Michigan school district ends single-gender classrooms

LANSING, MICH. - Two years after implementing separate core subject classrooms for boys and girls at Lansing’s Willow Elementary, the district’s Board of Education voted Thursday night to suspend the practice.

The decision comes one year after the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into whether the use of single-gender classrooms by the district complied with Title IX, the federal law barring discrimination based on sex.

The district fell afoul of federal officials because it didn’t seek their approval prior to implementing the plan, according to Lansing Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul. Doing so would have required the district to explain its goal of closing an achievement gap between male and female students and backing it up with data.

“It was really a technical problem,” Caamal Canul said. “We sat down with federal officials and they gave us two options: either we could go back to a full co-ed building or they could do a full investigation.”

The district and the board opted to go back to co-ed core subject classes rather than go through a full investigation. Single-gender classrooms also fell short of the district’s expectations in terms of student learning.

“We were not seeing single-gender classrooms making enough of a difference,” Caamal Canul added.

Fewer third-grade boys and girls at Willow scored proficient on the math and English portions of the M-Step last year compared to the 2014-15 school year, according to state data.

Intent on narrowing the achievement gap between male and female students, officials introduced separate core classrooms at Willow in the fall of 2015. Single-sex classrooms were introduced one year after Willow was placed on the Priority Schools list, designating it among the lowest performing schools in the state.

Willow is one of seven Lansing schools currently on the list, including Attwood and Cavanaugh schools, Gardner Academy, Sexton High School, North School and the Woodcreek Achievement Center. Five Lansing schools were released from the state's priority list earlier this year: Eastern, Everett, Averill, Reo and Riddle.

Board of Education President Rachel Lewis praised the district after Thursday's meeting for its willingness to try new strategies.

"I'm glad as a district we are trying to think outside the box in terms of student achievement," Lewis said.

Federal officials did not respond to questions from the State Journal in time for publication.

Caamal Canul said the district will continue to work toward improving student achievement at Willow in the upcoming year, including through professional development with teachers on the different needs of male and female elementary school students.

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Contact RJ Wolcott at (517) 377-1026 or rwolcott@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter @wolcottr.

© 2017 Lansing State Journal


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