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  1. 1. Education Policy Brief Single-Sex Education in the 21st Century Kelly E. Cable and Terry E. Spradlin V O L U M E 6 , N U M B E R 9 , FA L L 2 0 0 8 School in East Harlem have renewed inter-CONTENTS INTRODUCTION est and experimentation with single-sex classrooms and schools. Thus, single-sex Introduction....................................... 1 Single-sex schools and classrooms have education has become a desirable alterna- long existed in educational institutions tive for many students and is offered by an History of Single-sex Education ....... 2 such as religious, private, and preparatory increasing number of school districts. The The Genesis and Legality of schools, particularly in the United King- Young Women’s Leadership School was Single-sex Education in the U.S........ 2 dom. Single-sex education describes a created in 1996 by Ann Rubenstein Tisch diverse range of situations, including indi- to provide an opportunity otherwise Arguments in Favor of Single-sex vidual classes, programs after school, unavailable to inner-city girls (McDowell, Classrooms: Leonard Sax and the required programs, voluntary programs, National Association for Single-sex 2006). The school’s consistent 100 percent and programs to remedy gender inequities graduation rate has attracted much atten- Public Education................................ 4 and encourage cultural and racial pride. tion and excitement for replication of the NASSPE-Cited Studies and Therefore, the topic of single-sex class- results within other urban schools. The Others............................................ 5 rooms resists most generalizations school particularly impressed and inspired Benefits for Underserved Student Groups............................. 5 (AAUW, 1998). Most research in the U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, who, in 2001, has involved private girls’ schools or Cath- joined Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in Conflicting Findings: Evaluating olic schools. There has been less experi- proposing an amendment to the No Child Outcomes and the Other Side......... 6 mentation with same-sex education since Left Behind Act that would eventually pass the 1970s, when same-sex public school- and allow any public school to implement Prevailing Issues and Questions ...... 9 ing became prohibited for most situations single-sex programs with only a few regu- Sex-Based Tracking ....................... 9 by federal law. Cost.............................................. 10 lations (Sax, 2002). The option of single-sex schooling in pub- The legality and ethics involved in single- Conclusions and lic schools has emerged once again through sex classrooms have also generated a lot of Recommendations........................... 10 federal policies associated with the No attention and created a heated debate Authors............................................. 11 Child Left Behind Act of 2001, allowing between supporters and critics. Some sci- some parents who are disillusioned with entific research claims that profound bio- Acknowledgements ......................... 11 their children’s current educational experi- logical differences exist between boys’ and ences to explore a broader array of educa- girls’ cognitive, social, and emotional References........................................ 11 tional choices. Many parents are development, styles of learning, and educa- Web References ............................... 12 particularly worried about their male chil- tional needs. However, critics of single-sex dren because of recent reports proclaiming education compare single-sex education to a “boys’ crisis” (Mead, 2006). One con- segregation, recalling advocates who cern, out of many necessitating a crisis, is a claimed racial differences in intelligenceUPCOMING POLICY BRIEFS . . belief that boys are far behind girls in were based on scientific research. Critics achievement. In 2006, Doug Anglin, a 17- further worry that any segregation sends a The Excellence Gap Examined year-old student in the U.S., filed a federal message of inferiority. There is not a lack The Advantages and Disadvantages of civil rights complaint contending that his of opinions on this subject, but a need for Multi-Age Classrooms in the Era of high school favors females and discrimi- valid research either supporting or refuting NCLB Accountability nates against males (Jan, 2006). single-sex education. Supporters of single- Public Law 221: Is Indiana’s Account- sex schooling in low-income areas believe The perceived gap in achievement between ability Law Working or is it Another that their students should have a right to girls and boys, the media’s attention to the Passing Education Reform Fad? opportunities that were generally only subject, and positive results such as those available to upper and middle class stu- found by the Young Women’s Leadership dents. Many would agree that single-sex
  2. 2. education in private or religious schools right to vote. She says, “In the beginning later, only 40 percent remained separatedhas promoted students’ achievements more women were educated for the sake of fam- (Single-Sex Schools, n.d.).than hindered them, but the question is ily and society: the new republic neededwhether students at these schools have suc- educated mothers to produce reasonable, However, beginning in the 1970s, educa-ceeded because of the specific structure of responsible male citizens. But although the tors, feminists and others worried that girlssingle-sex schooling or because of other first all-female academies, founded in the in coed schools were not receiving an equi-factors, like the socioeconomic status of the early 1800s, reflected a commitment to tra- table education (Kaminer, 1998). Cur-students. Educators, especially those in ditional gender roles, which reserved the rently, reports indicating achievement gapsstruggling inner-city schools, wonder if public sphere for men, they reinforced a for both boys and girls alternately, legalseparating the sexes is right for their nascent view of women as potentially rea- changes, and successful single-sex schoolsschool, and for their students. sonable human beings — endowed with have renewed a public dialogue and inter- the attributes of citizenship” (Kaminer, est in single-sex schools.We chose to examine this complex issue 1998). Women’s colleges were also createdbecause it is relevant to educators and par- and, appropriately, represented affirmativeents alike, and it is an initiative back in action. Oberlin Collegiate Institute in Ohio THE GENESIS AND LEGALITY OFvogue. This brief addresses the genesis and was the first coeducational college in 1837 SINGLE-SEX EDUCATION IN THElegality of single-sex classrooms, as well as (Kaminer, 1998). Though single-sex struc- U.S.the merits and critiques of single-sex edu- tures have been retained in some privatecation, and aims to avoid research or claims Title IX, which was enacted in 1972, states, and religious schools, coeducationalthat are based on gender stereotypes. Fur- “No person in the United States shall, on schools are currently the predominatethermore, the research that supports and the basis of sex, be excluded from partici- model without much challenge in theopposes single-sex education will be exam- pation in, be denied the benefits of, or be United States.ined. Finally, recommendations concerning subjected to discrimination under any edu-single-sex education for educators and pol- cation program or activity receiving federalicymakers to consider are offered. financial assistance” (Title IX, 2005). Former Indiana Senator Birch Bayh spon- “ ... reports indicating sored and coauthored Title IX. Historically, achievement gaps for Title IX has been chiefly