Neuroscientist Lise Eliot co-authors this piece in USA Today questioning the momentum behind single-sex schools. I need to start out by saying Lise Eliot is not only one the nicest people you’ll ever meet, but also one of the bravest. It wasn’t easy finding someone to debate Leonard Sax (won’t catch me doing that; he’s fierce) on this issue during the annual meeting of the National Education Writers Assn. in Chicago this spring (full disclosure: I was the moderator).
Not only is Eliot brave, but she’s generally right in questioning this surge, which is driven mostly by the academic struggles boys are having in K-12 schools. For the moment, set aside her thesis, that gender learning styles are nearly identical, and ask whether these single-sex educators are prepared for this experiment, regardless of whether their teaching strategy hinges of gender learning differences. Even Sax, the country’s biggest proponent of public single-sex education, agrees most are not.
If only Eliot had stuck with her neuroscience argument. Instead, she strayed into declaring that girls barely make better grades and boys outscore girls on standardized tests, especially high-stakes tests. Wow, I know Eliot can’t be thinking of the best indicator of academic gender differences, state exams where every child gets tested, because on those girls kick butt on both reading and math.
And surely she’s not relying on the national NAEP tests, which show huge gender gaps favoring girls in reading and tiny gaps favoring boys in math. She must be relying on the college admissions tests, such as ACT and SAT, which show boys ahead.
Quick quiz for Eliot:
1. In the ACT results just released, what percent of the test takers were female? (answer: 55%)
2. How many poor and minority girls took that test compared to poor and minority boys? (answer: ACT can’t tell you; nor can the College Board about the SAT).
Conclusion: College admissions tests are worthless for judging gender. Both the ACT and College Board agree that far more poor and minority girls than boys take their tests; they just can’t measure it.
Lise, to atone for that statement I suggest a tour of schools in your own hometown, Chicago, with this article story by crack Tribune education reporter Stephanie Banchero serving as your guide. One highlight of the tour: Gen. George Patton Elementary School, where 3rd grade girls outpace boys by 55 points. No, that’s not a misprint.
I know what you’re about to say Lise, that these gaps are all about race and poverty. Before you say it, get in your car and drive to tony Wilmette, where you’ll find this.
After the tour wraps up, tell me again about how the grade gap is tiny and boys outscore girls on standardized tests.
–Guest blogger Richard Whitmire