School Choice & Charters

Are Single-Sex Schools Better for Girls?

By Francesca Duffy — November 08, 2011 1 min read
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An article in Slate recently looked at differing feminist views of single-sex schooling, and concluded that co-education is more beneficial for girls.

The authors, Rebecca Bigler and Lise Eliot, who contributed to a recent peer-reviewed article in Science on the topic, explain that one group of feminists sees single-sex classes as a “protected environment” in which girls avoid the drama and distraction associated with trying to attract or compete with boys, while another group views single-sex environments as divisive. The authors support the latter perspective, for three major reasons.

First, they write, decades of research has failed to find an advantage in segregating the sexes. There are great single-sex schools, they explain, but “their success is not explained by gender composition, but by the characteristics of the entering students (such as economic background), by selection effects (for example, low performing students are not admitted, or are asked to leave), and by the substantial extra resources and mentoring these programs provide.”

Second, despite “common lore among parents and teachers” that boys’ brains function differently than girls’, Bigler and Eliot write, “the bulk of scientific evidence demonstrates nothing of the sort.” Lastly, the authors point to studies showing that treating boys and girls differently leads to the development of stereotypes and biases against the other gender. Coeducation, on the other hand, “offers boys and girls the chance to learn positive skills from each other.”

Bigler and Eliot hope to convince the other feminists to work toward egalitarian rather than exclusive environments. “Whereas single-sex schools model the idea that gender exclusion is the answer to sexism, coeducational schools model the notion that the sexes must work together warmly and supportively,” they write.

Not surprisingly, they’ve received some “unhappy responses” to their research. Where do you stand on single-sex schooling? What have you seen these schools do—and not do—well?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.