concerned withHISTORY OF SINGLE-SEX gender equity in athletics. Before Title IX,EDUCATION both boys and girls alter- for example, it was not unusual for a high nately, legal changes, school to devote 90 percent or more of theirThere were some examples of coeducation and successful single- athletic budget to boys’ sports (Sax, 2002).in the late 17th century, but there was nogeneral trend until the mid-1800s during sex schools have Those responsible for enforcing Title IX must evaluate proportionality in participa-the great expansion of public education in renewed a public dia- tion, financial resource allocation, andthe United States (Coeducation, 2008). Dis- logue and interest in coaches’ salaries to ensure gender equitytinguished preparatory schools in Europe single-sex schools.” (Chamberlin and Eckes, 2003).and early America were single-sex.Present-day defenders of single-sex school- Title IX also made public single-sex class-ing argue that there are more teenage preg- rooms and schools illegal in most situa-nancies and sexual harassment cases in tions. For example, 34 C.F. R 106-34coeducational schools. In traditional Christian communities in par- states, “A recipient shall not provide any ticular, single-sex schools are still main- course, or carry out its programs or activi-Many people strongly believed separating tained privately. When speaking about ties separately on the basis of sex, orstudents by sex was appropriate, and sin- coeducation, Catholics sometimes refer to require or refuse participation therein bygle-sex classrooms were in place up to the the teachings of Pope Pius XI contained in any students on such a basis, including1960s and even early 1970s to teach differ- his 1929 “Christian Education of Youth.” health, physical education, industrial, busi-ent lessons often in parallel subject matter Addressing the topic of coeducation, he ness, vocational, technical, home econom-(Pollard, 1999). Classes were intended .to said, “False also and harmful to Christian ics, music, and adult education courses”prepare boys and girls for different roles in education is the so-called method co-edu- (McDowell, 2006). However, while Titlelife; for example, boys were taught agricul- cation. This too, by many of its supporters IX restricted single-sex based activities, itture or industrial arts while girls were is founded upon naturalism and the denial did not mandate that all educational activi-taught home economics (Cuizon, 2008). At of original sin; but by all, upon a deplorable ties be coeducational. For example, youthpresent, the gap between the different roles confusion of ideas that mistakes a leveling organizations such as Girl Scouts or Boyor careers that men and women occupy has promiscuity and equality, for the legitimate Scouts, which are exempt from taxation,narrowed greatly, and legally has nearly association of the sexes” (McCloskey, have traditionally been limited to personsclosed. Wendy Kaminer, a graduate of all- 1994). This strain of thought has weakened of one sex and principally limited to per-female Smith College, keenly noted that over the years, however. In 1988, for exam- sons less than 19 years of age (McDowell,American women won the right to be edu- ple, half of the Catholic schools in the 2006). Also, there are exemptions for boyscated nearly 100 years before winning the United States were single-sex, but 10 years or girls conferences such as Boys’ or Girls’ SINGLE-SEX EDUCATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY —— 2
  3. 3. State (a summer leadership and citizen pro- sexes when it constitutes remedial or Explicitly, the regulations state that coedu-gram), father/son or mother/daughter affirmative action or when separating the cational schools that want to provide sin-activities, sex education, and choir, pro- sexes for physical education activities that gle-sex classrooms within the coed schoolvided there are comparable activities for involve bodily contact (McDowell, 2006). must produce the following:both sexes (McDowell, 2006). Non-vocational schools, which offer courses other than those which normally 1. Provide a rationale for offering a single-Title IX was patterned after the Civil Rights lead to an occupational objective, such as sex class. A variety of rationales are suit-Act of 1964, which guaranteed equal rights able, including, for example, a demon- music, bridge, homemaking, dancing, andfor ethnic minorities. Chamberlin and strated need to increase enrollment for driving, are also exempt. However, aEckes, in an Education Policy Brief written girls in certain courses or a need to better Local Education Agency (LEA) canfor the Center for Evaluation and Education control boys’ behavior. exclude a person if they can provide aPolicy (2003,) said of Title IX: comparable course, service, and facility 2. Provide a coeducational class in the same (Miller, 2008). Any school district subject at a geographically accessible Few federal education laws and policies location. The coeducational alternative have been as controversial or, as support- receiving tax dollars for an educational program cannot establish, for example, a may be provided within the same school, ers contend, as successful as Title IX of or it may be offered at a different school the Education Amendment Act. Support- girls’ school that provides the only which is geographically accessible. The ers assert that although female athletes performing arts curriculum in the district term “geographically accessible” is not have made great strides as a result of Title (McDowell, 2006). explicitly defined in the regulations. IX participation opportunities, scholar- Similarly, a school district cannot convert 3. Conduct a review every two years to ships, and financial resources for all of the schools in its district to single- maintain that the program is not based women’s athletic programs still lag sex, as Greene County, Georgia, proposed upon generalizations regarding the abili- behind those for men. Title IX legislation ties, talents, or preferences of either sex, to do (Associated Press, 2008). The school prevents discrimination in all aspects of but are related to achievement (Spellings, board approved the measure the first week education and applies to any education 2006). The review should also determine of February, 2008 (Atlanta Journal-Consti- program or activity receiving federal whether single-sex classes are still neces- tution, 2008). Before having to address any financial assistance, including athletic sary to remedy the previous inequity. legal issues, however, Greene County programs (Chamberlin and Eckes, 2003). dropped its plan when parents subse- Single-sex schools — either all-boys’ or-On January 8, 2002, 30 years after quently opposed the change and were upset all girls’ schools — do not need to providepassage of Title IX, President Bush signed that they were not involved in the decision a rationale (provision 1) or conduct athe No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act making (Associated Press, 2008). How- review (provision 3). They only need tointo law. Subchapter V, “Promoting ever, a school district can provide a girls’ contend with the second provision. ForInformed Parental Choice and Innovative school without offering a boys’ school as example, if a district wants to open an all-Programs,” made funds available to local long as there is a coeducational school in girls’ school, then there must be either anpublic school districts to be used for the district. all-boys’ school or a coeducational schoolinnovative programs, including single-sex available. Since single-sex schools only Concerning single-sex education, theclasses and schools (McDowell, 2006). need to adhere to one provision, this may Office for Civil Rights also published