In looking at ways to reform public education, a few districts have tried programs which separate the boys and girls in different classes or even into different schools. Now the federal Department of Education has written new regulations to make setting up single-sex schools easier. The new rules would allow single-sex classes if "they are part of an evenhanded effort to provide a range of diverse educational options for male and female students or if they are designed to meet particular, identified educational needs."

I’m not sure about this idea but it’s an option that may be worth trying. I’ve read that the few schools that have separated the boys from the girls have been successful in raising test scores, although I’ve never read any long term studies of how these programs affect learning overall. I think the best place to try separating boys from girls is in middle school. At that level the kids are distracted by practically everything but especially each other. It could help teachers get the kids to focus a little more energy on their learning.

Speaking of middle school, New York City is going to eliminate them all together. The plan is to create a combination of "old-fashioned" K-8 grammar school and some 6-12 high schools. K-8? Maybe. 6-12? I shudder at the thought! The biggest problem with middle schools, however, is that very few systems have actually used the concept as it was originally written. The idea was to provide a true transition between the single-class "family" environment of the elementary school to the more structured and independent environment of the high school.

A true middle school in my mind is grades 6 through 9 with the kids organized into learning groups where a team of teachers work with them on the "core" subjects. The first couple of years is similar to elementary school in that the kids stay in one room most of the day and the teachers move around to teach lessons in their specialty. As the kids move into the upper grades of the school they begin to break out into separate classes for specific subjects as they will in high school. It’s not an easy structure to build and administer, which is probably one reason it isn’t often done.

The interesting thing about both these ideas is that neither is really new. As recently as the 1940’s girls were often separated from boys in classes and a K-8 elementary school was the norm in many places until after World War II. I guess Barenaked Ladies are right: everything old really is new again.