According to Douglas’ research, the Dallas school will be the first all-male public (and noncharter) school in Texas. On its website, Sax’s group lists other all-boys public schools, including several charter schools in Houston, along with a laundry list of other states that offer all-boys schools or classrooms: Alabama, Florida, Indiana and Michigan, among others. Fewer than one in five single-sex classrooms or schools were launched by charter schools, Sax estimates.
Not all boys-only settings follow the path of the Dallas magnet school, which will have mandatory uniforms — coats and ties required — and selection criteria that include a minimum grade point average of 80 percent and an in-person interview. Others are neighborhood schools, like McAdory’s Ruben P. Diaz Elementary School in Las Vegas, which opened several years ago in a low-income area of the city.
The school teaches the same material in all classrooms but might present it in a different way, depending upon the gender mix, according to McAdory. Since boys tend to be more analytical, a concept might be explained in broad terms and then broken down, she says, while girls prefer to accumulate their knowledge in a stairstep manner.
Boys also respond better to real-life scenarios, with bonus points for adding a dose of humor or yuck. A math problem might incorporate insects, or a teacher might toss a ball to the boy who correctly answers a question, McAdory says. “The boys get very excited about their learning, and they seem so much more engaged when there is a competition piece built in.” In an all-male setting, boys are also more prone to embrace subjects that could be perceived as girlish in a coed setting. “When it comes to writing and literature, the boys are much more expressive when the girls are not around. They will use words like ‘marvelous.’ ” McAdory resists the suggestion that such approaches promote stereotypes. Teachers are trained to connect with boys and girls who don’t follow these patterns, as well.
Still, building upon even scientifically validated findings is risky for both genders, says Lise Eliot, a neuroscientist based at Chicago Medical School and the author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain. Take the fidget-prone nature of many boys, which Eliot says has been substantiated by research and Sax cites as a key learning difference. (“You will find quite a number of 5-year-old boys who have to stand and bounce and make buzzing noises in order to learn,” he says, a comment that likely resonates with parents of young boys.)
According to one meta-analysis, the average boy is more active than two-thirds of girls, Eliot says. But if a teacher uses relay races, for example, in order to spur boys to learn their math facts — an approach that Eliot calls “gimmicky” but provides for explanatory purposes — one-third of the boys will be distracted. “And a third of the girls may have actually benefited from that intervention,” she says. “Biological sex is just not that accurate a way of grouping learners.”