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Austin ISD To Hold Public Meeting On Single-Sex Schools

Pearce Middle School could become one of two single-sex schools under a plan Austin school district officials will discuss with public tomorrow at LBJ High School
Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News
Pearce Middle School could become one of two single-sex schools under a plan Austin school district officials will discuss with public tomorrow at LBJ High School

The Austin school district is considering an $11 million plan to open two single-sex middle schools at Pearce and Garcia Middle Schools, and on Saturday morning, district officials will be available at LBJ High School to explain their proposal.

A presentation to the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees last week revealed some of the details, which are still open to change. Basically, the middle school attendance zones would be combined. Girls would go to one location. Boys would go to the other.

Students who don’t want to attend either school would be free to go to mixed gender schools, although for many families that could mean a much longer commute to the campus.

Both Pearce and Garcia Middle Schools were rated by the state as “academically unacceptable” last school year because of low performance on standardized tests. African American students at Garcia failed to make required improvements on science, math and reading tests. At Pearce, almost all student groups struggled in science and math.

Austin ISD claims on its website that a single-sex school “increases student outcomes, graduation rates, and college readiness,” and it points to its all-girls Ann Richards School For Young Women Leaders as an example.

On the most recently administered state (TAKS) assessment, students from Ann Richards scored at the 99th percentile in reading, writing, social studies, and math, and at the 98th percentile in science.

But children have to have a combination of luck and decent academic performance to get into Ann Richards. Students must produce “a student letter, fall semester grades and attendance, previous year’s TAKS scores, and two teacher recommendation forms.” Each item is given four points, and those who have a score of at least 14 may participate in a lottery to gain entrance to Ann Richards.

Students who are willing to go through the process may be more likely to have parents who have taken an active role in their children's education. 

Pearce Middle School has already undergone a massive redesign for this school year, as the Austin Chronicle reports this week.

[T]he Pearce of 2011 is not the Pearce of 2010. The building may look the same, but it has none of the same teachers, almost none of the same staff, and a completely new cadre of students.

In the same article, AISD board president Mark Williams and vice president Vince Torres expressed doubt that the new single-sex schools would be established in time for the next school year. And they are not alone.

"We need to take time and look at it and figure out if it's really a good thing to do," Trustee Robert Schneider said, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Meanwhile, a debate has been raging in the scientific community over whether single-gender schools are as effective as its proponents claim. The journal Science published a study this fall by University of Texas researchers who argued that “sex-segregated education—is deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.” Two of the authors also wrote against single-sex schools on

AISD responded with an article on its website, arguing that “contrary to recent news stories and research that suggests that single-sex education is ineffective, Austin’s Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders is a successful model.”

AISD’s meeting on single-sex schools takes place Saturday, November 19 at the LBJ High School cafeteria from 10 a.m. to noon. 

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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