Pros and Cons of Single-Sex Education

Pros and Cons of Single-Sex Education

The typical school classroom conjures up images of boys and girls coexisting, raising their hands in equal numbers. However, that’s not always the case.

According to 2010 data from NCES and the U.S. Census Bureau, from prekindergarten to senior year of high school, male students outnumber female students significantly in public school classrooms: 54 percent to 46 percent in pre-K and 51 percent to 49 percent from first grade to 12th grade.

So with the disproportionate stats in the American classroom, is it beneficial to separate the genders from each other? Much debate has centered around this topic for years.

The Case for Single-Gender Classrooms

Jefferson Leadership Academies was in the spotlight in 1999 when it became the first public middle school in the United States to have entirely single-gender classes. Its reason? Research showed that girls did better in math and science in all-girl settings. This decision came just a few years after Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls was published by two American University professors.

Of course, single-gender education didn’t start in 1999, as it existed in the 18th century before coeducation started to trend in the 19th century. However, it picked up steam in the late ’90s, especially when the Supreme Court made a ruling in the United States v. Virginia case involving male-only military college Virginia Military Institute. The conclusion: Single-sex classrooms were only constitutional if comparable resources were available to both genders. In 2006, the No Child Left Behind Act added a provision giving single-sex classrooms and schools the ability to exist as long as they are voluntary. From 1995 to 2006, the number of single-sex schools in the United States rose from 3 to 241.

There are many reasons why people advocate for single-gender classrooms, including less distraction (especially during teenage years when hormones rage), less “gender intensification” where coed settings reinforce stereotypes, and more instruction tailored to the unique ways boys and girls learn.
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The Case Against Single-Gender Classrooms

In 2007, Jefferson Leadership Academies reversed its same-sex curriculum after disappointing test scores and scheduling conflicts came up. Detractors of same-sex classrooms weren’t surprised since one of the biggest drawbacks of single-sex classrooms is the lack of concrete evidence that they boost achievement. As Margaret Talbot wrote in her 2012 New Yorker piece, “The evidence wasn’t very good then [the ’90s] for a gap between the genders’ learning styles so significant that it would mandate separate instruction, and it hasn’t gotten any better.”

Plus, another argument against single-gender schools is that the real world doesn’t afford a society where students can work with or interact with one gender over another. Thus, when it comes time for these students to head into the workforce or even college, they will face an adjustment period.

Related to college, one of the biggest reasons why single-gender classes popped up in the ’90s was to help women do better in the classroom, but recent statistics show that women attend college in larger numbers, outnumbering men by 14 percent.

In fact, girls are less likely than boys to be held back in American schools, too, so some argue that the effort put into helping girls in the classroom may be counterintuitive when the boys are the ones who aren’t doing as well.

Pros and Cons of Single-Sex Education

Pro Con
Pro Mixed genders can be a distraction.
Con Studies are inconclusive about how helpful separating genders is.
Pro Single-sex schools break down stereotypes.
Con Eventually, it could be hard for students to assimilate into "mixed gender" society.
Pro Teachers can employ instruction techniques geared toward specific genders.
Con Many teachers may not have the training to employ gender-specific teaching techniques.
Pro Girls mature faster, so potentially boys won't hold them back.
Con Boys mature slower, so potentially girls won't positively influence them.

The Bottom Line

It may seem like a new development in education, but single-sex education is actually a throwback to curriculum systems of yesteryear, from way back before the 19th century. The factor that’s changed is the reason behind the implementation, which may continue to evolve as new trends and legislation emerge. It remains to be proven whether single-sex classrooms are beneficial to students.

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Pros and Cons of Single-Sex Education