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Case in Point: Latina Students in Single Gender Classes

By — Gender Differences Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

Over the last two decades, there has been a great deal of interest in gender differences in academic achievement and overall school success among boys and girls. Recently, however, the focus has shifted to distinctions between groups of girls or “intra-gender differences” [1]. Of all the groups of school-aged girls, Latina students have the lowest self esteem and self-perception scores for any group of girls including African American, Asian, and White girls [2]. In addition, Latinas have lower graduation rates than girls from other racial or ethnic groups and higher pregnancy rates than White and African American girls  [2, 3]. These alarming rates point to a serious problem that requires a high impact solution.

One potential solution is the implementation of single gender classrooms designed to meet the unique developmental and academic needs of girls and boys. To better understand how single-gender classrooms may benefit Latina students, I surveyed and interviewed Latinas who were attending single gender and coeducational classes in a public coeducational high school. The high school is located in an urban center in northern California and had recently implemented single gender classrooms for male and female students deemed at risk for school failure.

Academic and Behavioral Outcomes

The results of the research provided compelling evidence that Latina students thrived in the single gender environment. The Latina students communicated the following benefits:

  • The students indicated that the single gender classroom provided greater comfort levels and less distractions compared to their peers in the coeducational classroom. As one Latina student in the single gender class commented, “It’s comfortable to be in here. You get a lot of help in here; you just feel good being here.”
Students in the coed class, on the other hand, expressed feeling tense and guarded. It seemed that the coed classroom students experienced the environment in terms of “us and them;” the girls felt they had to defend themselves against the boys’ behaviors. As one Latina student reported, “They (the boys) feel overpowering. They feel that they have power over us because they are boys and there are more of them.”
  • Girls in the single-gender reported less distractibility and less frustration surrounding teasing from boys. It is interesting to note that girls were not distracted by the presence of boys in the classroom; rather the boys’ behaviors towards them created a struggle for the girls to remain focused. The following excerpt highlights this point.

Researcher: What kinds of things would boys do that were distracting?

Latina Single-Gender Class Student: They’ll talk about us, pass notes, sometimes make you feel uncomfortable, say little stupid slurs, sexual, or something negative, or put you down saying you’re dumb….... I just felt I should keep quiet, just so nobody would pass judgment on me. But in here we’re all the same sex, we all understand what we’re going through. I can express my feelings, nobody’s shy, everybody’s friends, so I like it, it’s better.

The girls in the coed class had a similar experience as reflected in one Latina student’s comments, “They (the boys) are always talking across (the room). They just talk because they have a mouth, but when you tell them [to] be quiet, they won’t. They’ll just get louder and louder.”
  • Latina students in the single sex classroom demonstrated higher school attendance rates and higher grade point averages than their peers in the coeducational classroom. Sadly, within six months of the completion of the study, the two Latina students attending the coeducational program had left school. The Latina students in the single-gender special education classroom to date have remained in school or graduated.

Conclusion

This research suggests that single-gender programs may have advantages for Latina girls. Further research, with larger sample sizes, is clearly warranted. In order to provide positive educational outcomes for Latina girls and their families, we must continue to document and advocate for solutions that work.  

References
  1. Madigan, J. C. (2003). Single gender and coeducational special education classrooms: Latina student attitudes, perceptions, and experiences. Multiple Voices, (6)1, 13-26.
  2. American Association of University Women (1998). Gender gaps: Where schools still fail our children. New York: Marlowe & Co.
  3. Ginorio, A., & Huston, M. (2001). Si, se puede! Yes, we can: Latinas in school.  Washington DC: American Association of University Women.
 
About the Author. Dr. Jennifer C. Madigan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education at San Jose State University. Her research interests include gender issues in special education, with an emphasis on female students with mild to moderate disabilities, and single-gender public schooling. Address correspondence to the author at San Jose State University, Department of Special Education, One Washington Square, San Jose, CA 95192-0078, USA; e-mail Jennifer.Madigan@sjsu.edu.
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