Wealthy families have always had the option of sending their children to all-male or all-female schools, but parents of modest means have rarely had that choice. That changed in 2001, when four female senators sponsored legislation that sanctioned single-sex classes and academies in public schools. Today, there are more than 500 public schools that offer single-sex classes and 116 public all-girl or all-boy academies. Many are in struggling urban neighborhoods and many have proven to be hugely successful.
The Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School in Dallas opened in 2004 and enrolls 473 girls in grades six through 12. More than 70 percent of the students are from economically disadvantaged homes and more than 90 percent are minorities. Its success has been dazzling. In less than a decade, the school has won multiple academic achievement awards and, according to U.S. News & World Report, is one of the top public schools in Texas.
In 2011, Dallas opened a comparable public school for young men: the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy. Before opening its doors, the principal, Nakia Douglas, spent a year visiting schools throughout the United States—including many boys’ schools—to determine best practices for educating young men. More than half the teachers at BOMLA are male and there is massive focus on areas where many boys need extra help: organizational skills, time management, self-control, perseverance, and above all, academic achievement. Wearing ties and blazers, the students are instructed in the art of becoming young gentlemen. The principal’s research taught him that boys will go to astonishing lengths to defend their team. So (inspired in part by his reading of Harry Potter), he divided the academy into four houses—Expedition, Justice, Decree, and Alliance—which compete against one another for points earned through good grades, community service, reading books, and athletics. Douglas and his colleagues have created a school where young men can’t help but flourish. There is now a long waiting list for entry into this academy.