Single-gender schools have always existed in private education settings, but many public school districts are creating single-gender buildings or classrooms to allow fewer distractions and teaching targeted specifically for girls or boys.
Advocates for single-gender schools point to test scores which show that girls don’t do as well in science and math as boys, but surpass the boys in writing and reading. Separating the boys and girls allows this gender gap to narrow, recent studies show, with both sexes doing better in these areas. Other supporters point to single-gender classes as an effective tool in handling discipline problems. The difference in learning styles of boys and girls can also be addressed by teaching each group in a way designed specifically for each, many believe.
What does research show?
As early as 1990, a report was issued by the American Association of University Women entitled “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America,” which addressed the negative effects of the co-ed public school system on girls’ self-esteem and their ability to succeed in science and math. Cambridge University researchers released a study in June 2005 which reported single-sex classes allowed boys to improve in English and foreign language classes and girls to do better in science and math. The development rate of boys and girls is different, some studies show, and a report in “The New York Times” pointed to research that girls and boys need to be taught differently and providing separate schools or classrooms allows this to be done. Federal law was also eased in 2006 to allow single-sex schools and classes if they are voluntary and that classes of “substantially equal” quality are available to the excluded sex.
What do the critics say?
The American Civil Liberties Union opposes single-gender schools on the basis that this type of public education “perpetuates antiquated gender stereotypes.” Instead of improving education for both boys and girls, the ACLU states that creating different classes for boys and girls deprives students of both sexes of “important preparation for the real, coeducational worlds of work and family.” Margaret Talbot in an article in “The New Yorker” magazine titled “The Case Against Single-Sex Classrooms,” concludes “The presumptions behind it are fusty and often plain silly – which might make them easy for kids who don’t conform to them to dismiss, except that their teachers and principals are repeating them so earnestly.” Diane Halpern, a research psychologist at Claremont McKenna College, goes even further to say “there is no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves students’ academic performance.”
Does it work?
Some schools do report success with single-gender schools. The Brighter Choice Charter School for Boys, and the school by the same name for girls in Albany, New York, have test scores to show that the students in each school performed better than the students in Abany’s co-educational schools. Taylors Elementary School in Greenville, South Carolina, first offered a single-gender option to students in grades three to five, but following positive parent feedback and dedicated teacher commitment to the program, the program was expanded to grades one through five, with a waiting list for entry to this single-gender school program.
The number of single-gender schools and classes is on the rise as both school administrators and parents search for the best educational programs to offer their children. The future of single-gender public education will be determined by the success of those girls and boys participating in it.