To the Editor:
It is no surprise that single-sex classes have emerged as a school reform that may foster student achievement (“Single-Sex Schooling Gets New Showcase,” In Perspective, May 7, 2008). But single-sex classes are not a silver bullet that will solve all problems associated with student learning.
Do single-sex classes work? The answer is a complex “Yes, no, and maybe.” Recent research suggests that these arrangements work for some students, both boys and girls, in some academic areas. They seem to be most effective when their implementation is related to the developmental needs of students. In fact, the younger the student, the more likely that being in such a classroom will be a positive experience. Teachers also must learn how to address gender differences in learning. Such training takes place over time; there are no quick fixes here.
It is also essential that equal curriculum opportunities be offered to all students, both boys and girls. The slippery slope to creating shop classes for boys and home economics classes for girls is dangerously real if one begins to believe that differences in learning style or brain development equal difference in capacity. It is no wonder that civil rights groups are keeping a watchful eye on this movement.
Should single-sex classes be a viable choice for students, parents, and teachers? The answer to that question is a resounding yes. Schools must involve parents in decisionmaking about such offerings. Students who opt for single-sex classes may benefit from the arrangement simply because they chose it, a “chicken or egg” symbiosis of choice and efficacy.
As schools across the nation struggle to address declining achievement, success is welcome wherever it can be found. Researchers who have examined schools that have implemented single-sex classes can attest to the complexity of results that derive from separating students in any way. Educators need to look closely at what we do to students and for them in the name of school.
Frances R. Spielhagen
Assistant Professor of Education
Mount Saint Mary College
The writer is the author of Debating Single-Sex Education: Separate and Equal? (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).
A version of this article appeared in the June 04, 2008 edition of Education Week as Do Single-Sex Classes Work? Answer: Yes, No, and Maybe