Do Same Sex Schools and Classes Help or Hurt Students?
The idea of public same-sex or single-sex schools is discussed briefly with my findings in this article. I have given some background information, current programs and the issues of this plan. As a way to improve the educational achievement levels of public schools students, some state-education groups have determined that providing an education to students, based on gender, may be beneficial. There are some distinct advantages and disadvantages for the students.
No Child Left Behind Act
In 2001, President Bush signed in law, the No Child Left Behind Act to help school systems create new and innovative programs, paving the way to try the single-sex
In 2006, the US Department of Education amended its Title IX regulations to allow single-sex opportunities as long as enrollment is voluntary and there is a substantially equal school for students of the other gender.
There are a number of schools systems that have tried this or are in the process of converting their schools into single-gender schools. Some districts are trying single-sex classrooms first, due to enrollment, financial or political pressures.
The U.S. Department of Education contracted with RMC Research Corporation to conduct a descriptive study of existing single-sex public schools that would address the following evaluation questions:
- What is currently known about the effects of single-sex schooling on student achievement and other outcomes?
- What is known about the causes of those outcomes?
- What are the characteristics of public single-sex schooling? What are the contextual, instructional, and behavioral practices unique to single-sex schools?
- What perceived benefits or disadvantages are associated with single-sex schooling?
- What studies, including research questions and methodology, would be most appropriate to advance the knowledge base in this field?
I have summarized these points and findings.
- The results of the systematic review are mixed, though the findings suggest some support for the premise that single-sex schooling can be helpful.
- The site visit observers in the eight single-sex school sites found little evidence of substantive modifications to curricula to address the specific needs of either boys or girls, although some teachers who were interviewed provided examples of using support materials specific to the interests of girls.
- In the eight elementary and middle schools visited, site visitors observed more positive academic and behavioral interactions between teachers and students in the single-sex schools than in the comparison coed schools.
- Both principals and teachers believed that the main benefits of single-sex schooling are decreasing distractions to learning, and improving student achievement.
- Teachers cited greater benefits of single-sex schooling for girls than for boys in 5 of the 10 benefit categories.
- In separate focus groups, both parents and students cited essentially the same benefits as the teachers and implied that they chose the single-sex school for these reasons.
- Teachers in single-sex high schools rated problems with student behavior as less serious than teachers in coed schools, but the opposite was true in middle schools.
- In the 10 case study schools the site visitors observed more positive student interactions for the single-sex schools than for the coed comparison schools.
- The research team suggests that future research use prior empirical work (both qualitative and quantitative) to identify variables that should be measured and potentially used as statistical controls.
To read all the findings in fuller detail, go to:*
Video of Single-Sex Classrooms in Action
American public education differs from that of many other nations in that it is primarily the responsibility of the states and individual school districts. The national system of formal education in the United States developed in the 19th century. Jefferson was the first American leader to suggest creating a public school system. His ideas formed the basis of education systems developed in the 19th century.
In spite of the belief that public education should be available to every child irrespective of race, gender or economic status, this has not happened in reality. Discrimination in schools on the basis of race and gender has always persisted. Girls were not admitted in schools until many years after the establishment of schools, and even then, they were not taught the same subjects as boys. Since the 1950s, public policy toward education has addressed discrimination issues in education more than educational issues. The federal government has especially been concerned with issues of equality in school districts.
The emergence of the women's rights movement during the 1960s was a boost against sexual discrimination. Title IX of the 1972 federal Education Amendments prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions that received federal aid. Educators are of the opinion that even after all these measures; women do not get equal pay in jobs. Discrimination in professional jobs still exists.
Issues Facing Today’s Public Schools
It is a difficult task for school districts to implement an equal education to all students, regardless of gender makeup. This fact is a disadvantage for the students.
Small school districts do not have enough students to implement single sex schools, but they can and have tried single-sex classrooms.
It’s very tricky. We don’t want to go backwards and only have male students in some subjects and all female students in another subject. Public funds supposed to provide a free and equal educational opportunity for all.
In the past 12 years, US cities and towns have established no fewer than 80 public single-sex schools. According to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, single-sex classes within coed schools have jumped from three in 1995 to more than 300 now.
* Since the economic meltdown, there are fewer schools able to implement a single sex school or classroom, which means more students are at a disadvantage.
Some State Efforts:
- Districts nationwide have been scrambling to implement single-sex education, since federal officials finalized rules to ease the process in 2006. But officials in Greene County, east of metro Atlanta along I-20, say they believe they are the first in the country to convert the entire district to a single-gender model.
- Students in all of Georgia’s Greene County's regular public schools will be separated by gender starting next fall, a move educators hope will improve rock-bottom test scores and reduce teen pregnancy and discipline rates in the small, rural system.
- Leonard Sax, head of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, said he knows of no other public school district that has switched entirely to single-gender classrooms. Georgia is banking on the success of this move.
