The Wisconsin State Journal reports Sunday on Marshall Middle School in Janesville, which has taken a portion of their classes and separated the students out by sex.  According to the article, Marshall is one of six public schools in Wisconsin that have begun to sort students by gender.

While same-sex classes aren’t necessarily a new idea (in the old days, “same sex” education meant “girls don’t get to learn to read”), this would indicate that more and more schools are actually getting serious about their students’ education.  While same sex education might not be a panacea (studies on the efficacy of such programs in Wisconsin haven’t been completed), enough anecdotal evidence exists to make the program worth continuing.  From the article:

Jennifer Williams is one of the eighth-grade teachers whose interest in single-gender classes sparked the experiment at Marshall. She ‘s pleased by the changes she sees in classes and said bluntly, “I wouldn ‘t go back to coed. ”

William ‘s (sic) last-period science class is 28 girls who were also not shy about offering their take on being on the single-gender team. The majority of their comments were positive, especially when it came to academics.

“If you ‘re in a boys and girls class if you want to say an answer, they might make fun of you, ” said Evita Deupree.

“I think it ‘s easier to work because you aren ‘t distracted, ” added Chelsie Hardenstine. “I pay more attention than I did last year. “

Naturally, among the boys, opinions are mixed:

“They ‘ll make fun of me for being in here or call it the gay team, ‘ ” said Tyler Kraus. But he liked that class “is more laid back, you can express yourself ” and guessed it ‘s “probably helped my grades a little. ” Vaughn Garza agreed that “it is more academic because when you have girls around you tend to show off. ” But Thomas Murphy preferred a co-ed class, saying it hadn ‘t helped him: “I like the other way better.”

Somewhere, noted “girl enthusiast” Thomas Murphy’s parents are cringing.  Note to the Murphys – it’s time to have “the talk” about where babies come from with little Thomas.

Of course, single sex classes are opposed by the ACLU, who view such arrangements as tantamount to “separate but equal” segregation-era classrooms.  From an AP article in 2007:

“Too many schools feel they can carry out a social experiment with students’ education with really the flimsiest of theories,” said Emily Martin, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project.

Single-sex schools are an “illusionary silver bullet,” said Lisa Maatz, director of public policy and government relations for the American Association of University Women. They distract from real problems and do not offer proven solutions such as lower class sizes and sufficient funding, she said.

In November of 2006, the U.S. Department of Education made a change to allow such classes to exist:

Previously, single-sex classes had been allowed in only limited cases, such as gym classes and sex education classes. But the new rules allow same-sex education any time schools think it will improve achievement, expand the diversity of courses or meet students’ individual needs.  Enrollment must be voluntary and any children excluded from the class must get a “substantially equal” coed class in the same subject, if not a separate single-sex class.

Furthermore, in 2005, State Representative Scott Jensen introduced a bill allowing single-sex public and charter schools in Wisconsin.  The bill was signed into law by Governor Doyle in April of 2006.

As a result, look for more public schools in Wisconsin to make the move toward single gender classrooms – something private school parents have know benefited their children for decades.