Single-Sex Schooling Success

Nov 12, 2017 by

Single-Sex Success at Ron Brown Prep

Boy Issues Raised

What we know is that single sex schooling benefits the students, no matter the gender. Frequently correlated with increasing student success and improving the schooling experiences for boys and girls, single-sex schooling has gained renewed attention among researchers, media, politicians and parents.

“Disproportionate rates of graduation, suspension, attendance, student satisfaction, and performance on college readiness exams all point to the need for a renewed focus on Black and Latino males. To meet this need, RBHS will provide a different academic environment and culture that is developed with young men as the primary focus.” Overview, Ron Brown High School.

This message on the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School (RBHS) website sums up the situation in Washington, D.C. and nationwide quite succinctly.  Academically, boys are not keeping pace with girls and the problem is especially pronounced among young men of color.  Boys are more likely to be suspended than girls and no group is more likely to be suspended from school than African-American males.  A recent trend toward criminalization of behaviors once considered school discipline issues has raised the stakes and left many young male students facing jail time instead of post-secondary education and career options.

Towards A Vision of Success

Ron Brown Prep began with an idea towards excellence in instructional practices for African-American males with the freshman class of about 100 young men in 2016.  About 90 of those freshman completed that first year and are on their way to earn the first diplomas from the school upon graduation in 2020. The first year was not easy for the students or faculty, but they have effectively established a school culture based on three “pillars” of character, scholarship and service.  The school emphasizes character by preparing “young men to be compassionate, honest, disciplined, respectful, and courageous men.”  Scholarship is fostered through “a community of academically curious young men who develop grit, perseverance towards academic challenges and who grow into lifelong learners.”  Students are expected to be “tireless servants to their community.” These ideals are more than positive words to be included in the yearbook.  They guide the school leadership, instructors and students in their everyday objectives toward work and educational practices.

Making it Happen

Overcoming the reality of a dismal academic performance among young men of color takes more than single-sex schools.  It takes a commitment to success and innovation.  In the 2016-17 school year, four students were suspended at Ron Brown.  That is less than half the suspension rate at other Washington, D.C. schools.  The concept of “restorative justice” is utilized at Ron Brown Prep and has been an important component of their positive school culture.  In the restorative process, students with behavior or academic issues are expected to engage in a discussion with their peers, instructors and school leaders to determine the cause of the issue and how to solve the problem.  Often times, this discussion is held immediately after a disruption and the involved parties will form an actual circle to discuss the matter. Problems are resolved and education continues with minimal interruptions.  At another level, students are learning to resolve conflict and express themselves through appropriate means.

Why it Works

Single-sex instruction is a well proven approach to education.  Data has consistently indicated that students who learn in a single-sex setting are less likely to identify professional and academic pursuits according to gender.  They harbor fewer gender stereotypes and the learning environment is often more organized than coed classrooms. But in the case of Ron Brown Prep and numerous other successful single-sex schools, they are reforming the education process and doing things differently.  Ron Brown does not rely on punitive discipline to improve student behavior.  This and other intentional efforts to tailor the learning environment to a specific audience is enjoying early success. It is important to realize that the success of single-sex schools is often qualified in specific terms and for a limited demographic.  By focusing on the needs of a primarily urban, male and minority student population, Ron Brown engages all students in individualized instruction that is prohibitive in the larger comprehensive schools.

Something More

The success of Ron Brown Prep is the result of years of intentional planning and hard work.  It is much more than a single-sex school, and it is much more than an urban, minority school.  It is succeeding because it has created a positive, secure space for young men to learn and express themselves without overbearing and unbending restrictions.  They succeed when a student develops a plan to arrive on time and follows it.  Nobody succeeds when the habitually tardy student is sent home for the day or week.  They succeed when a fistfight ends with a frank discussion and handshakes, not gunshots and handcuffs.  Ron Brown is succeeding where all too many schools are failing.

Keywords: Single Sex Schooling, High School Retention, African-American Male Achievement, Restorative Justice

Comment Below on whether your school district, even for one hour of the school day, has experimented with single-sex schooling.


Brown, C. E. (2017, September 5). The Soft Bigotry of Boy Expectations. US News. Retrieved from:

District of Columbia Public Schools. (2017). Vision. Ron Brown High School Website. Retrieved from:

Haag, P. (2000, September). Single-Sex Education: What Does the Research Say? Washington, D.C.: Education Clearinghouse. Retrieved from:

Thompson, Terri, and Ungerleider, Charles (2004, November). Single Sex Schooling: Final Report. The Canadian Centre for Knowledge Mobilization, the University of Columbia.  Retrieved from:

Toppo, G. (2017, July 5). All-boys’ high school completes first year; boasts wait list for fall. Retrieved from:

Shapiro, Ari. All Things Considered. (2017, October 18). At Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, Students Are Kings, Not Kids. Washington, D.C.: National Public Radio. Retrieved from:

Wong, K. C., Lam, Y. R., et al. (2002). The effects of schooling on gender differences. British Educational Research Journal, 28(6): 827-843. Retrieved from:

Young, D.J., and Fraser, B. J. (1990). Science achievement of girls in single-sex and coeducational classes. Research in Science and Technological Education, 8(1): 5-19. Retrieved from:

Younger, M. and Warrington, M. (2002). Single-sex teaching in a co-educational  comprehensive school in England: an evaluation based upon students’ performance and classroom interactions. British Educational Research Journal, 28(3): 353-374. Retrieved from:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email