Because boys underperformed girls by a significant margin
at Wamsley, Principal Bierbaum decided to target her school’s
improvement efforts at achieving gender equality. The school
staff acknowledged that it had a better understanding of how
to teach girls than boys, but it resolved that any professional
development approach the school implemented to give boys
more opportunity must also be girl-friendly. Wamsley applied
for and received a grant to provide whole-school online
classes and strategies-oriented summer institute training for
Wamsley’s teachers, along with on-site professional development and coaching on the different learning needs of boys
and girls. By the end of the first year of the initiative, student
performance jumped markedly, and the school was taken off
the AYP watch list. Wamsley became a national success story.
A year earlier, the Atlanta Public Schools in Georgia had
embarked on a similar effort. In 2006, many Atlanta schools
were not meeting AYP, and previous school reform initiatives had failed. When the district staff disaggregated data
for gender, they noticed that gender gaps reflecting lower
achievement for boys were present across all subgroups and
were largest for boys of color and those living in poverty.
In fall 2007, the school district launched two single-sex
middle school academies—the Business Engineering Science
Technology Academy for Boys (the B.E.S. T. Academy), and
the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy.
We became involved at that point. Faculty and staff at the
pilot schools received professional development (including
coaching, online courses, on-site training, and summer institutes) on how boys and girls learn differently and how to strategically implement gender-friendly teaching strategies into all
aspects of the school, from teaching to counseling services to
© SUSIE FITZHUGH
Like Wamsley, these schools are now success stories.
Within two years, both made AYP. Grades and test scores
improved, student attendance increased, discipline referrals
decreased, and teachers felt more effective. The district is
moving forward with plans to expand their two single-sex
middle schools through grade 12.
Looking Through the Gender Lens
In the last two decades, we have supported efforts to close
opportunity gaps in more than 2,000 schools across the
United States. When educators look closely at test scores,
grades, discipline referrals, homework completion rates,
special education placements, and student motivation, they
consistently realize how gender-related issues intersect and
interfere with their ability to achieve school improvement
goals. They notice the following areas of difficulty for girls:
n Lower learning and engagement in science and tech-
n Relational aggression in school and in cyberspace.