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Successes of Single-Gender New York Schools Overshadowing Opposition

In the past, even the mention of creating a single-gender public school raised controversy with a wide array of opponents, including women’s organizations. In 1996, the New York schools created the first all-girl school in the nation, and the controversy still rears its ugly head.

The Opponents

Opponents say that single-gender New York schools undercut the students’ civil rights by denying them access to the schools. Michael Meyers, head of the New York Coalition, brought suit against the New York schools in 1996, challenging the legality of the Young Women’s Leadership School, located in Harlem, but lost the suit. He continues to look for New York schools students denied access to the school because of gender in hopes of bringing another suit, despite the school’s successes.

Opponents also contend that such schools return New York schools education to the past, where girls major in home economics, rather than mathematics or science. They even charge that if mixed-gender New York schools had the same quality of well-trained and motivated teachers, those children also would excel.

Even Sonia Ossorio, New York Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), believes such New York schools compromise women’s past struggles that today allow women to attend once-single-gender schools, such as Harvard and Yale.

The Supporters

Single-gender schools, however, address the unique needs of boys and girls. They offer families options that were previously not available in the New York schools, such as small class sizes and dedicated teachers, specially trained to meet gender-specific needs.

Students from the Harlem girls school say that their teachers push them more to do their best, and there are no distractions with which to deal. The teachers say the success of the school is due to no boys being present to distract the girls from their studies. Students stay on focus.

In year 2000, the National Coalition of Girls Schools studied 4,200 alumnae from an all-girls school and found the following:

• 93 percent — felt they were provided greater leadership opportunities during school,
• 91 percent — thought coursework was more relevant to their academic needs,
• 85 percent — received more encouragement in the areas of science, mathematics and technology than friends who attended coed schools,
• 71 percent —were more prepared to transition to college than friends who attended coed schools,
• 94 percent — had or were attending college, and
• 80 percent — held leadership positions since graduating from the school.

Additionally, the study found:

• They consistently scored as much as 20 percent higher on SAT tests, than both genders nationwide, and
• They majored in science and mathematics at a higher rate than both genders nationwide (12 percent of alumnae compared to two percent for women and ten percent for men).

The Successes

The New York schools can be proud of the accomplishments made by the Young Women’s Leadership School over that last decade. The Harlem school was rated first by in their “value-added” schools study. The parent-run assessment group rated schools based upon their ability to turn poor performing students with poor test scores into top grade-getters. The Harlem school has a record of 100 percent student graduation. Even Ossorio of the New York NOW chapter could not dismiss such success, stating that it is hard not to be excited about a school that boasts such a graduate rate!

Such success stories have sparked renewed interest in single-gender public education by the New York schools. There are currently five all-girl New York schools with plans to create three more in the next few years. The New York schools have three that are boys only and more planned.

With recent changes in state and federal laws, there are now 42 single-gender public schools across the United States. Another 151 schools offer specific classes to boys and girls separately.

It seems the New York schools used progressive and innovation thinking by reaching into the past of gender segregation to give both genders an opportunity to excel in a learning-focused environment.

About the Author: Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. Patricia has a nose for research and writes stimulating news and views on school issues. For more on New York schools visit

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