Children Learn Better in All Boys' or All Girls' Schools? Examining Potential Benefits of Single-Sex Education
Students are inundated with a wide number of distractions while in school. This often takes away from the success of their learning experience, and can result in lost opportunities, both academically and professionally. This has been the source of a great debate based on the concept of single-sex education in modern practice. This current research uses the Lock Model to explore the issue further. After reviewing the discourse, several conclusions can be made in regards to potential benefits of single-sex education combined with other factors like small class sizes and high teacher engagement.
The underlying research explores various factors in modern student experiences. It examines empirical studies, legal reviews, and previous contributions to the discourse. The underlying research question is: Do children learn better in a single-sex educational environment?
The academic success of students in single-sex schools is further augmented with a highly devoted and caring teaching staff. Competent teachers who are engaged in their lesson plans and learning strategies can really help make the single-sex school an enriching experience. Essentially, "the teachers' ability to address the full range of their students' needs was enhanced by gender separation" (Hubbard & Datnow, 2005, p 123). Teachers could focus on teaching strategies that were more intimately tailored to the needs of a more specific student body. This allowed them to be more successful in targeting how to work with individual learners. Teachers that really took this as a positive opportunity then really made an impact in their students' learning experiences, which undoubtedly had an impact on overall academic performance. Thus, when "single-sex academies were able to attract and retain teachers willing to be involved and engaged with students on multiple levels, the results were overwhelmingly positive," (Hubbard & Datnow, 2005, p 125).
In addition, single-sex schools tend to provide an academic environment that contains much less distractions than traditional school facilities. Interaction of the sexes in schools, especially in older grade levels, can cause distractions based on the growing sexuality of the students. For high school level schools, members of the opposite sex often prove a distraction to young teens going through puberty and beginning to establish intimate relationships with the other gender (Hubbard & Datnow, 2005). Thus, the research illustrates that such schools work by "enhancing the education of both girls and boys by freeing both from the distractions of the opposite sex during adolescence" (Simson, 2005, p 431). Single-sex schools eliminate the huge distraction of the other sex to a student population that is going through the pangs of puberty. The lack of the opposite sex can alter the way students behave while in the academic setting. For example, "when boys did not have girls present, they felt less need to show off, act out, or engage in attention-getting behavior," (Hubbard & Datnow, 2005, p 121).
Moreover, female students have reported that without make students around to mock them, they can better express themselves without having to hold back.
Girls seemed to be much more focused on academics when male students were not around. Here, the research suggests that "one major advantage gender separation offered the girls was the freedom to make decisions about their appearance without harassment from the boys" (Hubbard & Datnow, 2005, p 122). They were less inclined to worry about what they wore or spending too much time on their make up and hair. The environment was free from the judgment of male teens, who often criticize female students for not meeting a certain beauty norm. The ability for students to engage in learning without that hanging over their heads opened up opportunities to focus more on their studies, with less holding back in terms of expression or fear of male judgment.
"Girls' educational participation and performance have gone up so rapidly that it is now boys who are seen as the problem," (Robinson & Smithers, 1997, p 24). Thus, supporters have been quick to show how beneficial single-sex educational environments have been for modern female student populations.
Single-sex schools have long been thought of as a way to improve educational capacities for vulnerable student populations, like low-income and minority students. In many minority groups, gender-based characteristics and ascribed identities have an impact on learning within a co-gender classroom. For example, Hubbard and Datnow (2005) show how certain minority groups experience stereotypes based on gender within the context of classrooms with both genders present. According to their research, "low teacher expectations have been shown to disadvantage African-American males in public school classrooms. African-American females fare better by comparison," (Hubbard & Datnow, 2005, p 116). Similarly, Hispanic and Latino males face similar stereotyping and thus invoke less teacher confidence in comparison to female students of the same ethnic backgrounds. With such evidence in mind, many have begun to see single-sex education facilities as a way to increase the academic potential for minority groups, especially in the case of minority males. It is a "reversal of the gender stratification norm" because there are no other female students to compare to (Hubbard & Datnow, 2005, p 116).
Yet, there is also evidence which challenges assertions that single sex schooling provides a greater learning experience for children. One of those objections is that "the research showing that single-sex schools positively affect the educational experiences of some boys and girls has been conducted mainly at Catholic schools," and as such "class differences may account for the observed educational outcomes" (Hubbard & Datnow, 2005, p 117). Unfortunately, much of the research in the current discourse focuses on these privileged private schools. This leaves out how single-sex education would benefit lower income or middle class students. Thus, "most of what we know about the effects of single-sex schools is drawn from quantitative, comparative studies of student performance in private-sector schools" (Hubbard & Datnow, 2005, p 117). There have been limited, and largely unsuccessful experiments with single-sex schools in the public education sector. California briefly introduced public same-sex schools, however the program was not open long enough to produce viable data in regards to the potential academic benefit the educational environment had on student bodies.
However, overall, the success found in these schools could be from other factors. Here, the research claims that "there typically appears to be good reason to believe that the advantages derive not from the single-sex nature of the school but rather from other distinctive features of the school such as small class size, favorable faculty-student ratio, or special mentoring programs -- features that could be replicated in coed schools," (Simson, 2005, p 453). Some studies are often extremely limited because they tend to lack examination into other factors, such as teacher-student relationships within single-sex educational facilities. The interactions and teacher behaviors have largely been left out of research, which typically only examines academic performance as measured by quantitative methods. The underlying conditions of the students' lives have also tended to have been omitted from the current discourse. This leaves out personal or environmental factors that may show more detailed information as to what exact type of student population's benefit most from single-sex academic experiences.
Historically, single-sex schools have tended to disenfranchise their female students, while often presenting an unfair advantage to their male students. According to the research, at least until the middle of the last century, this historically is hardly one generally characterized by equal respect for the abilities and ambitions of both sexes. Rather, it is one dominated by gender role stereotyping, with all-boys schools typically oriented to training for professional and economic success and all-girls schools commonly oriented to training to be wives and mothers and to fill certain low-paying, low-status jobs," (Simson, 2005, p 449). With gender stereotyping still a common trait of our contemporary society, it is a fine line between providing for academic success and reinforcing gender stereotypes. There are many who believe that the opportunities presented by the two gender facilities still differ dramatically, and that many all-girls schools can tend to provide less academic and professional opportunities (Sherwin, 2005).
Finally, there are some flaws in the basic assumptions of the benefits. Most of the studies fail to incorporate students who do not fit the normal mold in their analysis. As such, "any notion that separating students by sex eliminates distractions fueled by students' sexual attractions to one another overlooks those students who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual," (Simson, 2005, p 451). We cannot simply assume that such students will be relieved of sexual-based distractions. In fact, it can be assumed that this would only increase the sexual tensions and distractions faced by such students. Essentially, "sex segregation reinforced stereotypical notions of difference," rather than providing the equal playing field so many supporters claim it to provide (Sherwin, 2005, p 36). This would only further alienate gay, lesbian, or bisexual students.
Conclusions and Answers to the Research Questions
There is strong evidence which shows some benefits from single-sex education facilities. However,…