Richard Whitmire, who writes the incredibly resourceful blog "Why Boys Fail" for Education Week Online, writes and covers numerous issues related to boys and education, although he trains his eye more directly on the public school side.
Whenever he reads of another school or school system experimenting with single-sex classrooms, Mr. Whitmire posts links to the local story and usually adds his own concerns or observations to the mix.
His most recent link is to a story from Columbus, Ohio, where the system has opened separate all-girls and all-boys middle schools.
Mr. Whitmire's reaction to this news is important for proponents of single-sex education: "I just wish I had a better gut instinct about how all these experiments will turn out. I still can't understand how the U.S. Department of Education can just sit on the sidelines watching all this unfold without stepping in to offer guidance." He has another similar reaction here.
Our media and society will likely attempt to judge "single-sex education" based on how well the students in these experiments -- experiments that might well be based on little preparation or research and on limited experience with single-sex classrooms.
These schools are not fly-by-night operations based on the way the wind blows. They are places that believe, and have believed for a long time, that single-sex classrooms and environments can make for a more powerful learning experience.
That would be like judging the effectiveness of manned flight on whether or not my buddies and I can build an airplane. An all-boys learning environment isn't a chia pet. It's not Cup-O-Noodles that requires just water and a microwave.
Most of this country's successful single-sex institutions have been around for decades, many for a century or more. These schools are not fly-by-night operations based on the way the wind blows. They are places that believe, and have believed for a long time, that single-sex classrooms and environments can make for a more powerful learning experience.
At McCallie, we don't believe single-sex schools are a guaranteed success merely for being single-sex. We believe we have crafted a school and a community that understands boys, how and why they learn, how and why they don't, and how to best reach them where they are. We have 105 years of experience in doing so. It has been our focus and our mission since Day One.
I suspect other successful all-boys (or all-girls) schools feel very similar, that judging our history of success based on this current round of public school experiments -- regardless of their success or failure -- would be shortsighted and foolish.