Single-sex education: the pros and cons
Should boys and girls be taught separately? Does single-sex education boost academic success? Read the arguments for and against.
Tips for Parents Considering Single-Sex Education
Ultimately, it's up to you to decide whether or not single-sex education (public or private) is the best approach for your child. Following are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- If you're considering single-sex education, be sure you understand all aspects of your child's learning profile - including his temperament, strengths, interests and challenges. Also take into account your family's priorities, traditions and cultural values which may shape the goals you have for your child's education. More >
By Kristin Stanberry
Single-sex education (teaching boys and girls in separate classrooms or schools) is an old approach that's gaining new momentum. While single-sex education has long existed in many private schools, it's a relatively new option for public schools. The National Association for Single-Sex Public Education estimates that approximately 400 public schools now offer some form of single-sex education. What is fueling this movement? And what are the risks and benefits of single-sex education?
A driving force in the single-sex education movement is recent research showing natural differences in how males and females learn. Putting this research into practice, however, has triggered a debate that extends beyond pure academics. Political, civil rights, socioeconomic and legal concerns also come into play. As the debate heats up, it helps to understand all sides of the issue.
Nature vs. nurture
Before weighing the pros and cons of single-sex education, consider the influences of "nature versus nurture." Many factors affect each child's learning profile and preferences:
- Some factors relate to the child's nature, such as gender, temperament, abilities (and disabilities), and intelligence.
- Other influences stem from the way parents and society nurture the child: Family upbringing, socioeconomic status, culture and stereotypes all fall under the "nurture" category.
According to Leonard Sax, founder of the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education, "...whenever girls and boys are together, their behavior inevitably reflects the larger society in which they live." Depending on one's point of view, this statement can trigger arguments both for and against single-sex education.
Making the case for single-sex education
Those who advocate for single-sex education in public schools argue that:
- Some parents don't want their children to be in mixed-gender classrooms because, especially at certain ages, students of the opposite sex can be a distraction.
- Leonard Sax and others agree that merely placing boys in separate classrooms from girls accomplishes little. But single-sex education enhances student success when teachers use techniques geared toward the gender of their students.
- Some research indicates that girls learn better when classroom temperature is warm, while boys perform better in cooler classrooms. If that's true, then the temperature in a single-sex classroom could be set to optimize the learning of either male or female students.
- Some research and reports from educators suggest that single-sex education can broaden the educational prospects for both girls and boys. Advocates claim co-ed schools tend to reinforce gender stereotypes, while single-sex schools can break down gender stereotypes. For example, girls are free of the pressure to compete with boys in male-dominated subjects such as math and science. Boys, on the other hand, can more easily pursue traditionally "feminine" interests such as music and poetry. One mother, whose daughter has attended a girls-only school for three years, shares her experience on the GreatSchools parent community: "I feel that the single gender environment has given her a level of confidence and informed interest in math and science that she may not have had otherwise."
- Federal law supports the option of single-sex education. In 2006, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings eased federal regulations, allowing schools to offer single-sex classrooms and schools, as long as such options are completely voluntary. This move gives parents and school districts greater flexibility.