Same-sex Smith academy offers a choice to parents.
The point of Indiana’s great charter schools experiment is just that – experimentation. Though they are public schools, charters don’t have to follow all the usual rules and regulations imposed on the rest of those institutions. That leaves them freer to innovate and explore different and possibly better ways to educate.
Sometimes the innovations are subtle enough to not be immediately obvious, involving subject matter or teaching techniques. Sometimes they’re a little more obvious, such as the unique scheduling at Imagine on Broadway, this area’s only year-round school.
Then there is SAFE, the Smith Academy for Excellence, opening its doors for the first time Aug. 13 with 68 students in grades 6 through 9, all boys. That is absolutely, positively something you would never see in a regular public school. There, “diversity” rules, which means each school must strive to have exactly the same proportion of students of various backgrounds as the proportion of residents in the district. In the name of diversity, in other words, every school must look the same.
Charters are allowed to try real diversity, offering choices to parents who think something out of the ordinary might better suit their children’s needs. Same-sex schools represent an option growing in popularity.
The idea behind the experiment is that, separated from the co-ed environment, students will be less distracted, therefore better able to concentrate, and that instructors can employ teaching techniques not possible in mixed company. In theory, a better learning environment will be created, and students will then improve on everything from grades to test stores.
The evidence on same-sex schools in mixed but encouraging. A 2002 study of nearly 3,000 high schools throughout England, with results duplicated in other studies, found that even after controlling for students’ academic ability and other background factors, both boys and girls did significantly better in single-sex schools. Furthermore, discipline problems were reduced, and students were more likely to become well-rounded, taking non-traditional courses that go against gender stereotypes.
Of course, whatever the benefits of same-sex education are, they won’t come about just by opening the school’s doors and teaching the same old classes in the same old way. SAFE founder Thomas Smith, who will lead the school with his two teacher sons, has the burden of planning his curriculum and approach carefully.
It is the nature of experiments that some will fail. And when they fail, those overseeing the experimentation have the obligation of saying so, pulling the plug and trying something new. That is the part of Indiana’s charter experiment we don’t know will be adequately addressed yet.