Freshman English classes to be split by gender

As the bustle of the first day of second semester pushes students from room to room, a group of ninth grade boys will walk into their seventh hour English 9 class to find none of their female peers will be joining them.

The administration believes having two classes of boys-only English 9, and one class of girls-only English 9 will be a great learning experience for those students enrolled.  

What we know from the research and prior practice is that girls especially benefit from the experience.

— Principal Ed West

“What we know from the research and prior practice is that girls especially benefit from the experience,” Principal Ed West said. “Boys benefit some. Girls benefit a lot, and that kinda just has to go with the dynamics of what a high school freshman English class looks like, in terms of the level of participation and what not.”

West gathered this research years ago, and he cannot recall where he read about it but says he has implemented this practice in another school. The administration had been looking for an opportunity to try out single-gender classes, and they found an opportunity to do this in the English department.

“… The types of things that students are interested in are more gender-specific than what we might think,” West said. “Whether it be long novels, fiction, nonfiction, short stories, those types of things, as well as just the level of conversation that you can have is different between males and females.”

West said that there was already a strong slant in the ratios of boys to girls in in these English 9 classes, so with a little shifting he arranged all of one gender with different teachers.

“If you look at geometry or biology…, advanced biology versus biology, geometry versus Algebra 1…, it’s pretty even gender split already, so there is really not quite as much of a need,” West said.

While English 9 teacher Brandon Wolak is prepared to teach the two boys-only classes, the jury is still out on whether it will be effective.

I’m eager to see if coed classes are a distraction for students. I don’t necessarily believe that they are, … so I don’t know what that’s going to look like.

— English 9 teacher Brandon Wolak

“I’m eager to see if coed classes are a distraction for students,” Wolak said. “I don’t necessarily believe that they are, and some of the data that I’ve found suggests that the results are typically better for the all-female classes than they are for the all-males, so I don’t know what that’s going to look like.”

For the males, Wolak plans to have the students active throughout the class period. He will also discuss community services opportunities and interpersonal skills with them on a weekly basis.

Some upperclassmen believe that separating classes based on gender will provide no significant benefits.

“No, I would definitely not (want to be in a class of just guys),” senior Alder Cromwell said. “I can’t think of a single (benefit to having only one gender in the classroom).”

Cromwell isn’t the only person skeptical of how this change will be helpful to students, junior Isabel Marshall-Kramer has her questions as well.

Would you want to be in a single gender class?

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“Why don’t they just make two separate schools?” Marshall-Kramer said.

Although some students and staff question how this system will play out, West and the rest of the administration are optimistic about this experiment.

“They’ll like the experience, especially the girls,” West said. “It’s not like we’re going to do this with all of our classes every year, but there are some benefits.”

Update Jan. 14:

On Jan. 12, Superintendent Dr. Rick Doll received a letter from the Kansas American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Legal Director Doug Bonney and Cooperating Attorney Amy Katz regarding the introduction of single-gender English 9 classes at Free State this semester. The ACLU learned of the new class format from an online Free Press article from Jan. 5.

In the letter, the ACLU requested that Free State discontinue single-gender classes. On Jan. 14, counselors began altering the schedules of those enrolled in the single-gender classes to place them in coeducational English classes.

The ACLU cited Title IX, United States v. Virginia and guidelines issued by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights as reasons for the request.

Additionally, the ACLU noted that, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), any school receiving funding from the USDA “shall not provide any course or otherwise carry out any of its education program or activity separately on the basis of sex, or require or refuse participation therein by any of its students on such basis.”

The ACLU further cited that a meta-analysis of over 1.6 million students conducted by the American Psychological Association “showed that, when proper controls are used, there are no benefits to single-sex education.”

Below is a photocopy of the ACLU’s letter to Doll, provided by Bonney to the Free Press.Letter to Dr. Doll re Sex-segregated classes 2015.01.12

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