aThis provision, which was included in the act as an incentive for school districts to Notice of Intent to Regulate in May 2002education bill, was co-authored by Texas offer single-sex schools rather than single- (McDowell, 2006). The proposed rulesSenator Kay Bailey Hutchison and New sex classrooms within coed schools. Fur- were published in 2004, and the followingYork Senator Hillary Clinton as an thermore, charter schools do not need to final rules were published on October 25,additional option for students (Sax, 2002). comply with any of the three regulations 2006. According to Secretary of EducationIn June of 2001, Senator Hillary Clinton above (National Association for Single- Margaret Spellings, the new regulationssaid, “Our long-term goal has to be to Sex Public Education, 2006). The new reg- permit single-sex classes; however:make single-sex education available as an ulations also address extracurricular activi-option for all children, not just for … [they] must be substantially related to ties: a public school can provide an activitychildren of parents wealthy enough to the achievement of students, providing for one sex only if there is an importantafford private schools” (Single-Sex diverse educational opportunity, or established objective.Education, n.d.). meeting the particular, identified needs of students … In some cases, a Since the additional regulations issued inOn May 3, 2002, the Office for Civil substantially equal single-sex class in 2006, any course in a coeducational schoolRights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of the same subject may be required in could hypothetically be separated by sex ifEducation, the entity responsible for the addition to the coeducational class. the school provides a rationale behind theenforcement of Title IX requirements, The new regulations also require...that need for the change, as long as there is aissued “Guidelines on Current Title IX schools conduct evaluations of their comparable coeducational course withinrequirements related to Single-Sex Classes single-sex classes every two years to the school or within a geographicallyand Schools” (McDowell, 2006). OCR ensure their compliance to regulatory accessible location, and as long as theynoted the general prohibition against requirements. (Spellings, 2006) conduct a review after two years. If a ratio-single-sex classes and schools; however, it nale cannot be proven, the separation can-offered exceptions such as separating the SINGLE-SEX EDUCATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY —— 3
  4. 4. not occur. Such was the case in Detroit 1. The brain develops differently. Research- Sax says that no coeducational class can bewhere educators planned to open three all- ers at Virginia Tech used electrophysio- gender neutral; teachers will accommodatemale schools for mainly African-American logical imaging of the brain to examine the learning style of one gender or the othermales (90 percent of students in Detroit’s brain development in 508 children (224 (NASSPE, 2006). He asserts that in coedu-public schools are African-American) but girls and 284 boys) ranging from two cational schools, boys are encouraged towere stopped because they failed to prove months to 16 years of age. They found solve problems on their own while teacherswhy excluding girls was necessary for the that areas in the brain involved in lan- typically help girls. Boys are called onall-male academies to be successful (Wilk- guage and fine motor skills developed eight times as often as girls and are praisederson, 1991). The court required Detroit to four years earlier in girls than in boys, and rather than reprimanded for speaking out of areas in the brain involved in geometryprove that it was the coeducational factor turn in class. Advocates of single-sex and spatial reasoning mature four yearsthat caused failure, as educational failure classrooms also believe that coeducational earlier in boys than in girls.alone is not enough to validate gender-spe- classrooms reinforce stereotypes throughcific education (Stamm, 1998). Conse- 2. The brain is wired differently. Emotion “gender intensification,” as the pressure toquently, Detroit abandoned the project. and language are processed in the same act in gender appropriate ways intensifies area of the brain for girls, so it is easier for during adolescence (NASSPE, 2006).Critics unhappy with the changes to Title most girls to talk about their emotions, butIX prompted by NCLB recall the phrase for boys, emotions and language are pro- Responding further to the “boys’ crisis,”“Separate but equal,” (Plessy v. Ferguson) cessed in separate areas of the brain. It is Sax’s second book, Boys Adrift, claims thatwhich was popular before the Civil Rights difficult for boys to give an answer to: the “five factors driving the decline ofAct but now denotes segregation. “You “Tell me how you feel.” boys” are: video games, teaching methodscould say that parents could choose to send 3. Girls have a more sensitive sense of hear- which turn boys off of school, prescriptiontheir kids to racially segregated schools as ing than boys do. The typical 12-year-old drugs such as ADD or ADHD medication,well, but that is not something we’d want girl has a sense of hearing seven times endocrine disrupters such as environmen-to have in the public school system,” says more acute than a young boy. Girls are tal estrogens from plastic bottles and foodKim Gandy, president of the National distracted by noise at sound levels 10 sources that may be lowering boys’ test-Organization for Women (Sax, 2002). times lower than boys. osterone, as well as devaluation of man-Some feminist critics fear that sex discrim- 4. Females and males respond to stress dif- hood (Sax, 2007).ination, stereotypes, and inequality are ferently — not just in our species, but ininescapable evils of institutions which every mammal scientists have studied.allow for the separation of sexes. “The Stress enhances learning in males. TheBush administration’s proposal for single- same stress impairs learning in femalessex schools is a giant step backward in the (Sax, n.d.). “Advocates of single-sexstruggle for girls’ and women’s equality,” Also according to Sax, girls thrive in non- classrooms also believeGandy proclaimed (Sax, 2002). competitive, collaborative learning envi- that coeducational ronments, while boys are more motivated by competition. Girls, unlike boys, are classrooms reinforce more likely to set goals and consult adults stereotypes throughARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF for help. When learning basic math skills, ‘gender intensification,’SINGLE-SEX CLASSROOMS: girls use overt methods, while boys use as the pressure to act inLEONARD SAX AND THE covert methods. Girls prefer short storiesNATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR gender appropriate and novels, while boys would rather readSINGLE-SEX PUBLIC EDUCATION factual accounts of real events or illustrated ways intensifies during descriptions of how things work adolescence.”Single-sex classrooms have become an (NASSPE, 2006). According to Sax, theeducational topic of debate and interest due proportion of girls studying subjects suchin part to Leonard Sax, founder and execu- as physics and computer science hastive director of the National Association for dropped in half, and boys are much lessSingle-Sex Public Education (NASSPE). likely to study subjects such as foreign lan- In single-sex classes, advocates contendHis first book, Why Gender Matters: What guages, history, and music compared to 30 that teaching can be tailored to fit the dif-Parents and Teachers Need to Know About years ago. Sax contends that the “problem” ferent needs of male or female students andthe Emerging Science of Sex Differences, with boys, which generally ended in evalu- can help both sexes to attain higher levelswas published in 2005, and emphasizes the ations for attention deficit disorder (ADD) of achievement. For example, a studyprofound differences between boys and or attention deficit hyperactive disorder endorsed by the National Association forgirls (Sax, n.d.). Sax claims that scientists (ADHD), was actually “the school’s failure Single-Sex Public Education (NASSPE)have found that some of these differences to recognize the differences in the auditory found that girls who graduate from girls’appear early on while some are manifested acuity of boys and girls, and the school’s high schools are six times more likely tolater. Furthermore, he maintains that a failure to recognize the differences in the major in a math or science field than girlsfemale’s brain remains more mature than a developmental timetables of boys and from coed schools. Similarly, boys aremale’s brain until 30 years of age. Sax’s girls” (Sax, 2002). more likely to pursue interests in art,findings which affect education include: SINGLE-SEX EDUCATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY —— 4
