Gainesville Middle School teacher Iris Butts pointed to the math problem in front of her students.
“Look at the board, ladies and gentlemen,” she instructed.
“Ladies?” a student asked. “Are you calling us ladies?”
“No, sorry,” Butts responded, laughing. “I forgot, we’re doing just gentlemen today.”
Butts’ eighth-grade math class is intentionally made up entirely of male students. Upstairs, their female counterparts were convening in the same math class, with no boys allowed.
Select schools in both the Gainesville and Hall systems have been experimenting with single-sex classrooms for a few years now; Gainesville Middle has been attempting it with eighth-grade math students, while Lyman Hall Elementary School separates some of its fifth-grade classes.
“Academically, the research has said the girls will improve in math and science if they’re in an all-girls classroom because they’re not intimidated,” Lyman Hall teacher Katie Olson said. “Last year, we noticed that with the girls. They soared in math when they were in a segmented class by themselves.”
Butts said there have been similar results in her middle school students.
“The boys are stating they’re finding they’re able to focus better,” she said. “They don’t feel like they have to compete so much and they’re more in tune with the class. I’ve heard positive (things) from (the girls) as well. They are more likely to participate in class activities.”
Lyman Hall has separated fifth-grade students by gender for the past three years. The first year every classroom was single-gender; this year there are only two single-gender classes, one of boys and one of girls.
Gainesville Middle teachers have only attempted to separate the genders in eighth-grade math; it’s never for the full semester, either. However, some of the students would like that to change. Also in the city system, Gainesville Exploration Academy had an all-male fifth-grade class a couple of years ago, along with a couple of single-gender classrooms this year.
Research is mixed on efficacy of single-sex classrooms. A 2005 report of the U.S. Department of Education found “most studies reported positive effects for single-sex schools on all-subject achievement tests.” However, there was no evidence to show any long-term academic or social success, though it wasn’t really better or worse than coeducational scenarios.
Further, a 2010 article published by Springer Science+Business Media states, after a three-year survey of achievement scores, “there was no significant effect of the gender composition of schools on achievement.”
Regardless of research results, teachers all say they know what they’ve witnessed firsthand, and it’s been nothing but academic success along with another much appreciated benefit.
“We don’t have any issues with behaviors that we can’t correct right away,” Olson said. “They’re not acting out. I had a mixed class last year, and I wanted to pull my hair out just about every day. And this year, it’s so calm. I know that it changes with the kids, but I’ve taught boys (only) and girls (only) and mixed, and there is a difference.”
Lakeview Academy only has single-gender classes at the middle school level in certain health and physical education courses. Headmaster John Kennedy said it is an idea they are actively pursuing, though.
“Some people would say it’s sexist, but it’s different learning styles,” he said. “That’s just been proven. So we are looking at that in a number of different areas for next year.”
The teachers agreed boys and girls do have different learning styles, and it’s easier to tailor teaching styles based on gender.
“A perfect example: I was talking about writing, and with the girls I said if you walk past a mirror and you see that you have a lump in your ponytail, you’re not just going to leave it and walk out,” Lyman Hall teacher Krystal Parker explained. “You’re going to fix it. If you see something is wrong in your writing, you’re not going to leave it. You’re going to correct it.
“Whereas with the boys, if I said your hair is messed up and to fix it, they’d be like ‘Why?’” she said, laughing. “So I have to use different examples with them like that.”
Boys tend to be more active, teachers said, so lessons for them are planned in more frequent bursts of activity, while girls can sit still for longer periods of time.
Gainesville Exploration Academy Principal Renee Boatright has two gender-based fourth-grade classrooms in her school this year and results have been positive, particularly for the boys.
“The all-boy class was academically struggling, and bringing them all together ... they have just made such a little team,” Boatright said. “They trust each other and they want to work together. They have that competition between each other to try harder, and they’re not afraid to take risks now. They just go for it in the classroom.”
She also said it boosts the confidence in the girls, who now aren’t afraid to jump up and answer in class.
As for the students, they all say they’d rather be in a class of the same gender rather than with the opposite sex. Both boys and girls claim the other side is too distracting.
“Boys are wild, and we do better work than with boys in the classroom,” Rosa Morales, 11, said. “They keep, like, interrupting you and bring things to play with. Us girls, we just like to learn and have fun.”
Brianna Dorman, 14, accused the guys of talking during tests and trying to garner too much attention.
“They do all this crazy stuff,” she said. “We pay attention to them and then we don’t do our work.”
They say boys make fun of girls who get the wrong answer, which keeps them from participating in class. But the boys say it’s girls who make fun of them.
“I concentrate more and I have more progress in my work, my homework and everything,” Jesse Zamora, 15, said. “Sometimes, when they call me up to the board, I got nervous because I was in front of girls. Now, guys ... they’re cool with it. It’s more supportive.”
“(Girls are) too clean,” Byron Rocha, 10, said. “We’re not dirty, but they’re — it’s just too much.”
Those opinions combined with the research and teacher input have others considering the idea of classrooms separated by gender, especially if parents give their approval.
The students are already more than OK with the idea.
“I think exploratory classes are fine,” Brianna said. “You can have guys in there. All the other, like, academic classes, I think we should have all girls.”
“I want all-boy classes because boys are easier to work with,” Nick Lyles, 14, added.
No one was sure whether they would continue the single-gender classes next year, saying it depended on parent, teacher and student interest. But they were all supportive of the idea, particularly 12-year-old Cristian Davain.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “No girls means we can go outside even if it’s cold. Girls don’t like cold.”