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For decades this fundamental question has sparked intense debates and even some lawsuits. Single-sex education remains highly contentious as the number of single-sex schools has exploded over the past decade. A new book, The Separation Solution? by Juliet A. Williams, explores the different facets of this hotly debated issue. Recently she shared some thoughts with me on the subject.

Melinda D. Anderson: A major thread running through the book is that so many people—educators, parents, activists, and politicians—strongly believe in the potential of single-sex education to unleash academic excellence, while the evidence supporting this claim is sparse and insufficient. What would you say is the primary driving force behind its well-entrenched support?

Juliet A. Williams: Some people believe in single-sex education because they had a great personal experience. To other people, single-sex education seems like plain old common sense: They see differences between boys and girls, and they like the idea of creating schools that reflect these differences. Still others look at the failure of U.S. public-school systems and think, “we’ve got to do something; let’s give it a try.” Since the 1990s, there has been a resurgence of interest in single-sex education in public schools serving students in grades K-12. My book takes a look at the arguments driving interest in single-sex public education, as well as the results. What I have found is that single-sex public-school initiatives have been created with the best of intentions, but that they are not delivering the results. At the same time, they are producing some unintended consequences in terms of reinforcing damaging gender stereotypes.

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(Photo: Beloit Daily News)

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Paddling a child with a wooden board as school discipline is a practice that seems more typical of the Victorian era. But in 19 states where corporal punishment is legal, spanking students for breaking rules is a common occurrence in schools. Accordingly, many groups recommend—and many activists, educators, parents, and others demand—that physical punishment in schools be abolished.

Of increasing concern—and consistent with other discipline trends—is who gets paddled. Anecdotal and empirical evidence shows that a disproportionate number of the students receiving corporal punishment are black. According to federal statistics, black students are 16 percent of students enrolled in public schools but are 35 percent of those physically disciplined; black children receive physical punishment at almost three times the rate of their non-black peers. The decidedly racial tilt is also seen at the state level. In Mississippi, which tops the list in cases of corporal punishment, black students are 49 percent of the state’s student population and 64 percent of those paddled, far surpassing the number of white classmates (35 percent) receiving such discipline.

These striking racial disparities and a growing body of research asserting the detrimental effects of corporal punishment are prompting many to advocate against its use. Groups including the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association strongly oppose the practice. A 2009 joint report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, A Violent Education, labels corporal punishment a violation of students’ “physical integrity and human dignity” and brands the practice “degrading, humiliating, and damaging.”

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(Photo: Stephen Pingry /Tulsa World)

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Suspending preschoolers for potty accidents and energetically kicking off shoes – strangely, punishing children for basically behaving like children – has reached an alarming level. And the pattern has a decidedly racial dimension. As child experts and researchers study the data regarding preschool suspensions and expulsions, they’re finding that it is adult behaviors, not children’s actions, which are fueling this trend. Searching for why so many Black preschoolers get suspended and expelled led me to some interesting answers.

But for some more astounding than these discipline statistics were the thousands of the nation’s youngest learners—nearly 8,000 preschoolers—suspended from school in the same year, often for relatively minor disruptions and misbehaviors. For researchers and educators immersed in this work, why preschoolers are put out of school and the entrenched racial disparity seems most closely tied to reasons such as teacher bias and children living in poverty whose hitting, biting, and pinching is frequently labeled misconduct rather than developmental delays.

What makes preschool-age suspensions and expulsions further problematic is how out-of-school punishment feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. Research shows that repeated suspensions breed student disengagement, making youth more likely to dropout and more susceptible to entering the juvenile justice system. This was the definitive conclusion of an October report from the Center for American Progress and the National Black Child Development Institute that highlights the trends, underlying causes and lasting harm of preschool suspension and expulsions. Pertinent to the groups’ findings is how little preschool discipline is rooted in young children’s behaviors as opposed to adult behaviors—due to implicit biases and a gross misunderstanding of toddler development.

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