  5. 5. music, drama, and foreign language Teachers at the Nathan Hale Elementary(NASSPE, 2006). NASSPE also claims School in Roxbury, Massachusetts, whichthat girls in single-sex classrooms are more NASSPE-Cited Studies and experimented with single-sex classes atlikely to compete in competitive sports. Grade 5 for two years, adapted their teach-Another study cited by NASSPE finds that Others ing styles for each gender. One instructor,graduates of single-sex schools are more Researchers at Stetson University com- Sabrina Gray, gave her all-male classesconfident and are more serious about aca- pared the test scores of two Grade 4 classes more breaks and allowed them to stand updemics (NASSPE, 2006). at Woodward Avenue Elementary School in class while reading. She also gave direc- in Florida — one single-sex class and one tions one at a time to her male students andSpecifically important to parents is asked them to repeat her instructions. Atresearch on sexual harassment. Sax claims coed. The classes had comparable student demographics, the same number of stu- first, parents were against the experiment,that there is a lower rate of teenage preg- but they eventually supported it. Thenancy and greater autonomy in heterosex- dents, and the teachers had equivalent training. After three years of the pilot pro- school had to end the project the followingual relationships, as well as a lower risk for year because half of the Grade 5 studentsdrug abuse in single-sex classrooms. In gram, the researchers compared results of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment did not enroll; however, afterwards somecoed schools, he says, “there is a good deal parents said that they miss the single-sexof gawking, speculating, and general pre- Test (FCAT) and found: classrooms. “I saw a difference in how theyoccupation with those of the opposite sex • Boys in coed classes: 37 percent scored carried themselves,” said Felicia Gay,who are most proximate.” Single-sex proficient; whose son was in a single-sex class. “Now,schools then possibly allow for more focus • Boys in single-sex classes: 86 percent the girls doll themselves up, put on their lipon academics. Put another way, “students scored proficient. gloss, and bloom for the boys” (Jan, 2008).may pursue their studies, classroom discus- • Girls in coed classes: 59 percent scoredsions, and school activities without needing proficient; There is some support for higher test scoresto be confronted on a daily basis with male- • Girls in single-sex classes: 75 percent and self-concept in single-sex education.female socialization issues” (Single-Sex scored proficient; Two studies of girls’ schools found posi-Classes, n.d.). In January of 2008, Piechura-Couture tive results, including a decrease in dropout reported that after the fourth year of the rates, a subsequent reduction in unemploy-Carole B. Shmurak of Central Connecticut ment rates, an increase in females that study, 55 percent of boys in coed class-State University suspected that the struc- chose non-traditional majors, and an rooms scored proficient on the FCAT com-ture does make a difference; she said of increase in females who were politically pared with 85 percent of boys in the all-Philadelphia Girls High, a girls’ public active (NASSPE, 2006). Furthermore an boys classes (Piechura-Couture, Tichenor,school with 90 percent students of color, Irish study found that the best predictor of & Heins, 2007).“[It] felt very much like the independent self-esteem for girls at coed high schoolsgirls’ schools in New England. There was a Furthermore, the National Association for was their opinion of their personal appear-feeling … an emotional expressivity that I Single-Sex Public Education highlights an ance, whereas girls at single-sex schoolsdidn’t see in the coed schools” (AAUW, elementary school in Seattle as another were less concerned with appearance. Par-1998). Trickett, Castro, and Schaffner, example of single-sex schooling’s success. ents may prefer single-sex schoolingbased on their research, add, “Single-sex Seattle’s Thurgood Marshall Elementary because they believe girls will be moreschools were perceived as having a more School used to be a failing school in one of self-confident, more likely to have femaleacademic orientation, with greater task the city’s poorest neighborhoods until the role models in leadership and in tradition-emphasis and competition, than coeduca- principal reconstituted the school as a dual ally male subjects, and less likely to choosetional [schools]” (Single-Sex Classes, academy with separate classrooms. The stereotypical subjects.n.d.). Jill Rojas, principal of Jefferson students’ scores changed drastically; forLeadership Academies, the first public example, on the Washington Assessment ofmiddle school in the country to offer sin- Student Learning (WASL), boys’ scoresgle-sex instruction for boys and girls (a increased from the 10th percentile to the Benefits for Underserved“third generation” single-sex school), said, 66th. Before the change, no girls had passed Student Groups“We have seen many students start to focus the math portion of WASL; after the separa-heavily on academics. They no longer Many researchers agree that single-sex tion, 53 percent of the girls earned passingclown or try to impress the opposite sex. schooling does have positive impacts for scores. Student behavior improved as wellGirls are more apt to answer questions some students in some settings, particularly with discipline referrals going from 30 toaloud in class as well as ask them. Girls are for females (AAUW, 1998). Cornelius fewer than 2 per day (Sax, 2005). Saxlearning to be more academically competi- Riordan discovered these positive impacts argues that when schools fail after theytive, and boys are learning to collaborate” are even more dramatic for African-Ameri- have adopted single-sex education, it is(Single-Sex Classes, n.d.). can and Hispanic children, male and because their teachers have not been ade- female. His studies found positive effects quately trained for gender-specific teach- on achievement for disadvantaged students, ing. He contends that schools cannot simply including non-affluent girls (AAUW, adopt the format and expect success. 1998). Riordan summarized the status of research on the relative benefits of single- SINGLE-SEX EDUCATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY —— 5
