Single-Sex Classrooms in Jeopardy
The state ranking of Charles Drew Elementary School near Fort Lauderdale, Florida went from a D to a C over a two-year period after 25% of classes were changed to single-sex, teaching boys and girls in separate classrooms.
Single-sex classrooms improve the academic and behavioral performance of both boys and girls for a variety of reasons. There is less time wasted showing off for the opposite sex; girls feel more free to offer answers to questions; and boys feel less inhibited by the more mature level of “bookishness” girls often exhibit in school.
Student outcomes have improved in other Broward County schools and in places like Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia.
Why single-sex programs are beneficial and proving that they work is complicated. The New York Times reports that “Janet Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who analyzed 184 studies covering 1.6 million children around the globe, said the studies showing increased academic performance often involved other factors that could not be disentangled from the effects of the single-gender component.”
Large scale research studies of single-sex programs have not been done in the U.S. One study in Korea showed improvement for males but credited them to “increases in student effort and study-time.” (NBER.org, 12-2014)
The National Association for Single Sex Education (SingleSexSchools.org) stresses that where successful outcomes occur, “schools did much more than simply put girls in one room and boys in another.” They state that: “Teachers should be trained in best practices for reaching their students, male or female, and know how to elicit the best results in these specialized classrooms that benefit students by recognizing the biological and cognitive differences between the sexes.”
Many Anecdotes, Few Research Studies
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania examined schools in Seoul, South Korea where students are randomly assigned either to single-gender or to coed high schools. It must be noted that in Seoul, assignment is truly random and there is no allowance for parental opt-out. Such an arrangement would be illegal in the U.S. where any single-sex classrooms assignment must be agreed to by the parents.
Researchers found that males and females showed good outcomes from their single-sex environment, stating:
Our analyses show that single-sex schools are causally linked with both college entrance exam scores and college-attendance rates for both boys and girls. Attending all-boys schools or all-girls schools, rather than attending coeducational schools, is significantly associated with higher average scores on Korean and English test scores. Compared with coeducational schools, single-sex schools have a higher percentage of graduates who moved on to four-year colleges. (Demography, 10-2012)
Unfortunately, this study done in Korea offers little proof for those who propose more single-sex classrooms here. The U.S. must offer parents the option of single-sex or traditional classes and this skews results. Also, the Korean education system is simply too different from American schools to translate well. For example, Korean students go to school all day and then study at private institutes well into the night to prepare for the truly high-stakes testing that virtually determines their future life and lifestyle.
ACLU Against Single-Sex Classrooms
The ACLU has filed suit against four Florida school districts largely due to their separating some boys and girls into separate classrooms.
Now the Obama administration is issuing guidance for school districts regarding single-sex education that many fear will effectively end it.
According to the New York Times, the new federal guidelines allow that “schools may set up such classes if they can provide evidence that the structure will improve academics or discipline in a way that coeducational measures cannot.” But, the guidelines specifically state that “evidence of general biological differences is not sufficient to allow teachers to select different teaching methods or strategies for boys and girls.” (New York Times, 12-1-14)
It is expected that schools would be unable to unequivocally prove that improvement is due to single-sex classrooms or that schools offering single-sex classrooms would be able to afford to defend themselves from an onslaught of lawsuits.
The ACLU has filed similar lawsuits in Texas, Idaho, and Wisconsin. They have successfully stopped single-sex education in Louisiana and West Virginia.
As Sen. Barbara Mikulski and former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2012:
No one is arguing that single-sex education is the best option for every student. But it is preferable for some students and families, and no one has the right to deny them an option that may work best for a particular child. Attempts to eliminate single-sex education are equivalent to taking away students’ and parents’ choice about one of the most fundamentally important aspects of childhood and future indicators of success — a child’s education.
Hutchison and Mikulski concluded:
To limit or eliminate single-sex education is irresponsible. To take single-sex education away from students who stand to benefit is unforgivable.