Single Gender Schools Don’t Work?

Wow, we’re suffering from whiplash and waiting for the fireworks.

On Friday we wrote (Understanding Boys’ Friendships) about Niobe Way’s Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection.

Today, we write about the non-profit group American Council for CoEducational Schooling. They may be non-profit but, boy, do they seem to have an ax to grind. The eight authors of “The Pseudoscience of Single Sex Schooling,” published in the journal Science are also the founders of American Council for CoEducational Schooling.

The paper’s authors betray their position and move into the realm of political shrill when drawing parallels between voluntary single gender classrooms and slavery.

New York Times education writer Tamar Lewin, in her article, “Single-Sex Education Is Assailed in Report,” makes her point in using ‘assailed’ to describe the tone and position of “The Pseudoscience of Single Sex Schooling.”

Full disclosure, I’m writing from the the article lede and the references cited on the American Council for CoEducational Schooling web site. I don’t have a subscription, or quick access, to Science for the full article.

The Pseudoscience of Single Sex Schooling,” is a compilation paper bringing together a series of studies over the past (roughly) 15 years; the paper’s thesis is essentially that single gender schools and the notions that support them are unprovable, or, even negated by the research. In some cases, single gender schools are actually damaging to those who do, and do not attend them. And, in the end, the healthiest way for students to learn, grow, and go to school is in a coeducational environment.

The paper’s lede from Science:

“…We argue that one change in particular—sex-segregated education—is deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence. There is no well-designed research showing that single-sex (SS) education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.”(TPSSS)

The authors write to bring the weight of research behind the rationales and questionable value of using public schools and public funding to provide a single gender option in the school choice movement. They conclude that rather than putting money and effort behind something of no value (single gender schools) educators, students, and parents would be better served putting monies behind educational initiatives, programs, and changes that the data support.

Lewin describes it this way:

“Arguing that no scientific evidence supports the idea that single-sex schooling results in better academic outcomes, the article calls on the Education Department to rescind its 2006 regulations weakening the Title IX prohibition against sex discrimination in education. Under those rules, single-sex classes may be permitted as long as they are voluntary, students have a substantially equal coeducational option and the school reasonably believes separation will produce better academic outcomes.

The authors of the article, though, say that because there is no good scientific research backing such a choice, the government cannot lawfully offer single-sex education in public schools…”(NYT)

“The Pseudoscience of Single Sex Schooling,” also calls out single gender classroom proponent Leonard Sax.

“Dr. Sax criticized the article on many counts, and said it did not fairly reflect his current views. He vehemently rejected the comparison to racial segregation, and the use of the term ‘sex segregation.’ Legally, race is a suspect category, while sex is not.

‘We are not asserting that every child should be in a single-sex classroom, we are simply saying that there should be a choice,’ Dr. Sax said in an interview.” (NYT)

I hear the authors’ argument and they may have point on certain of the issues they raise. But something makes me think that, almost to-a-t, not a one of them has spent much time teaching in high school classroom.

I’ll raise two points from personal experience in the high school classroom.

One, generally, ninth and tenth grade boys are not in the same places- emotionally, developmentally, physically, or maturation-wise- as their female counterparts.  The girls and boys at this point in their developments are in different places.

Two, what about the boys who are more comfortable in a single gender environment and who go on to fine adulthoods?

I’d be fascinated to hear a debate on the issue between the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU and the National Coalition of Girls Schools.

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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