  6. 6. sex schooling in 1997, as part of an Ameri- degree of order and control, a reduction of African Americans, whereas single-sexcan Association of University Women sex bias in teacher/student interaction, a classes consequently offer closer interac-organized roundtable: reduction of sex stereotypes in curriculum tions with African American culture and and opportunities, and an elimination of community (Pollard, 1999). Since the pur- The academic and developmental con- sex differences in a school setting. The stu- pose of single-sex classes was to promote sequences of attending one type of dents and parents may be making a pro- achievement for predominately low- school versus another type of school are academic choice when choosing a single- income African American kids, she found virtually zero for middle-class and oth- sex school. Riordan suggests that the par- that the focus was more on culture. Positive erwise advantaged students; by con- ents and students are rejecting the anti-aca- effects then may not be a result of the struc- trast, the consequences are significant demic youth culture that typically ture of single-sex schooling but results of for students who are or have been his- dominates coed schools. However, some influences such as the focus on culture, a torically or traditionally disadvantaged say that the anti-academic culture may not strong supportive community, the provi- — minorities, low- and working-class be a part of youth culture but of male cul- sion of more successful role models, and youth, and females (so long as the ture and that this would explain why girls the provision of a greater number of lead- females are not affluent). may perform better in single-sex schools ership opportunities.Riordan found that the performance of and boys may not.African-American and Hispanic students Diane Pollard of the University of Wiscon- CONFLICTING FINDINGS:in single-sex schools is stronger on all sin-Milwaukee researched voluntary after- EVALUATING OUTCOMES ANDtests, scoring on average almost a year school single-sex programs at two African THE OTHER SIDEhigher than similar students in coeduca- American schools. She particularly empha-tional settings. sized not losing cultural issues when dis- Not everyone agrees that a “boys’ crisis” cussing gender (Pollard, 1999). Regarding exists or that single-sex education is aRiordan offers possible rationales to her own research, Pollard felt that the pos- proven, necessary education reform strat-explain the positive effects of single-sex itive results she found were due to the egy. The American Association for Univer-schools: including the characteristics of the stigma that traditional schools fail urban sity Women (AAUW) contends in theirstudents attending themselves, a greater Arguments In Favor of Single-Sex Education Arguments Opposed to Single-Sex Education • Male and female students have different needs, abilities, inter- • Any segregation sends a message of inferiority. Single-sex edu- ests, and modes of learning. For example, many males prefer cation perpetuates stereotypes, which dangerously, may be learning tasks which involve competition whereas female stu- seen as real biological differences. dents prefer to collaborate. With single-sex classrooms, teach- • The work of boys crisis proponents, such as Sax, is based on ing can be tailored to fit the needs of each group of students. gender stereotypes or mistaken notions of the sex/gender dis- • Male and female students are preoccupied and distracted by tinction. the opposite sex. Learning often takes a backseat to socializa- • The differences within a sex are much bigger than the differ- tion. Students are very concerned with looks and reputation ences between sexes. Family income and parental educational in coeducational environments. A single-sex education pro- attainment are still considered the biggest predictors of vides a more academic orientation. achievement; not gender. • After the change to single-sex education, many schools have • Success of single-sex education, when it occurs, is likely due to found that students scores have risen and discipline problems other factors such as the class of faculty and students, high have lessened. achievement of students or parents who believe they are mak- • Female students in a single-sex structure are less concerned ing a pro-academic choice, highly motivated and/or well-paid with appearance and have greater academic confidence par- staff, or small class sizes or schools. ticularly in traditionally male subjects. • Funds would be better spent investing resources in training • Single-sex education has succeeded in private spheres; this is teachers, working with curriculum, or other methods that we an opportunity that should be open to students in public know work than putting money into an under-researched idea. schools as well, including those who cannot afford the option • Single-sex schooling may further glamorize the opposite sex or any other way. foster sexism. Discipline problems may escalate. Scores may • There are positive consequences for traditionally disadvan- lower or there may be no change at all. taged students when in a single-sex structure. • In single-sex schools or classrooms, it is not certain where stu- • The Young Womens Leadership School in Harlem, which has dents who do not associate with their sex or who are transgen- a 100 percent graduation rate, is proof of the kind of change dered fit into the picture. These students interests may not a single-sex education can provide. correspond with the curriculum that is set out for their partic- ular sex. • Instead of tracking based on ability, single-sex schooling tracks by whether one is male or female. SINGLE-SEX EDUCATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY —— 6
  7. 7. 2008 report girls’ successes do not come at agreed that there is no evidence to suggest school are admission policies, students’the expense of boys’ (AAUW, 2008). Sara that single-sex schooling is better or prior learning, and the community and par-Mead, the senior policy analyst at Educa- “works” compared to coeducation ents’ involvement.tion Sector, found that American boys are (AAUW, 1998). Sadker believes that thescoring higher and achieving more than superiority of single-sex classrooms or Schools may conceive that they have onlyever (Mead, 2006). The report found that schools, when it appears, occurs because of changed the gender format of the courses,both boys and girls are more likely to grad- pedagogical factors one would find in any but they may have actually hired betteruate than in 1976 (Mead, 2006), and both effective school, single-sex or coed trained and motivated teachers for thesesexes’ standardized test scores have risen (Bracey, 2006). Terri Battaglieri, executive courses. Furthermore, if the students volun-or have remained stable (AAUW, 2008). director of The Great Lakes Center for tarily sign up for the course, typically withMead also points out that in the 1980s and Education Research and Practice, believes the permission of their parents, then it is90s when 9- and 13-year-old boys pulled that educators should work on what we reasonable to suggest that the parents andahead of girls, there was no “girls’ crisis” know works: hiring and retaining quality students who choose to be in these classes(2006). When analyzed by race and income teachers, providing professional develop- may demonstrate higher levels of interestlevel, AAUW found that students from the ment training, having smaller class sizes, and involvement. The results of an experi-lowest income level on average have the and providing effective early childhood ment with single-sex schooling may belowest test scores. A rise in income level is education (Battaglieri, 2006). Race and compromised, on account of the multitudeassociated with a rise in test scores class are still the two biggest predictors of of interconnected and interacting variables,(AAUW, 2008). AAUW also found that achievement in almost