Does A Single-Sex Education Make You Smarter?


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I spent the last four years of my life in a private, catholic, all girls college preparatory high school and while one may say that I missed out on the standard, social facets of a typical high school experience; I would argue till death that my all girls high school experience was something I wouldn't trade for the world. Contrary to popular belief, the 500 girls that went to my school were not closeted-bible-loving-anti-social-feminists and we did, in fact, socialize with members of the opposite sex. Nonetheless, it has been an on-going, contentious issue for society as to whether a single-sex or co-ed environment provides a superior education. So, will a single-sex education make you smarter?

We must first come to realize that while males and females are not two different species, that are very different when it comes to learning, expression, and overall being. And so, one can argue that a single-sex education can more accurately focus the learning needs of the targeted sex; but does that secluded sex suffer from the lack of the opposite?

Many sociologists agree that females are, "unable to perform if they are not at least 50% of a class, they feel pressured by stereotype threat and the potential for gender bias, and so a 100% same-sex class would seem to unlock the potential for all females" (Campbell 7). From my own experience, I can vouch for the truth of the previous statement. I had classmates in high school that flourished in an all-girls setting, by allowing themselves to say and do things they wouldn't have done in the company of boys. I, myself, felt more open and confident to participate in an all girls setting. So, while the single-sex atmosphere allowed young women at my school to branch out and express themselves without the restriction of the opposite sex, some may argue that it could have instilled an anxiety associated with the opposite sex.

Penn State's very own, psychology professor Lynn S. Liben claims there is no academic benefit to a single-sex education, "Our examination of the existing studies leads us to conclude that there is not scientific evidence for positive effects of single-sex schooling. That's not to say that academic outcomes are definitively worse, but neither are they definitively better. Advantages have not been demonstrated."

But then we have studies that show the numbers.

NCEA Pass Rate for Fifth Form Students by School Decile

Decile

Co-ed

Sex: Boys

Single

Sex: Boys

Co-ed

Sex: Girls

Single

Sex: Girls

1

21.4%

41.5%

25.5%

40.4%

2

27.9%

30.4%

34.9%

57.7%

3

35.6%

43.1%

41.4%

67.7%

4

39.7%

49.3%

52.9%

58.1%

5

46.0%

56.8%

58.6%

63.2%

6

50.3%

57.6%

60.6%

68.9%

7

54.7%

59.5%

64.9%

76.6%

8

59.6%

68.7%

70.8%

75.5%

9

64.4%

69.3%

75.8%

81.5%

10

68.8%

80.9%

77.0%

88.5%

Avg

48.3%

65.6%

58.0%

76.0%

 

It is very clear by the above chart that both sexes academically benefit from a single-sex education.

The National Foundation for Educational Research conducted a study in which they observed and calculated of 2,954 high schools (both co-ed and single-sex) throughout England and found, "Even after controlling for students' academic ability and other background factors, both girls and boys did significantly better in single-sex schools than in coed schools. In this age group (senior high school), the benefits were larger and more consistent across the board for girls than for boys. Specifically, girls at all levels of academic ability did better in single-sex schools than in coed schools; whereas for boys, the beneficial effect of single-sex schools was significant only for boys at the lower end of the ability scale. For higher-achieving boys, there was no statistically significant effect of school type on performance, positive or negative."

Studies show that women suffer from a stereotype threat in math and science, meaning that in the fields of math and science women are more apprehensive to perform due to their perceived inferiority to men. Perhaps that is why girls at my high school were so confident in their work, there were no boys to do better and perhaps this is why women are always found to do better in single-sex school environments. 

Another factor in this issue is that most single-sex schools are private, and require an entrance test. Therefore, one can argue that the students in single-sex schools are already at an advantage. But does that single-sex environment only further the intelligence of the "elite" students in private education?

Again, Penn State's Lynn Liben denies any benefits of single-sex schooling, "Kids' own occupational aspirations are going to be limited, and there could be long-term consequences where, for example, girls are used to being in roles only among other girls, then they have to face the real world where that's not the case."

It is clear to me that the issue of single-sex education juggles an academic as well as a psychological/social side. A article published by ABC News focuses on the negative effects of single-sex education when it comes to the social aspect. A 2010 study on two separate pre-school classes displays negative, social affects on students, "In one class, the teacher used gender-specific language to address the children. The other teacher did not. After just two weeks, the researchers reported that children who had the teacher using sex-specific language played less with children of the other sex." And so, some may argue that single-sex education promotes gender-issued stereotypes.

At the end of the day is it up to the parents: sacrifice your child's appreciation and cooperation with the opposite sex for a more specialized, concentrated academic environment? 

My proposed solution would be to create co-ed, public schools that separate the sexes for the subjects of math and science (debatably the two hardest, most demanding subjects taught in high school and the subjects that evoke the stereotype threat) and create co-ed environments for all the other subjects. Then, teachers could focus on targeting the needs for each sex when it comes to math and science, and incorporate both males and females for all other aspects of high school life. This utopian schooling system would essentially provide the best of both worlds. 

 

2 Comments

What a great post, so well written! I agree with some of the things stated here, but I also think that sometimes the success of single-ed schooling is the social distraction. Listen, we all know that high school is a time for maturation and hormones run wild, and it can certainly take a toll on your education. Think about the number of times you've spent on the phone talking about the cute girl or guy in your class rather than studying for the exam tomorrow. In single-ed schools, that distraction is gone. That's not saying that those students never see another teenage male in their life, because most of these schools have brother or sister schools, but it certainly cuts down on the day to day distraction. An argument, however, could certainly be made in the opposite direction, that single-ed schools cause even more drama. A co-ed class is trouble, but sometimes, a single-ed class is a battlefield. Students of the same sex sometimes do not always coexist to the best results, but only in extreme cases does it truly present itself as a problem. Thus, I believe single-ed schools succeed because of the lack of social distractions.

Great blog post! I agree with you that although same-sex schools may show better academic results, it may not be the best route to go. On Forbes top 100 "America's Best College List", the top 5 universities are all co-ed (http://www.forbes.com/top-colleges/list/). And your suggestion of math and science being separated into the same sex classes only...do you suggest that this be implemented from elementary school on, or later on in middle school or high school?
I think the study you found where teachers separated pre-school students and saw negative results isn't too relevant in your blog post because, although, a great study, the kids are so young! You talked about how kids in high school who went to same sex schools flourished and maybe it's only later on when we are older that being separated into same sex schools or classes may help.

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