Students who attend single sex schools are no better educated than those who attend co-ed schools.
Well, in America anyway.
America’s ABC reports:
Children are more likely to accept gender stereotypes when they go to an all-boys or all-girls school.
“There’s really no good evidence that single-sex schools are in any way academically superior, but there is evidence of a negative impact,” said Lynn Liben, professor of psychology and education at Penn State and co-author of the study. “Kids’ own occupational aspirations are going to be limited, and there could be long-term consequences.”
Interesting but wait. It’s important to note that this study came out of America. Australia is different because single-sex schools here are almost always also private schools. Thus there are a a whole raft of other issues that come in to play when assessing the academic performance of single-sex vs co-ed schools.
Advocates of single-sex education insist girls benefit in ways that aren’t just measured academically. For example at a girls’ school, they’re more likely to try non-traditional subjects.
One explanation for the fact that girls at single-sex schools are more likely to explore non-traditional subjects, then, might be that the single-sex classroom encourages girls to be daring, to try things that they might otherwise not try. Another explanation is that girls in the girls-only setting have more freedom to explore non-traditional subjects.
Girls at single-sex schools have more diverse role models of their own sex. In an all-girls school, the most amazing “computer geek” is a girl, the student council president is a girl, the top scorer on the math exam is always a girl, the best athletes are all girls, etc. That experience tells younger girls, it’s OK to excel in math, sports, and girls can be really smart with computers, too.
So what about the social implications. Again, this is what NASSPE has to say:
At a coed school, your boyfriend is part of your circle of friends, the people you hang out with. You all do stuff together, go places together. If your boyfriend dumps you, your whole social network is put at risk.
At a single-sex school, though, even if you do have a boyfriend, your social network at school is likely to be separate from your boyfriend’s group of friends. So, it’s easier to say no.
Not everyone shares this view of course. According to an article in the Brisbane Times:
Proponents of co-education argue that teaching children solely in a single-sex environment will not prepare them for life.
Principal Jon Charlton from the small, independent school formerly known as Kilvington Girls Grammar which turned co-ed this year, had this to say in an interview with The Age just before the change took place:
Mr Charlton says the research is also very clear on the social gains for students in coeducational schools. “Life is coed. Coed schools are a more natural way for kids to learn and interact so I think it normalises all form of relationships.”
However, in each case, the schools have opted for a hybrid model, keeping boys and girls separate in some classes. At Mentone Grammar, classes are single-sex for most subjects in years 5-9 but coeducational in other years. At Ivanhoe Grammar, classes are single-sex for core subjects in years 7-9.
In Australia, most state schools have always been coeducational, with generations of young people educated in mixed classrooms to no apparent ill effect.
What do you think? Are girls better off at single-sex schools? What about boys? Are there other things just as important as academic results? What were your schooling experiences and if you have kids, what decisions have you or will you make for them?