every study, claims including: class, ethnicity, teachers’ experi-African American and Hispanic students Rosalind Barnett, a senior scientist at Bran- ence, a school’s strong academic emphasis,score less than white and Asian American deis University. “Of all the things you authentic activities, critical thinking, andstudents. Mead also found that African could think about doing to improve educa- highly motivated students (AAUW, 1997).American and Hispanic boys are more tional outcomes, separating kids by gender Jannette Elwood, a co-editor of Failinglikely to be retained (2006). However, the is really low on the list,” said Barnett Boys: Issues in Gender and Achievementacademic achievement of minority boys is (BBC, 2006). Mead contends that some and co-author of Review of Recentsteadily improving, though the achieve- have clung to the “boy crisis” in order to Research on the Achievement of Girls inment gap remains wide (Mead, 2006). The highlight their own agendas; they blame Single-Sex Schools, also argues the aimreport suggests that the focus on separating classrooms with too much structure, lack should be improving the education of boththe sexes and escalating concern for male of discipline, “misguided feminism,” or sexes (BBC, 2000). Elwood conducted astudents is distracting from the students “myths of masculinity.” research report in the U.K. on girls in sepa-who need real help: African American, rate classes and found they earned goodHispanic, and low-income students When acknowledging some encouraging results on behalf of single-sex classrooms, grades because they were high-achieving(AAUW, 2008). Mead agrees that although pupils, and not because of the single-sexboys from these three groups are in the it is equally imperative to acknowledge the difficulty in sifting through all the data to structure. Ability, social class, history, andmost trouble, the issues here are achieve- tradition of the school, according toment gaps, clearly evident by race and conclude that positive outcomes are the direct result of single-sex schooling. Rior- Elwood, are the most important predictorssocioeconomic status, not gender (2006). of success. Whether a school was indepen-Mead suggests that closing these gaps dan and others assert that the effects of sin- gle-sex classrooms on student achievement dent, selective, or comprehensive madewould do more good for students than clos- much more of a difference than if it wasing a slight gender gap only found in some are small in comparison to other factors (AAUW, 1998). Studies from Australia, single-sex or mixed (BBC, 2000). Manycases. Schools should be changed to meet agree that the learning differences of boysall students’ needs. North America, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom reviewed by Alan and girls are slight and contend that it doesDavid Sadker, a professor at American Smithers and Pamela Robertson of Buck- not make sense to try to further the genderUniversity who has published many arti- ingham University found that gender is not divide by focusing on differences betweencles concerning gender in education, an important factor in education; rather, the the sexes than between any other category.agrees that: main determinants of success are ability Advocates of coeducation believe that and family background. “While both sin- much of the work of boys’ crisis propo- Research shows the differences within a gle-sex and coeducation have passionate sex are much bigger than the differences nents, such as H.H. Summers and Sax, is advocates, half a century of research has so based on gender stereotypes or mistaken between sexes. Assuming that all boys far revealed no striking or consistent differ- like war games and all girls like dolls is notions of the sex/gender distinction. They ences one way or the other” (AAUW, would also argue that single-sex classrooms a very big assumption. You have to ask, 1998). As aforementioned, success within why is this so suddenly popular? It’s are, in fact, structured to perpetuate gender schools generally correlates to small class stereotypes. If researchers claim girls are because we’re re-segregating our sizes, small school size, highly trained and schools-by race, by economics, and now, better than boys in verbal skills but are motivated teachers, and socioeconomic behind in math, and vice versa, then the stu- by boys and girls. (Flannery, 2006) status of the students and faculty. Other dents will believe it. This claim would thenResearchers at a summit regarding single- variables that must be considered in gaug- justify Harvard past president Lawrence schooling put together by AAUW ing the success or promising change at a Summers’ argument that the lack of female SINGLE-SEX EDUCATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY —— 7
  8. 8. scientists in elite universities such as Har- In 2005, eighth-year students at one school that the curriculum should be examinedvard may stem from “innate” differences in in Wales were split into single-sex groups because the boys just are not interested inability between men and women and the for math, English, science, and history. The the curriculum. The Education Ministeraptitude of females (2005). This kind of ste- head teacher said the trial sometimes led to Jane Hutt commissioned a report on thereotyping would promote similar thinking. discipline problems and that the change did gap between males and females and subse-There is concern that stereotypes will be not lead to a decline, yet it did not lead to quently announced major changes to thetreated as real biological differences, which an improvement either. In speaking of the national curriculum and a greater concen-would have negative consequences, partic- groups, the head teacher said: tration on skill. The Director of Examina-ularly concerning students’ confidence, tions and Assessments believed the changemotivation, and classroom engagement. We found the boys were a bit of a night- could benefit both boys and girls.Many fear a future of schools catering to mare to teach initially, and unless youstereotypes and unequally distributing adapted the work that was done forresources, which is what Title IX was put in them, they were very hard groups. Weplace to counteract. found girls’ classes were very compli- ant, very well behaved, and got on with “Besides upholdingBesides upholding stereotypes, some crit- their tasks and showed great concentra- stereotypes, some criticsics argue single-sex schooling does not tion in lessons. argue single-sexresemble real life or life in the workplace. schooling does notSeparating the sexes does not promote a The boys felt more confident about their“fair and harmonious relationship” be- education, but they did not do much better. resemble real life or lifetween the sexes or foster understanding The Welsh girls still outperformed boys in the workplace.