Single-Sex Education, Co-Education?

The evidence, according to this team of researchers, is that co-education is superior to single-sex education.

What are your thoughts?

Feminists tend to be of two minds about single-sex schooling. One group thinks single-sex classes are wonderful (for girls) because they provide a protected environment in which girls can learn without playing dumb to attract boys, focusing on their appearance, being distracted by (hetero)sexual attraction to classmates, dealing with male classmates’ sexist behavior, or competing with males for leadership opportunities. (This camp tends to be more ambivalent about single-sex schooling for boys, given that elite all-male academies were formerly bastions of privilege.) Such advocates rattle off an impressive list of female leaders, including Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, who attended all-female high schools or colleges.

Another group of feminists views single-sex environments as harmful because they provide an artificial world in which gender differences are reified as legitimate bases for disparate treatment, and males and females are both left unprepared to negotiate egalitarian relationships. This group points to the impressive educational gains made by women since the 1972 passage of Title IX, which outlawed sex discrimination in federally funded schools. As proof of coeducational schooling’s merits, they note that women have since advanced to the point where they now make up 57 percent of college students, 44 percent of college math majors, and 47 percent of medical students, among many other accomplishments….

First, decades of research on academic outcomes from around the world has failed to demonstrate an advantage to single-sex schooling, in spite of popular belief to the contrary. Of course, there are some terrific single-sex schools out there….

The second line of evidence stems from neuroscience. It has become common lore among parents and teachers that gender differences in brain function mean “boys and girls learn differently.” However, the bulk of scientific evidence demonstrates nothing of the sort. …

Which brings us to the third line of evidence supporting coeducation: research suggesting that single-sex schooling facilitates social stereotypes and prejudice in children.

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  • Myron Penner

    of course, the question begged here concerns those outcomes that constitute a “superior” educational experience… do we have to decide that? *can* we decide that? might it be possible that i don’t have to decide which is better?

    perhaps a better question to ask concerns the relative advantages and disadvantages (cognitive, social, etc.) of single-sex & co-ed education are. maybe it will be more helpful to me if researchers (& pundits) supply me with the kind of information that can help me decide which educational experience is better for my child, given who she is and how i would like him to be shaped by his educational experience.

  • My experience is anecdotal, not scientific: Kids will always find something dumb and non-academic to distract them from school, whether it’s dating in a co-ed environment, or hobbies or interpersonal drama in a same-sex environment. You can tweak the environment of the educational experience as much as you like, but if the students don’t care to make it a priority — if they’re willing to let other things, even ridiculously minor things, take precedence — it’s all for naught.

    In my experience the reason for co-ed or same-sex schools isn’t really about academics, despite what’s claimed. Same-sex schools are because the parents who choose it don’t feel they can trust their dating-crazy children; or because the college students who choose it want to get away from dating for a time, or want to explore who they are away from the critical judgments of the other gender. Nothing wrong with those things, but they’re not academic.

  • Single sex eductions seem to be effective with a particular types of students. Those that argue against single sex tend to say it isn’t good for the whole population. Those that argue for seem to say that there are some students that single sex is better for. So neither side seems to be addressing the major issues with the other.

    Similar to a study on after school programs a while back. It said it was completely ineffective except for poor and minority students. But it is poor and minority students that are most in need of after school programing.

  • AHH

    Can you provide a link for the original article this is from?

  • rjs


    The article is from SLATE – The Single-Sex School Myth I think. It is a commentary on a study published in Science on Sept. 23.

  • P.

    In the town where I grew up, a great many of us went to private schools because the public schools were not good at all (this from my mother who was a teacher in the public schools). So, I went to the girls’ school and had a very positive experience. So yes, I do believe that we got a better education because we weren’t distracted and because there was no one to play dumb for. Also, we had no “math gap” because overall, our scores were as high as scores for boys. Ultimately, though, parents should go by how good a school is academically. As for facilitating social stereotyping and prejudice, I think that could be bull, but I’d have to see the entire study.

  • DRT

    I hope that Christianity will eventually give up on the thing that is best, most or whatever dominant language we care to apply, is *only* the one that gathers the most people etc under it or gives the highest scores or whatever other measurement that people will apply.

    This particularly applies to religion, that I am sure the *most* will disagree. Let’s face it, the sensation oriented people will flock to calvinism and the other people will flock to other types. But you will not reach a strongly intuitive person [for lack of a better term] by telling them they are a sinner that has to execute some transaction.

    My sister went to an all girl RCC high school, which I am sure she enjoyed since it turns out that she prefers women. For her, it was a good choice. Really good. But for me,…

    There is no one formula. There is not one persuasion speech, there is no one idea other than following Jesus as best we can (I, no doubt, am preaching to the choir in this).

    Conclusion: Same sex schools are good for some.