- Foley Intermediate School began offering separate classes for boys and girls a few years ago, after the school’s principal, Lee Mansell, read a book by Michael Gurian called “Boys and Girls Learn Differently.
- Boston’s high dropout rate and its racial, gender, and ethnic achievement gaps are strong arguments for different education approaches that have shown promise elsewhere. That is why it was encouraging when Superintendent of Schools Carol Johnson proposed single-sex schools for boys and girls in her reorganization plan. In other districts where Johnson has worked, she has seen their appeal to both students and parents.
- For the second time, Maryland’s Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Linda D. Burgee has rejected a proposal for an all-girls charter school.
- The current proposal is based on three main points – single-sex education for girls, foreign languages and a servant-leader educational model. Students will be able to pick a language in eighth grade and continue working on it throughout high school. Math and science classes will be mandatory for 11th- and 12th- graders.
- More than 1,700 students responded to a recent survey by the South Carolina Department of Education. Overall, three out of four student-respondents in grades 2 through 9 – students enrolled at 12 elementary schools, 18 middle schools and one high school – agreed that the single-gender approach was helping them in school.
- “More and more South Carolina parents are choosing this option whenever and wherever it’s made available,” said State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex. “This new survey shows that kids see value, too. They believe this approach helps them perform at a higher level.”
Given the American Civil Liberty Union‘s (ACLU) mission and history, it's not surprising that the organization is preparing for battle over what it sees as a constitutional question.
Evidently, the ACLU and its Alabama affiliate have decided they know what's best for the children, not the education professionals in the local schools.
Teachers and administrators at Hankins Middle School believe that putting boys and girls in separate classes could have academic and social benefits. They work with the students and don’t want the ACLU butting into their business.
Richard D. Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation disagrees with any segregating of students by gender:
Policies that are going to purposely segregate students by race or gender or income or religion is antithetical to what American public education is supposed to be about, which is to bring children of different backgrounds together.
Some educators agree
Nationwide, a growing movement of educators thinks that separating boys from girls will stimulate greater academic success and eliminate some social insecurity. Many teachers are willing to try the single sex or single gender schools or classrooms model. They see it as a positive way to improve achievement level and improve the quality of education for girls.
At least 442 public schools in the United States offer single-sex classrooms, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. At least 14 of those are in Florida.
For more information on what each state is doing in single sex education, refer to; www.ed.gov
Most parents and teachers can see the advantages to single sex classes,especially for girl in math and science.
Some districts are struggling with this today due to budget constraints. Not everyone will get what they want. Public schools are under a tremendous strain and money is a big issue standing in the way of single sex classes and schools. This money constraint creates a great disadvantage for students.
It would appear that the educational institutions in this country are going backwards, as far as treating girls and boys differently. I think it may work, as long, as both genders get the same level of education. We must be very careful not to violate Constitutional Rights of either sex , when we separate them. It’s a touchy subject that I’m sure will come under fire with groups like the ACLU.
Since I have taught in public schools and charter schools, with all ages and most subjects, I have a definite opinion. I do think that single-sex classrooms are beneficial and if, possible, single-sex schools. Larger, urban schools may have the resources to implement this plan, while smaller, rural school districts can certainly try the single-sex classes.
Girls do feel a lot of pressure when they are competing with boys, in the same classroom. Research has shown that, when given the chance and right conditions, girls can and do exceed in once dominated male subjects.
I think it’s worth a try. It may help ease parents’ fears and frustrations with the Public school system format.
Many parents have given up any hope that their child can succeed when it comes to public education. Private education, homeschooling and charter schools are seen as the only options left.. Public education needs some big improvements fast, if it is to survive and thrive.
Update on No Child Left Behind
Since writing this, there have been many new issues concerning education and the choices school districts make.
In 2010 President Obama tried to reform the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or ESEA, highlighting accountability measuring the effectiveness of principals and teachers. This was intended to give teachers the necessary support to improve student achievement.
Congress did not reauthorize ESEA so the White House authorized more flexibility to states to implement their own programs to improve grades and achievement.
**Read more about ESEA flexibility (being updated by current white house staff) to gain a better understanding of the challenges and tasks faced by states, parents, teachers, and school administration to create a workable plan to meet Federal guidelines.
The economy has played a major role in developing new single sex or gender schools or classrooms and with shrinking tax dollars, administrators have had to make unpopular decisions.
I still think the female-only math and science classes as well as, male-only English, reading and gym classes are doable and beneficial.
The No Child Left Behind law isn't always practical and poses many challenges for teachers, parents and students. With budget shortfalls, creativeness is essential.
- NASSPE: Home > Introduction
Single Sex Schools organization that believes in the model of single sex schools and or classes
- US Department of Education
The Federal Education Department
- Education Week
A weekly education newsletter covering current events
- American Civil Liberties Union
An organization that defends the Constitution and aids people in obtaining their rights
Would you want your child to go to a single -sex public school?
Questions & Answers
© 2008 Stacie L