Editor's Note: In part three of American Morning's special series, "Inside the Child's Mind," Kiran Chetry reports on how gender affects children when it comes to learning.
By Kiran Chetry, CNN
We know boys and girls develop at different stages as they grow, but there is growing research showing how boys and girls are wired differently when it comes to learning.
I visited one school where teachers are putting that to the test with single gender classrooms. It has its critics, but the school says test scores have shown improvement.
Faced with a gender gap in test scores, Woodbridge Middle School in Virginia formed single gender classrooms – testing the growing school of thought that boys and girls are hard wired to learn differently.
Dr. Leonard Sax, author of "Why Gender Matters," says the solution is to split them up.
“The best way for the boys is not the best way for the girls. The best way for the girls is not the best way for the boys,” says Sax. “The brain research is showing us quite clearly that the brains of girls and boys develop along different trajectories.”
Sax says math skills develop earlier in boys and language skills faster in girls.
“The surprising finding is that the coed classroom ends up disadvantaging both girls and boys, ends up reinforcing gender stereotypes. The girls end up thinking that abstract number theory is for boys, the boys end up thinking creative writing is for girls.”
On national 8th grade reading tests, boys fall short – with ten percent fewer boys than girls achieving a basic reading level. Proponents of single sex education say boys learn best with competition and movement.
“The boys in general, if they're in their desks and seated and expected to sit and do their work there, they're more apt to become unfocused, be disturbed by others, start the tapping, start making the noise,” says teacher Meagan Kennedy.
Kennedy says since the program began three years ago, reading scores in the all-boy classrooms are up and discipline problems are down.
In Kristen Williams' all-girl math class, warm lamp light and desks grouped together reflect the thinking that girls learn best working in a cooperative environment. Williams says she's seen dramatic improvements, particularly among girls that struggled in coed math classes.
“Give them a lot of social time, a lot of time and opportunity to be verbal, to work in partners, to work in groups. … I think they have a better understanding of the subject matter because of the way that they've been instructed."
Even with some signs of success, single sex education has its critics. Professor David Sadker, who's written extensively about gender bias in schools, says rather than separating students by gender, schools should work to make coed classrooms better.
“If you assume that boys behave one way and you teach to that stereotype, and you assume that girls learn another way, and you teach to that stereotype, what you're doing is limiting the option of kids. You're reinforcing stereotypes. … Creating single sex schools to improve test grades is a cheap solution to a much deeper problem,” he says.
But for Darah Rawls, the all-boy class was the answer to his problems. After getting Cs and Ds through grade school – and struggling emotionally – Darah's mom Ashanti DeVaughn moved the family to Woodbridge just so Darah could attend the single gender program there.
Ashanti says she noticed changes not only in Darah’s grades, but in his personality.
“Just even the way that he dresses, his behavior, he just walks with a different stature. He's mature because he's around other boys. … I think that's pushing him to be the best, to be better.”
Darah now gets As and Bs, and dreams of becoming an Air Force pilot.
“It makes me feel really good about myself and everything,” he says.