Tipping Point: Same-sex schools in the Chicago area - Fox 2 News Headlines

Tipping Point: Same-sex schools in the Chicago area

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

No doubt that failing schools have Chicago at the tipping point, and lots of strategies have been tried to turn things around.

Thursday, Robin Robinson looks at one model so controversial, that the school that uses it is the only one of its kind in the city.

This is not a new school; it opened on Chicago's South Side 14 years ago in the basement of IIT. It has moved to a bigger space, but still has to turn away hundreds of students every year.

And boys, need not apply.

The twittering of all-female voices fills the hallways at Young Women's Leadership Academy.

It's filled with students who might not have chosen this for themselves.

Yet, these young ladies say they've been pleasantly surprised at the Young Women's Leadership Academy Charter School, CPS's only all-girl campus.

"You wouldn't expect to be so close with girls because girls always feel like they have to be in competition with one another. It's like, no not here, we're close, like we're sisters, it's fun here," Senior Amaree Gibson said.

Junior Kaylin Cusic felt the same. "This environment is less distracting and I need to be focused on school work, not boys, I am trying to prepare myself to go to college."

"We love the idea that in this setting, the top mathematician is always a girl, the top computer whiz is always a girl," Director Deniece Fields said.

School director Deniece Fields believes the single sex education model really works in urban schools.

As a stem school, the focus is on science, technology, engineering and math, what is sometimes thought of as a man's world.

"In most co-ed models, mostly boys are the ones who are dominating the classroom, dominating the conversations, wanting the attention by raising their hands," Fields said.

Once unheard of outside private or church affiliated schools, single sex public education has grown since federal rules were relaxed in 2006.

In the mid 90's there were only two single-sex public schools nationwide. Now, there are more than 500 public schools in the U.S. currently offering a least some girls-only or boys-only academics.

Chicago's Urban Prep, another charter school, is among the most famous.

The all-boys success story now has three campuses in the city.

There has even been talk of replicating the Young Women's Leadership Academy as well. The students they chose to speak with FOX 32 certainly made a good case for it.

Grand ideas are more likely, school leaders say, without the pressure of trying to impress the boy next door.

Test scores are not so impressive. It's a level two school. The ACT's do need improvement, but standardized testing doesn't measure everything at a "leadership" school.

"Where some people can come in and say I moved from a 26 ACT to a 30 ACT, that's great, but when they can come into me and say Miss Fields I found this on the floor, its not mine someone may be looking for it, that's big, that's character.

Nurturing that character and leadership in young women is at the core of the school's mission, but some critics say it's not necessary to separate girls from boys in order to accomplish that ..

Professor Lise Eliot, author of "Pink Brain, Blue Brain" is one of those critics. She said the rush to same sex schooling was based on myths and not solid science.

Dr. Eliot said her research shows fewer differences in the brains of boys and girls than generally thought.

She also said the strategies and environments that create successful single-sex schools can be applied to co-ed schools with the same results.

When asked if there is any harm in separating boys and girls for education, Dr. Eliot said the two genders will have to run companies together, raise families together and work together in real life for the rest of their lives, so they should start learning to do that from an early age.

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