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Single-sex Education in Public Schools

Gaining new momentum in the education reform era

2013-11-05
According to recent research on the differences between males and females, there are natural differences in how boys and girls approach learning.

Single-sex Education in Public Schools

Gaining new momentum in the education reform era

public schools

Single-sex education (teaching males and females in separate classrooms or schools) is an old approach to instruction that has been gaining new momentum in the education reform era. Although the practice has long existed in many private schools, it's a relatively new option for traditional public schools and charter schools. Now that over 500 public schools offer some form of single-sex education, experts are renewing the debate over the value of separating boys and girls in the classroom.

According to recent research on the differences between males and females, there are natural differences in how boys and girls approach learning. When putting these theories into practice, however, experts have asserted that separating students has consequences that extend far beyond the act of learning. Social, political, and legal concerns come into play when dealing with instituting these policies in public schools.

Proponents of same-sex education argue that a mixed-gender classroom can be distracting for many students, especially at certain ages. Leonard Sax, founder of the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education, argues that while merely placing boys in separate classrooms from girls accomplishes little, single-sex education enhances student success when teachers use techniques geared toward the gender of their students. These techniques can vary from room temperature to instruction approaches.

Some educators also suggest that single-sex education can broaden the educational prospects for both the sexes. While co-ed schools can reinforce stereotypes, girls and boys can be free to pursue math, science, poetry, or art, without gender role pressure in single-sex environments. A mother of a single-sex educated girl remarked, "I feel that the single gender environment has given her a level of confidence and informed interest in math and science that she may not have had otherwise."

Still, critics of single-sex education contend that the vast majority of research is based on pseudoscience "laughable to neuroscientists." The differences that have been identified are considered too small to warrant separating students. According to researchers Dr. Rebecca Bigler and Dr. Lise Eliot, "Placing children into classrooms based on their gender and making assumptions about their physiology, brains, interests, and learning ability will virtually guarantee that teachers' expectations are biased and their gender-based practices are misguided for most of their students."

Bigler and Eliot maintain that many of the popular ideas about gender learning are simply untrue. For example, consider the theories that "boys are visual learners" and "girls are auditory learners." Their research suggests that learning is best accomplished when the delivery method matches the subject matter. It is the quality of teachers' training, lessons, and classroom management practices — and not the sex of their students — that determines the quality of learning in their classrooms.

Despite the debate, federal law supports the option of single-sex education in public schools. In 2006, then Education Secretary Margaret Spellings eased federal regulations on the policy, allowing schools to offer single-sex classrooms and schools so as long as these options are completely voluntary. The practice is even more common in charter schools according to statistics. The 2006 move was designed to give parents and school districts greater flexibility in selecting an environment best for individual students. 

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Source: Asociation of american educators
According to recent research on the differences between males and females, there are natural differences in how boys and girls approach learning.

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