(McCloskey, 1994). Also, separating the with 66.5 percent passing with C’s and Separating the sexes above compared to 59.3 percent of boyssexes in schools may further glamorize the (Hume, 2007). Similarly, Mario Umana does not promote a ‘fairopposite sex to adolescents, advance Middle School Academy in East Boston and harmoniousunhealthy curiosity (McCloskey, 1994), orlead to sexism. Sadly, no learning environ- began separating boys and girls in their relationship’ betweenment provides a sure escape from sexism, afternoon math and English classes as part the sexes or fosterand Leonie Rennie, an Australian of a new extended-day program. Teachers understanding.”researcher, and Helen Marks, a U.S. at the Umana School had mixed feelingsresearcher, both agreed that single-sex about the outcomes of the experiment.classes do have rampant sexism (AAUW, English teacher Virginia Fosnock said that1998). Sadker says that some studies show boys usually receive the most attention in coed classes because they are louder, but Many studies on single-sex classrooms orthat men become more sexist in separate she said, in single-sex classes, “all the girls schools produce inconsistent and inconclu-classrooms. Patricia Campbell of Camp- can shine.” However, some of the teachers sive results. The U.S. Department of Edu-bell-Kibler Associates, Inc., noted that are afraid that an all-boys’ classroom could cation’s Executive Summary of theirfeminist-oriented females performed better take on the atmosphere of a fraternity Single-Sex Versus Coeducation Schoolingthan girls in similar programs where stu- house (Jan, 2008). Joseph DeCelles, Systematic Review has mixed results.dents never discussed questions of men’s another English teacher who teaches an all Many studies in the summary found no dif-and women’s relative status in society male class, said he misses the dynamics of ference between coeducational and single-(AAUW, 1998). Sadker points out that a coed classroom. He said, “Girls are more sex schooling and very few were in favorinstead of separating sexes, sexism should mature in middle school … and are usually of single-sex schooling. One third of theirbe addressed in coed classes. better students who can be used as role findings regarding elementary and highAnother negative issue encountered in sin- models in the classroom” (Jan, 2008). school age male and females found posi-gle-sex education is discipline problems. tive results for single-sex education andSome educators experienced higher disci- During 2006 in the Birstall and Batley two thirds found null or mixed results. Twopline problems with their single-sex educa- areas of the UK, 1,500 students left their studies found no differences in postsecond-tion programs and eventually returned to single-sex secondary schools, the only ary test scores or in high school or collegecoeducation. For example, Newport Mid- schools available in their areas, and went to graduation rates. Regarding students’ self-dle School in Kentucky and Eagle Rock coeducational schools in Bradford and esteem, one-third of studies found positiveJunior High School in Idaho abandoned Leeds further away. Educators in Birstall results in favor of coeducational schoolssingle-sex classrooms after just one year. and Batley believed the students’ migra- for males and half found no difference.There was no significant improvement in tion was damning evidence for single-sex Bracey states that the overwhelmingtest scores or grades at either school and, schools and have considered changing to majority of studies examine high schoolfor the boys, discipline problems escalated. coed schools. The council leader in the area students, while only a small minority useOne teacher, Becky Lenihan, said that she said confidence was failing in the schools elementary school students. Males werewrote up more boys during the year than in and 90 percent of students were seeking also underrepresented in most research.all her previous 13 years combined. education elsewhere (BBC, 2007). The Additionally, he states that most single-sex head teacher at Lewis School in Pengam, research has been conducted in Catholic an all-boys’ school since 1729, believes schools, in which students are separated by SINGLE-SEX EDUCATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY —— 8
  9. 9. sex only when entering adolescence the differences in these boys and girls is not different, perhaps male teachers would be(Bracey, 2006). Valerie Lee of the Univer- elaborated upon. In single-sex high schools best suited to teach all-male classes andsity of Michigan found in her 1998 analysis specifically, it is not certain where students vice versa.of random samples that single-sex classes who do not associate with their sex or whoproduced consistent positive results for are transgendered fit into the picture. Sin- There is very little research on the effect ofgirls in course enrollment, achievement, gle-sex classrooms may keep boys from single-sex schooling on students in post-educational aspirations, and attitudes having preferential treatment over girls but secondary education, or what it means fortoward academics compared to coed is categorizing unavoidable in the class- men and women later on in the workplace.schools (NASSPE, 2006). However, Lee room? Would the seemingly “more boyish” One type of single-sex school that hasfound no differences for boys in single-sex get preferential treatment over the boys that always excluded males is schools for preg-Catholic schools, and in independent are more effeminate? In short, would some nant young girls. This topic is not oftenschools she found no differences for either boys be treated like the “girls?” addressed within the subject of single-sexboys or girls. Lee found that the qualities of schools. Pregnant students have the right tothe most “effective” education include all- Another question that concerns educators remain in school and any move to attend aacademic course offerings with fewer is: “If students should be separated, should separate program must be voluntaryofferings in non-academic subjects, the sex of the teacher match the students?” (Stamm, 1998). The law calls for the sepa-smaller schools, a more communal school Legal challenges would likely result in rate program to be comparable to that oforganization, and more female principals such a policy. However, if boys and girls non-pregnant students (Stamm, 1998).(NASSPE, 2006). Lee credits the success are so completely different then how could However, not much research has been con-of the Catholic girls’ schools to organiza- a female educator possibly teach, motivate, ducted to compare the two.tional and administrative characteristics. and keep the attention of a classroom of boys in an effective manner? Single-sexOverall, the largest number of studies classes may create problems between Sex-Based Trackingfound no difference between single-sex teachers who prefer teaching one sex over Single-sex classrooms raise many ques-and coed classes (Bracey, 2006). Elwood the other (AAUW, 1998). Logistically, tions similar to those regarding tracking orand Gipps argue that there is “no conclu- there are not nearly enough male teachers ability grouping. In single-sex schooling,sive evidence to suggest that single-sex to teach every class of boys. The American boys and girls are being put on two differ-schooling is better” (Education: Why Girls education system has a significant gender ent tracks because of their alleged pro-Do Well, 2000). The body of research is division in teaching professionals: only found biological learning differences. Thisalso restricted by the dearth of studies that one-fourth of the United States’ 3 million tracking is similar to children who arehave addressed teen pregnancy, teacher teachers are male, and male teachers are tracked in public school based on their aca-differential treatment, or parental satisfac- least common in elementary schools demic ability and are placed accordingly,tion, among other areas. There is also a (Johnson, 2008). There is only one male for example, as “Cardinals” (advancedlack of longitudinal data on the effects of elementary school teacher for every 10 ele- track) or “Bluebirds” (remedial track). Insingle-sex education. For socio-emotional mentary classes (Johnson, 2008). Indiana single-sex classes boys are set on a trackdevelopment, results are mixed. One study actually fares better than most states, rank- that is supposed to cater to their needs andof girls’ education found an increase in eat- ing fourth in the nation with 30 percent further their achievement and the same ising disorders, which would suggest girls’ male teachers in its public schools during set up for