Public schools nationwide are trying out a new system of organization in the classroom: gender separation.
After noticing a trend of female students consistently scoring higher on reading tests than male students and then the opposite on math tests, the eighth-grade teachers at Woodbridge Middle School in Virginia decided to take action. They formed single-sex classrooms to observe differences in learning patterns and test scores between boys and girls.
Almost immediately, the teachers saw positive results. The boys’ reading test scores increased significantly, as did the girls’ scores in math. The teachers concluded that the boys learned best when faced with competition and movement, while group work was more conducive to educating the girls.
There is a scientific reason for this. New research shows significant distinctions in brain patterns among boys and girls, especially at an early age.
Dr. Leonard Sax, a psychologist, physician and author of “Why Gender Matters,” believes that the solution to this problem is a permanent separation of the sexes in the classroom. The most important years of gender separation, he says, are the ages at which children enter kindergarten and puberty. Keeping the genders together is “disadvantaging” to boys and girls because it tries to appeal to both parties at once, doing neither gender any favors.
A popular assumption about brain development is that boys’ brains grow at an overall slower pace than that of girls’. This is a fallacy. Researchers found that language and fine motor skills develop six years earlier in girls than in boys. Targeting and spatial memory, however, develop four years earlier in boys than in girls. Girls generally develop language skills at a faster pace, while boys develop mathematical skills more rapidly.
Other studies show some slightly less-surprising results: a study in Paris revealed that a 2-year-old boy is much more likely to build a bridge out of blocks than a girl of the same age. A study at Wellesley College showed that 3.5-year-old girls “could interpret facial expressions as well as or better than” 5-year-old boys.
In 2007 Virginia Tech conducted a study of brain development in children ages 2 months to 16 years. The study revealed that different parts of the brain develop at a “different order, time, and rate” in each gender. This means that boys and girls, if taught a subject the same way at the same time, absorb the material differently and sometimes insufficiently.
According to eHow.com, Myelin, a brain chemical, speeds electrical impulses necessary for various brain functioning. This chemical forms faster in the brains of females than in males, which explains the visible difference in learning between boys and girls at an early age.
The National Association for Single Sex Public Education (NASSPE), led by Sax, argues that instead of placing students in classrooms based on age, they should do so based on gender. “A 7-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy differ, on average, on parameters such as ‘How long can you sit still, be quiet, and pay attention?’” their homepage cites. “Those differences between a same-age girl and same-age boy are larger than differences between, say, a 7-year-old girl and a 9-year-old girl.”