Single-Gender Education: Does it Work?

By University Alliance

Lauren M. Bronson, Elementary School Teacher, Hillsborough County, Florida

There is a long history of single-gender education, in which boys and girls attend specific classes or school as a whole with only members of their same sex. This separation of genders may be done solely for educational purposes or in combination with other factors, such as religion.

Although private schools are more commonly associated with single-gender education, there has been an increase in single-gender offerings in the public school system in recent years.

According to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, only a dozen or so public schools in the United States had single-gender classrooms in 2002. A decade later, more than 500 public schools offered single-gender opportunities.

Despite extensive study, however, there remains much debate over the perceived pros and cons of single-gender, or single-sex, education. The findings of a federal review of single-sex versus coeducational schools were not definitive.

“There is some support for the premise that single-sex schooling can be helpful, especially for certain outcomes related to academic achievement and more positive academic aspirations,” the U.S. Department of Education noted in its 2005 report. “For many outcomes, there is no evidence of either benefit or harm.”

Advantages of Single-Gender Schools

Proponents of single-gender education contend that teachers treat boys and girls differently, which can lead to boys receiving a disproportionate share of attention in coeducational classrooms.

In reviewing research on single-sex education, the National Education Association (NEA) noted that, “Girls who learn in all-girl environments are believed to be more comfortable responding to questions and sharing their opinions in class and more likely to explore more ‘nontraditional’ subjects such as math, science, and technology.”

Additionally, studies suggest that boys in single-gender classrooms “are more successful in school and more likely to pursue a wide range of interests and activities,” according to the NEA.

Among the other potential benefits of single-sex schools typically cited:

  • Girls are more likely to take risks such as speaking in front of the class
  • Girls may exhibit higher levels of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Boys tend to be less competitive and more cooperative and collaborative
  • Boys feel less pressure as they mature and develop physically

Disadvantages of Single-Gender Schools

Arguments against single-gender education often revolve around factors such as stereotyping and diversity. The American Council for CoEducational Schooling (ACCES) contends single-sex schooling is harmful, in part, because it:

  • Promotes gender stereotyping
  • Doesn’t prepare students for work or family life
  • Makes exclusion acceptable
  • Doesn’t value diversity

A September 2011 article in the journal Science contends “there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.”

The article’s authors, who are founders of ACCES, argue that “sex-segregated education … is deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.”

Proponents of coed schools also contend that socialization is a major aspect of schooling and is a missed opportunity for single-gender schools.

An Individual Choice

Even proponents of single-gender education, such as the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, note that simply separating boys and girls doesn’t guarantee academic achievement.

There are multiple pros and cons to consider and, as noted, extensive research and numerous studies have not silenced the debate about single-gender education. “Additional research on the effectiveness of single-gender classrooms is necessary,” the NEA noted in its review.

Ultimately, parents must still make the decision based on what’s best for their child’s particular learning style and needs.  

Category: Teacher Career Information