Are Single-Sex Schools Better For Education?
    By Hank Campbell | September 26th 2011 04:00 AM | 15 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    The least convincing argument for government-run schooling is that it provides a 'social' experience for children.  Anyone who attended school has horror stories about the behavior kids learn from the social environment at schools and, if you are a parent with a school age child, you might even worry about it more than be relieved.

    Single-sex schools would seem to relieve some of that pressure, just like some women or some men feel better at a single-sex exercise facility. Advocates of single-sex schools contend that there may be brain differences between girls and boys that benefit from different teaching styles, though neuroscientists have found no brain differences linked to different learning styles.

    Instead, single-sex schooling is a negative, claim a group of psychologists, though their logic seems to be reaching a bit.  They contend that when sex segregation occurs, the students are left to infer reasons for the separation. Are boys not as good in some subjects? Are girls unable to learn in cooperative settings?  

    They dismiss numerous studies showing a pedagogical benefit, claiming little evidence to support claims that single-sex schools are a better learning environment. "Our examination of the existing studies leads us to conclude that there is not scientific evidence for positive effects of single-sex schooling," said psychology Prof. Lynn S. Liben of Penn State."That's not to say that academic outcomes are definitively worse, but neither are they definitively better. Advantages have not been demonstrated."

    Then they cite a few weeks watching pre-schoolers as demonstration of their claim. They watched preschool classes to look at effects of gender divisions among the students and found that after two weeks of teachers using gendered language and divisions, like lining children up by gender or asking boys and girls to post work on separate bulletin boards, they were able to find an increase in gender-stereotyped attitudes toward each other and their choice of toys, and they played less with children of the other sex.

    Well, in the history of schools, that same behavior ('boys are icky') has been noted millions of times, including in the overwhelming majority when classes are mixed.  

    What to believe?  Some sociologists claim that women 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.  Since most sex-segregated schools are private schools, and require admissions testing before students enter, they are not teaching all students the way public schools must. In 2006, the 1972 Title IX law barring gender discrimination was interpreted to allow for single-sex classes if it led to better education.  

    Education is certainly better, despite what detractors claim.  Standardized test scores, the very thing foreign schools specialize in and that are used to criticize the education of American children, have gone up every time since No Child Left Behind was instituted and for the first time female math scores are on par with males.

    There is a minor effort to institute more single-sex schooling but the psychologists seem to object to it on philosophical rather than scientific grounds. "This country starts from the premise that educational experiences should be open to all and not segregated in any way," says Liben.  Well, no, I don't recall seeing that in the Constitution, because that means there should be no Advanced Placement classes.  I grew up in a tiny country boro - not even a village - and students were allowed to choose if they wanted to take more vocational courses, but Liben uses hot-button emotional verbage like 'segregated' even if the education is clearly more customized to the student body, like letting students who don't intend to go to college be 'segregated' so they can learn a trade.

    And then there is the usual racism inference.  "The choice to fight sexism by changing coeducational practices or segregating by gender has parallels to the fight against racism," the researchers write in the paper. "The preponderance of social science data indicated that racially segregated schools promote racial prejudice and inequality."

    Well, racism was not created in schools.  Schools are locally populated so when racism kept people living apart, it kept their schools apart.  Far more damage was done by forced integration in the South, and busing kids into other neighborhoods, than was done by separate schools.  

    "The bottom line is that there is not good scientific evidence for the academic advantages of single-sex schooling," said Liben. "But there is strong evidence for negative consequences of segregating by sex -- the collateral damage of segregating by sex."

    Studying preschoolers for a few weeks is hardly 'strong' evidence.  The fact is, if women are better educated when they are equal numbers or greater, and boys are unfazed by gender balanced, then single-sex education may be better for everyone.

    If the researchers disagree, perhaps it is because they are in a field that is 70% women (one co-author out of eight is male) and it is skewing their perception.  Women in physics overwhelmingly contend they are uncomfortable in classes that are more men, and not because adult men suddenly learn prejudice against women in STEM fields.  Maybe women should be allowed to have a single-sex education if they choose and not be told they will learn (or reinforce) sexual stereotyping if that is the education they prefer.

    But they claim any evidence of that is pseudoscience.  I am not sure it means what they think it means.

    Citation: Diane F. Halpern, Lise Eliot, Rebecca S. Bigler, Richard A. Fabes, Laura D. Hanish, Janet Hyde, Lynn S. Liben, and Carol Lynn Martin, 'The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling', Science 23 September 2011: 1706-1707, DOI:10.1126/science.1205031


    I have no objection to sex-segregated classrooms but I would object to sex-segregated schools.
    I would love to see how the author backs up the claim that forced integration caused more damage than separate schools; Is the claim one of test scores, crime rates, youth pregnancy rates? What data is he comparing to reach his negative conclusion?

    In the US, particularly in the southern US where a well-meaning group of outsiders felt like forcing integration would make people get along, it was a real disaster, with violence and riots and lower test scores.  It was abandoned after it was shown to be clearly the wrong direction - white and black parents, regardless of what they believed regarding segregation, did not like using their children as social guinea pigs and the children (in this case, I was one of them, but personal experience can be calibrated out accordingly) didn't learn all that much because education was no longer the goal of the schools, social engineering was.  Scores went down and violence made headlines, which is always going to get a policy reversed.  Then, and now, revisionists will attempt to rationalize those failures by saying school is more than educational achievement (and so desegregation was not the huge failure it was) but people get sociology papers published arguing against data that is well known.  I'd rather send my kid to a good school than one that is framing education through social justice issues.

