Aug 20, 2007

No Boys Allowed

Every morning at work, I check my email and read the headlines as the Austin American-Statesman gives them to me. Today there was a feature story about the new Ann Richards School. I can't remember the school's official name but it is a junior high, and eventually a high school, for girls who are academically gifted and show potential to be real leaders. In a way it reminds me of Boston Latin for girls.

I love the idea of helping girls with potential have better access to the resources they need to realize their potential. But I'm left with two questions.
1) Does this really require a single sex school?
2) Why don't they have the tools they need at the school in their community?

I suppose there is some irony to wondering if girls need a single sex school. In all fairness, I have been a part of many many single sex organizations and I think each one has affected me positively. From my own days as a Brownie, through drill team and even as a Tri Delta member, girls only clubs have been a reoccurring theme in my life. I think these organizations are great. But if we really want girls to succeed in life, don't we need to give them the skills to work and reach their goals in the real coed world? The world is not girls only. Perhaps school is not the place to go single sex. To keep the world of our girls most realisitic, shouldn't their "job" (school) be coed and requiring hard work and perseverance? Can't we foster an environment of success with boys in the classroom too? The Statesman article cites that girls tend to do better in math, science and technology when not competing with boys at the junior high/high school level. And by the time girls who attend single sex K-12 get to college, they perform just as well as the boys and, unlike their peers who went to coed schools, are bold about speaking up in class. This sounds good. But is it really the single sex aspect of the schools that leads to this or something else that we have yet to put our finger on?

Now to the more far reaching predicament: Why do students need to transfer to charter schools to achieve optimal success? A story from last week's Statesman tells us that 18 Austin area schools are not meeting federal standards. The solution? Let the kids transfer to a better performing school. This does not fix the problem. Sure a couple hundred kids might receive a better education but what becomes of those poor performing schools? Well for one, they are not improved. Funding is often withheld until the school performs up to par. Isn't that counter intuitive? Shouldn't we provide the school with more resources to reach these children? Might they be performing poorly because they have out of date textbooks or overcrowded classrooms?
And second, it stands to reason, at least in my mind, that the poor performing schools actually appear to become worse. Chances are the students who are transferring to other better schools are those who are excelling in the classroom and need more of a challenge. So they go to the neighboring school or to a charter school like the Ann Richards School. Now the poor performing school is losing their high test scores and solid attendance record, thus letting their averages fall. Is this the fault of the school? Well, some for being a subpar school. But not wholly their fault. The system is letting these strong students leave, helping them any, and withholding the funding needed to improve. Aren't there other alternatives? Can we ask our brightest students to help tutor those who are doing poorly? We could compensate them with credit hours and resume building opportunities. Can't we offer our teachers higher pay to attract stronger candidates? We can also be willing to hold a student back if that will improve the student's overall education. Do not let unprepared students advance on to levels they cannot succeed at. Why don't we bring the teachers who would teach at charter schools in to teach advanced classes? Why not try new and different teaching approaches to see if they reach our students better? Why just let kids leave their school instead of improving the school to make it one they want to attend?

And that folks, is my food for thought on schools here in Austin (and probably, across the country).

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