girls. For example, in the boys’concern for appearance in an all-female the 2005-06 school year (Johnson, 2008). track, math classes will be more advancedenvironment actually increases rather than Researchers argue that the lack of male than those in the girls’ track, and their lan-decreases, as other studies have claimed. teachers itself actually undermines gender guage or reading classes will be less equity and social justice. Shaun Johnson, advanced than the girls. Instead of tracking an associate at the Center for Evaluation & based on individual strengths and weak- Education Policy, contends, “Encouraging nesses, single-sex schooling tracks byPREVAILING ISSUES AND men to teach and care for children is an whether a student is male or female. It isQUESTIONS essential front in the struggle against assumed that by tracking a student this restrictive gender roles and may ultimately way, he or she will fit into their appropriateOne area in which further attention is support the expected promotion of demo- track. Different qualities will likely be cul-required is in regard to gender-atypical cratic and egalitarian values in public tivated and praised in sex-segregatedchildren. What happens to the boys and schools” (Johnson, 2008). Having a similar tracks. The same problems occur with sin-girls who do not fit in or have the same number of male and female teachers may gle-sex tracking as with other tracking: fearinterests as their classmates? Sax admits be better for students, but legally suggest- of unequal distribution of resources, con-that “some boys would rather read a book ing that only female teachers can teach cerns that tracking promotes and gives fuelthan play football and some girls would female students and vice versa appears on to negative self-fulfilling prophecies, andrather play football than with Barbies.” He its face discriminatory and based on gender concern that students will not meet othersbelieves that if educators understand these stereotypes. Legally, one would think this that are different from them. There is notdifferences then they can inspire each child would be viewed as sex bias and unfair in yet conclusive research that suggests it isto learn to the best of his or her ability. the workplace due to the Equal Opportu- the structure of single-sex classrooms thatHowever, the question of how to address nity laws. However, if girls and boys are so improves students’ achievement, but for SINGLE-SEX EDUCATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY —— 9
  10. 10. some educators, as in ability grouping, sep- Recommendationsarating the sexes may make their lives eas- CONCLUSIONS AND Educators should work on better educatingier. Other teachers fret over a loss of RECOMMENDATIONS groups that are without question strugglingcreativity in the classroom regarding boys’ in schools. When raising expectations andand girls’ different ideas and responses to with implementation of proven interven-questions and activities. Conclusion tions, the outlook for these students is posi- Better research is needed. There are many tive. African American and Hispanic aspects of single-sex education that require students’ achievement has shown improve-Cost further research. The only consistent find- ment and when there is an incremental rise ing on single-sex classrooms is that the in income, low-income students’ achieve-Principals in a bind may see single-sex edu- ment improves as well. However, researchcation as a cheap reform method; realisti- findings are not consistent. At some schools there have been amazing results; at does suggest that help is needed for bothcally, they could separate students by sex males and females in these groups. Neitherand rearrange teachers without any added others, problems such as discipline issues and student tracking worsen or there is no boys nor girls should be kept from receiv-cost. Leonie Rennie felt that the Australian ing a great education due to their sex.government’s involvement in promoting change at all in academic results.single-sex schooling had more of a politicalappeal rather than an educational one Recommendations(AAUW, 1998). Describing a particular Research should be standardized through ConclusionAustralian initiative, Rennie said: use of a randomized control trial so that Professional development is necessary for there will be no question as to whether pos- educators in single-sex education to pre- I don’t think it would be cynical to say itive or negative results are due to single- pare for the differences between a coeduca- that the Education Department sup- sex education or other factors. Research tional and a single-sex environment. With ported the introduction of single-sex should focus on schools with a majority of proper preparation, teachers in single-sex classes in schools where teachers minority students and/or in schools with a classrooms will be empowered with pro- wanted it to happen. It was a political high rate of poverty to determine whether ductive pedagogical and differentiated move…An election was coming up and the structure of single-sex classes can instruction techniques. It is also needed in it looked as if something was actually improve academic achievement. order to guarantee single-sex education is going to be done in education but it not ruled by gender stereotypes or faulty wasn’t going to cost anything. (AAUW, Furthermore, politicians, educators, and parents need to be secure that they are not information on sex differences. 1998) being easily swayed by research that at its RecommendationsAccording to Leonard Sax, however, this most positive comes from affluent, private If schools do choose to incorporate single-would set a school up for possible failure schools. Educators are not wrong in want- sex classrooms or move from coeduca-because the teachers need special training. ing to emulate the progress and success of tional to single-sex schools, the changesSingle-sex schooling may actually be more these renowned schools, but compelling must be reinforced by proper professionalexpensive than educators assume because, research must be produced to determine development for teachers, as well as sup-besides more training, schools may need to what aspects of the schools should be repli- port for students and parents.hire more teachers — two for the single- cated. For educators considering use of sin-sex classes and possibly one for the coed gle-sex education, research from otherclass. In many cases, schools will have countries on best practice should be consid-additional administrative burdens, profes- ered, too. Single-sex education and coedu-sional training costs, and evaluation and cation do not need to be in conflict. If therelegal costs. Coeducation may be more eco- is a particular technique used for single-sexnomically feasible, requiring fewer teach- classes or schools, it should be determineders, buildings, and classes (McCloskey, whether that can be used to improve coed1994). Instead of using funds for single-sex schools as, redirecting funding to reduceclass size, increasing other resources, andproviding additional training for teachersto meet their students’ academic, social, Conclusionand emotional needs and to avoid sex dis- Research has found that achievement gapscrimination and stereotyping could well between groups of students based on race,produce better outcomes for districts with income, English proficiency, and disabili-large numbers of underachieving students ties persist and remain large. The reporting(National Coalition for Women and Girls of disaggregated data by these groups ofin Education, 2008). students as required by NCLB has height- ened concern for the need to eliminate achievement disparities. SINGLE-SEX EDUCATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY —— 10