can proactively prepare for the transition to the Common Core State Standards and to meet the needs of our students, we will neither expand nor continue single-gender classes during the 2012-2013 school year.”
Mississippi is among 45 states that have agreed to use the Common Core State Standards, new rigorous curriculum guidelines. As the Tupelo School District makes the transition to the new standards, it will introduce them to third- to fifth-grade students for the first time this year.
Students will be tested on the new material for the first time in 2014-15.
Lawndale began the pilot under then-Principal Terry Harbin during the 2010-11 school year with a boys class and a girls class each in third and fourth grades.
Principal Brock English expanded the program this past year with two boys classes and two girls classes in each of the school’s three grades – third, fourth and fifth. Nearly half of the school’s 26 classes were single-gender.
The classes focused on different learning styles. For instance, boys were allowed to walk around or lounge on the floor while they worked. Girls classes used more quiet time, background music and low-light settings.
“It began as a pilot, and one reason was that we wanted to try to close the achievement gap between male and female students,” English said. “We also wanted to devise professional development for the staff on how the brain works and what strategies work best for boys and girls.
“I feel confident now teachers have resources and tools they need to best teach students of different genders in a mixed class.”
English said he began having reflections and discussions in February and March about not continuing the pilot program. Data did not indicate a significant difference in performance between single-gender classes and mixed-gender ones, English said.
“We’d rather put our efforts and resources to preparing all students for the Common Core,” English said.
Tupelo was among four school districts in the state that received public records requests from the American Civil Liberties Union’s Mississippi chapter in May. The requests, asking for any records related to single-sex classrooms, were part of a national campaign by the organization to challenge single-gender classes on the basis that they promote false stereotypes.
Loden said the district had already made its decision to discontinue the program when it received its request.
“After they learned that, we received no more information,” Loden said.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com