Public Meeting on Single-Sex Middle Schools
The Austin school district wants to make a major change to a couple of low performing middle schools in northeast Austin for the 2013-14 school year. District officials are opening the debate up to the public tomorrow.
Pearce and Garcia Middle Schools are in neighborhoods where forty percent of households earn less than $30,000 a year. Both schools have been ranked academically unacceptable by the state multiple times, including both of them last school year.
“We know we have to do something at Pearce and Garcia. What we’ve done in the past has had mixed results at the schools and so we know we need a difference approach,” says Paul Cruz, chief schools officer for Austin ISD. The different approach they’re proposing this time is to combine the attendance zones of both middle schools, and then send all the girls to one campus and all the boys to the other.
“We’ve looked at the research around single gender education and what we’ve seen is very encouraging,” says Cruz. “We also have a very successful single-gender school, the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, and that school has been recognized and exemplary since the opening of the campus.”
The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders is often hailed as a success story. But its student population is self-selected. Parents have to choose to enter the lottery to get in.
The proposed single-sex schools would automatically enroll students who live in the existing attendance zones. While there is research supporting the effectiveness of single-sex schools, a prominent University of Texas study published last year said it was a myth that segregating boys and girls leads to a better education.
Nevertheless, the $11 million proposal would represent a significant investment in that part of town. Cheryl Bradley is the school board trustee that represents the area. She has voiced support for single-sex schools, saying they do particularly well in helping minority students.
But other school board members are still unconvinced. Trustee Robert Schneider says AISD just implemented a pre-college prep program at Pearce last school year.
“It’s a long term problem that the district has in that we don’t stick with whatever we’re doing. I mean, the one thing I think will really work and really help in Austin is community based efforts to get a school improved. And here we go again, yanking it out from under them and we’re going to put something else in just to see if it works,” says Schneider.
But the Austin school district hopes it can get the community more involved tomorrow. It’s hosting a public meeting on the proposal at LBJ High School. That starts tomorrow morning at 10.