Friday, August 15, 2008

ALL MALE EDUCATION IN LA III: Villariagosa, Brewer ‘Open’ to Gender-Separated Classes

By Karl Zynda EGP Staff Writer/Bell Gardens Sun

Conclusion of a three-part series on all-male education. Parts one and two examined how female graduates are outnumbering males, the ‘differences’ in how boys learn, and took a look at local all-boy schools.

August 15, 2008 - Openness to innovation and a willingness to implement change is what marks the comments of Los Angeles politicians and education administrators when they are asked about the future of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

One of those changes may be, for some students, into gender-separated—all-boy/all-girl—classes. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, for one, sees gender-separated education as a possibility.

“Separate-sex education certainly offers opportunities for some of our communities,” he said in an e-mailed comment. “The critical foundation–and first step–for reforming our schools must come from creating small, safe and independent schools that empower parents and teachers and gives them a real voice in the classroom. If parents and teachers believe that all-male or all-female education is the best method for their students, then they should be the ones making that decision once the foundations to reform are in place,” Villaraigosa said.

David L. Brewer III, superintendent of LAUSD, sees all-male classes as a way to address the problems that black and Latino male students have in remaining in high school and going on to college.

Brewer cited statistics indicating that in 1977, 25 percent of black families were headed by women. Today, that number is almost 70 percent.

“So what starts to happen is that young men don’t know how to act like young men,” Brewer said, noting the lack of black male role models. “They drop out, they join gangs.”

Brewer said that young Latino males in Los Angeles tend to come from traditional families, but there is a lack of public services directed at them.

“Latinos have hard-working families,” Brewer said, adding that long hours at work can mean not enough time for parents to be with their children. “In this era, the Latino boys need something to do.”

Brewer said that parks and community services need to offer them activities.

Brewer is enthusiastic about the successes of experimental all-male classes in LAUSD schools. He has paid three visits to the all-male classes at Tom Bradley Elementary School, which are part of the “Boys Uplifted” program of all-male classes in South Los Angeles.

“When you talk to these young men it is so inspiring … they say they don’t have the distraction of girls so they can focus on their studies,” Brewer said.

Brewer has read gender-separated education expert Michael Gurian’s book, “The Minds of Boys.”

“You have to provide boys with a little different approach, Brewer said. “Boys tend to be hyperactive, especially early on. They tend to mature later in life.”

Brewer noted the drop in disciplinary problems and the rise in test scores of the boys in the program at Bradley Elementary. He also said that all-male classes at King-Drew Magnet School in Willowbrook have reported a 50 percent decrease in disciplinary problems, and that there has been an over 100-point increase in the academic performance index (API) in the all-male classes at David Starr Jordan High School in Watts.

“I’m not saying that you need boys’ academies everywhere,” Brewer said, pointing out that the focus of the all-boys class programs in Los Angeles has been on at-risk boys. Brewer also said that boys in all-male classes need to be helped by mentors and trained teachers.

“There has to be a mentoring component, especially with those boys who do not have role models in the home or in the community,” he said.

Richard Alonzo is the superintendent of LAUSD Local District No. 4. It stretches from West Hollywood and across the downtown Los Angeles area to Glassell Park. It spreads as far east as Eagle Rock, and as far south as Central City.

Alonzo says that no interest from the public has been expressed in gender-separated education in his district. His interest in the subject has been stimulated by a six-member focus group made up of a mix of teachers and school district administrators. It has been meeting for a year and a half.

Alonzo sees a difference between his interest in gender-specific education and that of programs such as “Boys Uplifted.”

“Our interest is not solely in boy’s academics,” Alonzo said. “Our inspiration has been equitable as to how boys learn from single-gender instruction and how girls learn from single-gender instruction.”

Alonzo wants gender-separated education at a new middle school located at Vermont and Sixth Avenues in central Los Angeles near Koreatown. Now called Central L.A. New Middle School No. 3, it is scheduled to open in September 2009.

“It would be focused on how boys and girls learn differently according to gender,” Alonzo said.

Separate floors of the school, which would hold 800 students total, would accommodate male and female students. The first floor, with the gym, library, cafeteria, and multipurpose room, would be for coed activities.

“Each floor is identical,” Alonzo said of the separate male and female classroom floors. “It’s the mirror image.”

Alternative coed education must be provided in any school with gender-separated education, according to Department of Education rules. Students from the area could instead attend Virgil, Barendo, or the planned middle school at the Ambassador-Central New Learning Center No. 1, on the former Ambassador Hotel site.

“Many of our families are from either Mexico or Central America or from Korea,” Alonzo said. He visited Korea in 2000 on a trip sponsored by the Korean government, to familiarize him and others with the Korean culture and school system. He said that almost all schools in Korea are gender-specific, while in Mexico and Central America many secondary schools are gender-specific.

Alonzo said that building a new gender specific school is much easier than attempting to convert a school.

“We can lure people who are like-minded, and are willing to work in this kind of environment, that we are not forcing anyone, like we would in a conversion,” he said.

Yolie Flores Aguilar, the LAUSD School Board member for District 5 that includes parts of Highland Park, Glassell Park and City Terrace, says she is open to innovations, such as creating new learning communities, within the LAUSD.

“We can’t rely on a cookie-cutter approach, and that is because our children come with different learning styles and different home environments and different ways of learning, so we need to structure the learning environment in ways that meet their needs,” Flores Aguilar said.

She is open to the idea of all-male classes in her district, provided there is a consensus on their effectiveness.

“If we know we can get better results for kids, if we know that an all-male classroom works more effectively for our kids, then we should move in that direction. We want to meet the needs of our kids, and for some of our kids, we aren’t meeting their needs,” Flores Aguilar said.

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