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Left: The Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy at B.F. Darrell, in Dallas; Nakia Douglas
Those pushing for all-boys classrooms hit almost a note of desperation, arguing that the more targeted learning environment is needed to help slow boys’ academic slide. Douglas, the new Dallas school’s principal, talks about the “crisis we have in our nation” regarding young men’s performance.

Some statistics back him up. Nationally, reading proficiency scores for boys in elementary and secondary school lag by more than 10 percent in some states, according to a 2010 analysis by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy. In 2009, fewer boys graduating from high school went on to college — 66 percent compared with nearly 74 percent of girls, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Proponents adopt a variety of stances, with some maintaining that boys learn better freed from the interaction with, and distraction of, the opposite sex. Others take that perspective a step further, citing research that they say indicates that boys in general — albeit not necessarily individual boys — may absorb information differently, and thus could benefit from teaching more closely tailored to their learning style.

“You can’t have boys sitting for an hour, because they are going to lose interest,” says Shirley Ison-Newsome, a senior executive director in the Dallas school district who led the task force that researched all-boys education. “They have to be hands-on. They have to be able to get up and do projects.”

On his association’s website, Sax prominently cites a National Institutes of Health study, published in 2007 and involving numerous brain scans, which found gender-related differences in the timing of how specific brain regions develop. In an interview, though, Sax declines to delve into that study or other brain-related research, saying those findings won’t help individual parents.

“You can’t look at a brain scan and figure out whether your son should be in a boys’ school,” he says. But public schools, he stresses repeatedly, should offer single-sex options similar to the ones available for generations through private schools. “This is about social justice.”