Sparks Fly Over Single Gender Education in Georgia

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Janice Gallimore, the chairman of the board of education in Greene County, Ga., wants critics to understand the advantages of single-sex education, before rejecting it. She thinks there is a "fear of change."

"Give it a chance, try it," she said. "I think, once people understand the advantages, it will work out."

Next fall, public schools in Greene County may be the first to implement single-sex education. By separating students by gender, educators hope to improve low test scores, and cut down on teen pregnancy and disciplinary issues, which trouble most of the school system in that rural district.

"Our high school still ranks 332 out of 369 schools in Georgia," said Shawn McCollough, superintendent of the Greene County schools. "So, it's pretty alarming when you see you're that close to the bottom."

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The board of education approved the measure in a unanimous vote last week. The sports and band programs will remain mixed, and boys and girls will continue to ride the same buses to school. Only the academic programs will be segregated.

Gallimore pointed out that many young parents choose not to move to Greene County because of the less than satisfactory performance of the public schools. Most of the county's demographic is black and middle class, or low income.

Gallimore said that teachers will be trained for gender-specific learning styles, and will have the opportunity to teach more effectively and optimize student performance.

"Girls tend to do better in small groups. Quiet time. Boys tend to do better when they are able to express themselves," Gallimore explained.

McCollough pointed out, "All of the research says that when you go to single gender schools, it's positive improvements for the kids. We've got a school district that needs immediate change."

Leonard Sax, of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, disagrees.

"Parents know best. Co-education is not the best way. Single sex is not the best way. We need to educate parents of the benefits of each format, so parents choose," he said. "You cannot try to compel every child to be in a single-sex classroom. That is wrong."

Click here to read about specific circumstances in which single-sex education is illegal.

"This proposal is completely out of step with what parents want. Parents want to be consulted about how kids will be educated. They don't want to be told that you, the parent, have no say," Sax said.

David Chadwell, the coordinator for single-sex education in the South Carolina Department of Education, agreed.

"What they're doing is not legal. You cannot force an entire group of people to be in single-gender education. Period. I think that's pretty clear," he said. "Single-sex education is a wonderful opportunity for many students, but, by law, it has to be a choice in the public school system."

According to Chadwell, segregating the sexes in Greene County would be legal only if every single parent in the county agreed on it.

"If the district attorney in Greene County is saying it's legal," Chadwell said, "well, there's just no backing for that."

Despite this criticism, Chadwell says he supports single-sex education for three primary reasons:

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