All-boys and all-girls education may get a push from the Florida Legislature.
A bill filed by Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, would establish a statewide pilot project, allowing up to five large Florida school districts to designate an elementary school as a single-gender school in its core classes. The academic outcomes would then be tracked to see if the concept is worth expanding statewide.
“This is to incentivize some of the districts to create another choice option for parents,’’ Diaz said.
House Bill 313 would help districts by giving them more support and flexibility to be innovative, said Diaz, a public school administrator. Districts would apply to receive extra dollars to train teachers, organize schedules and offer specialized instruction. They also could move attendance boundaries for each gender-specific school to draw students from the whole district like a magnet school.
School districts across the country are experimenting with single-gender classrooms. The idea, borrowed from parochial and private schools, is some boys and girls learn better among same-sex peers. There’s plenty of research that supports that thought, and plenty of critics, including the ACLU, who believe the structure does more harm than good.
Florida has 33 schools in 16 districts that offer single-gender courses, and five single-gender schools in three districts. There are also nine single-gender charter schools statewide.
Under the bill, each school would have at least 350 boys and girls sharing the same lunch periods and recess. They also would share some classes, such as foreign languages, that only have one teacher at the school. But for core subjects like English and math, boys and girls would have separate classrooms.
The schools would open in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. Enrollment would be open to any student in the district where the school is located. Parents in the school zone could opt out of the choice and attend another school, Diaz said.
The bill also calls for the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) to compile a report comparing student academic performance in the gender-specific schools with students in traditional district schools. The findings would go to the Florida Senate president and Speaker of the House by December 31, 2016.
“If the data comes back that it doesn’t work then we will know,’’ Diaz said.
Note: This story was updated to include the most recent number of single-gender courses and schools in 2011-12, provided by the Department of Education.