Singular way to bridge gap

New boys-only school aims to raise standards among deprived pupils, reports Stephen Phillips


Chicago education chiefs are reverting to old-fashioned methods to tackle modern educational ills, such as the achievement gap between ethnic-minority and white pupils, and have announced plans for the city's first single-sex school aimed specifically at inner-city black boys.

The 600-student secondary school, Urban prep charter academy for young men, will open in August 2006.

It is one of a number of educational initiatives that the city is introducing under a five-year plan to build 100 new inner-city schools.

Officials hope the scheme, run jointly with community partners, will boost achievement among underprivileged youngsters who have previously failed to shine in comprehensive schools.

In Chicago, black boys are the lowest-achieving student group, said Tim King, president of Urban prep.

"The school won't have race-based admissions, but our expectation - given its location - is that students will be primarily, if not entirely, African-American. So we've devised a curriculum and pedagogy that takes their needs into consideration," he said.

This will include an emphasis on reading and writing, with the aim of sending every student to college, said Mr King.

From 1991 to 2004, just 39 per cent of Chicago's black boys completed their schooling, compared with 58 per cent of white boys and 71 per cent and 85 per cent of white and Asian girls, respectively, according to the consortium on Chicago school research.

Impetus for Urban prep came in part from community support, said Hosanna Mahaley Johnson, Chicago public schools chief of staff.

"They loved the model and recognised that something needed to be done to help African American males," she said.

"It's not uncommon for wealthy children to attend elite, single-sex schools. We believe the option should be available to everyone."

America now has at least 193 single-sex state schools, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.

Single-sex schooling can help reduce gender polarisation, said Rosemary Salomone, law professor at St John's university and author of Same, Different, Equal: Rethinking Single-Sex Schooling.

"Traditionally, girls take languages, while boys do better in maths and science. There's some evidence that single-sex schooling avoids this - that boys feel more comfortable in that environment taking arts subjects, and girls likewise with maths and science."

* An American teacher landed himself in hot water after using a comprehension test to take jabs at US president George Bush. Pupils at Vermont's Mount Anthony Union high school were asked to pick the correct word from the two within brackets.

"I wish Bush would be (coherent, eschewed) for once during a speech, but there are theories that his everyday diction charms the below-average mind, hence ensuring him Republican votes," read one of Bret Chenkin's questions.

Another ran: "The governor (of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger) should have been (excoriated, coherent) for calling Democrats 'girlie-men' but instead was invited to speak at the Republican convention; it only goes to show what kind of people they are."

Mr Chenkin said the quiz was meant in jest, but his superiors were not amused after it was leaked to the US press last month.

"To denigrate the president is contrary to what we're trying to teach kids about respect for others' opinions," said Wesley Knap, superintendent of Southwestern Vermont supervisory union school district.

Mr Knapp declined to say if Mr Chenkin would be disciplined, but said he would keep his job. "Anyone can use poor judgement."

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