    Just curious; why would you think forced integration would be a positive?  For the older students who understood context, it was clearly bad because they knew what was happening and that they were the cause of it, for no reason that made sense.  For younger people like me it likely brought greater tolerance (anger and violence about the color of anyone attending school is silly) but we had tolerance anyway; friends were friends and only the wealthiest areas in the south had all-white schools by the time desegregation was rolled out - on the other hand, it also brought a distrust of government outsiders telling people the school is unimportant but the social experiment is.  Among older students, they simply reintegrated within the schools - at lunch, black kids hung out with black kids, etc. 

    Willingness to dismiss the education detriment by young sociologists of today likely corresponds to desire to find racial integration as more important than the schooling.  And racial tolerance obviously improved, there is just no evidence forced busing had anything to do with it, whereas the test score drops are certainly related to the schools.

    Economics of Education (Dominic J. Brewer&Patrick J. McEwan) does a balanced job on education in general, including historical efforts like desegregation.
    From my 28 years of data:
    Hard-working female students do well in all-girls classes, in coed classes and in classes with skewed ratios.
    Hard-working  male students do well in all-boys classes, in coed classes and in classes with skewed ratios.
    Both groups even do well in the presence of a guide dog!

    If parents feel more comfortable with one-sex schools, they have a right to maintain such a structure. But if they feel there is a significant academic advantage for their children, they might be deceiving themselves. But by the same token, I see no disadvantage either.
    Right, it is often the case they introduce ancillary benefits that are intangible and more like rationalizations.  So these particular psychologists may not like the girls' school concept, maybe they went to one, so they set out to dismiss the educational benefits and then weight the risk of stereotyping very heavily.  It's the same with desegregation by race.   You have to search hard in Google to find articles showing it had negative results on schools - because every modern revisionist piece discusses how they found positives to forced busing in defiance of the negative test scores.
    What do Ed Bradley, Deval Patrick, and Clarence Thomas have in common? Based on NCES tables* graduates of single-sex schools represent 3% to 7% of the population. Since the 1960s when the number of single-sex school began to decline, they have represented considerably less than 5% of the population. One study found graduates of S-S schools to be disproportionately represented among people in positions of leadership. Among them are many prominent African Americans and children of immigrants and working class parents who attended urban single-sex schools in working class neighborhoods; people such as Rosa Parks, Madeline Albright, and John Boehner. Consider the following representation of graduates of single-sex schools:
    • 3/3 female U.S. Secretaries of State
    • 1/3 of all U.S. Senators and Governors in 2007
    • 4/9 Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court 2007 - 2011
    • 12 of 19 U.S. Presidents since 1900
    • 6 of 11 U.S. Presidents since 1952
    • 8/16 presidential candidates in 2007 primaries
    • 12/26 cabinet members under the Clinton administration (5 undetermined)
    • 11/34 cabinet members under the W. Bush administration (several undetermined)
    • 7/15 cabinet members under the Obama administration (1 undetermined)
    • 9/59 Illinois State Senators (34 undetermined)
    • 6/11 Illinois governors since 1950
    • 6/9 mayors of Chicago since 1950. (Emmanuel, one of three coed, graduated from New Trier, which has a single-gender advisory system.)

    This does not prove anything regarding the single-sex education. There is a very strong correlation between a school being single-sex, and a school being private. So, children from families who are rich (usually) and/or ambitious enough to send them to private schools end up in position of power.

    Right.  Unfortunately this sort of statistical manipulation happens all of the time, and education is a hotbed for intentionally framing statistics to support an agenda, so acceptance of numbers often comes down to desire to accept numbers.
    Standardized test scores, the very thing foreign schools specialize in and that are used to criticize the education of American children, have gone up every time since No Child Left Behind was instituted and for the first time female math scores are on par with males.

    So how do you feel about this?

    The End Is Near for No Child Left Behind
    Never is a long time.
    I think Pres. Obama needs to get re-elected in 2012 and he tried being a president for all people, arguing for merit pay and charter schools, early on, but he is under the gun now so giving in to the education unions is smart politics, but just politics.

    The scores are what they are.  NLCB was instituted because those same educators insisted they needed more money due to results of international test scores - and those went up but we are 'teaching to the test' and supposedly that is bad now.  

    Far more damage was done by forced integration in the South and mandated busing into other neighborhoods than by separate schools? Specify the damage. Damage to the black students facing white harassment? Damage to the white parents wanting to preserve racial privilege? Damage to white students facing black harassment? Damage to school administrators confronting interracial couples going to proms? Damage to the psyches of black students facing "superior" white academic prowess? Damage to the psyches of white students facing "superior" black athletic prowess? Quantifiable damage as indicated by student achievement test scores? What you identify as damage may say more about your subjective perspective than anything else.

    Lower test scores across the board.  Like I said, schools should not be social justice issues experiments.  Clearly you disagree but in that instance, it failed, and that is why it was revoked.  Thanks for the rant about my 'subjective' perspective, since you don't know me from anyone but since the data disagree with your worldview you'll instead call anyone stating facts about an education failure racist.

    The psyche of white athletes?  You think schools exist to put on a prom? 
    This article is almost sexist. It seems as though you think women are incompetent.

    Don't confuse the person writing the article with the people making the claims. The patronizing tone toward women emanates from people who insist females need some sort of special environment - greater numbers, no one ever criticizing their work, etc.  Certainly none of the women I know want to be patronized that way but the social sciences, overwhelmingly women as I noted, insist all kinds of crazy things about women.
    "The patronizing tone toward women emanates from people who insist females need some sort of special environment - greater numbers, no one ever criticizing their work, etc" - exactly. This might be the reason why the world thinks that men are superior than women of those people/ groups who claim special for women.
    The learning that is curricular based in sex-segregated schools and those that are not are the same. The only difference is the learning they have after or before school and how they mingle with the opposite gender.