Single-Sex Versus Coeducational Classrooms
The main argument behind the resurgence of single-sex classrooms is that traditional coeducational classrooms are disadvantageous to women both academically and socially. The inequality in co-educational classroom has been well-documented in recent years. (For a more complete analysis of gender inequality in the classroom see the Gender Bias section of this web-site, or explore the web-sites highlighted below.)

Proponents of single-sex education argue that girls in coeducational classrooms fall behind their male peers academically after beginning their schooling with identical achievement scores. In addition, teachers interact with males more frequently, ask them better questions, and give them more precise and helpful feedback. Much of the gender bias in classrooms is implicit. Most teachers do not realize that that they are treating boys and girls unequally, and this underlying sexism is difficult to document. The following is a sample of the research regarding academic inequality in coeducational classrooms:

Research demonstrates that there are measurable improvements in achievement for girls who attend single-sex private institutions. Proponents claim that single-sex programs help girls overcome obstacles through a more focused academic learning environment, without the social distractions of male students. The most mot pointed to research on the academic merits of single-sex schools involve studies by Valerie Lee of the University of Michigan and Anthony S. Bryk of the University of Chicago. The pair studied 75 Catholic high schools in Chicago, 45 of which were single-sex institutions. Their 1986 study found that, "girls at all-girls schools showed a consistent and positive attitude toward school, tended to associate with academically minded friends and expressed a greater interest in math and science." They also found that achievement levels for girls at single-sex schools amounted to a year's worth of growth, or about 50 percent more than typically learned in the last two years of high school. (Lee and Bryk, 1986)

Across the country, public schools have begun to experiment with single-sex education as an organizational reform method. For example, in 1990, Maine educators began separate math classes for girls to address their underachievement in the subject. The classes were legally challenged for violating Title IX. The school opened the classes to boys and changed the name of the program from "All-Girls Algebra I" to "Algebra I with an Emphasis on Women's Contributions in Mathematics." In 1991, the Detroit public school system created three all-male academies to serve the needs of African-American males. The system was forced to open the academies to girls, although the academies maintain their focus on African-American teen boys. In Ventura, California, classes for "mathphobic" girls were opened to boys and renamed Math PLUS (Power Learning for Underepresented Students). A still unchallenged West Des Moines program educates students in single-sex classrooms for part of the school day. The program only involves students whose parents volunteered them for the experiment. These programs are all based on research, such as the AAUW study that cites single-sex classes as a creative technique to encourage girls to achieve, take risks, pursue advanced-level classes and become more involved in school activities.

Some critics maintain that a great deal of research which supports single-sex education involves flawed methodology. They claim that often academic and social gains are related to the quality of an educational institution, not a segregated environment. Research is often based on observations of individual schools, and the extent to which this research can be applied to single-sex schools as a whole is questionable. In other words, there are good and bad single-sex schools, just as there are good and bad coeducational schools. Segregated education may be highly beneficial for some students and make little difference for others. Increased achievement in single-sex schools may simply be the result of more individualized attention or more qualified teachers. "Because single sex schools are more likely to be selective state or independent schools, their students are generally brighter and come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Therefore, comparisons between the two types of schools are fraught with methodological difficulties" (Smith, 1994). For example, some of the studies have been challenged by other researchers:

Although researchers have questioned the methods of documenting the merits of single-sex education, most admit to a degree of academic inequality in the classroom There are also social factors in coeducational classrooms which contribute to academic and emotional difficulties by young women. The lack of attention in classrooms can have serious effects on self-esteem in young women. Eating disorders among girls in middle and secondary school and in college are rampant and increasing. Incidents of sexual harassment continue to rise, and one in ten teenage girls becomes pregnant each year. These factors of self-esteem reinforce gender inequality in academics and push girls father behind. Emotional problems encourage girls to question their academic abilities and therefore perpetuate academic gender stereotypes. The evidence of social problems in coeducational classrooms includes drops in self-esteem and high incidence of sexual harassment:

It is clear that there is a link between self-esteem and academic performance. The 1993 AAUW report states, "As boys get older, those who not do not like math are more likely to attribute this feeling to the subject itself...Girls interpret their problems with math as personal failures." These finding have dangerous implications for future success of women in the working world. Studies have documented a reduction of these social and emotional problems in single-sex learning environments . Many female students reported a more positive environment, unhindered by social pressures from boys:

A 1994 study by Lee, "Sexism in Single-Sex and Coeducational Independent Secondary School Classrooms," investigated sexism in coeducational and sex-segregated institutions. The researchers found incidents of different forms of sexism in all three schools. In coeducational schools, chemistry classrooms were the centers of sexism and the severest examples of sexism were committed in boys' schools. Single-sex schools and those with equity policies were the least likely to exhibit sexism (Lee, Marks, Byrd, 1994).

Critics maintain that this increase in self-esteem exhibited in single-sex schools is short term, and students in single-sex schools do not develop skills for coping in the real world. Many opponents of single-sex education argue that boys and girls who attend sex-segregated schools will encounter social difficulties upon entering a coed college or job situation. An all-girls school may instill self-confidence in a young woman, but it will not prepare her to function as successfully in a male-dominated world. On critic states, "as imperfect as coeducational classes may be, they represent real life." (Weld, 1997) Children must learn respect and understanding. The American public expects children of different races to learn to respect and understand one another, and it should expect children of different sexes to do this as well. Coeducation offers an enriched educational environment in which males and females can practice self-control and foster increased communication. In a coeducational institution, boys and girls can broaden themselves academically and emotionally by sharing knowledge, skills, and abilities. Critics contend that coeducation facilitates positive relations between the sexes and instills important social skills.
Government 375: Educational Reform and Ideology