Feature Coed verus single-sex ed Does separating boys and girls improve their education? Experts on both sides of the issue weigh in.
But some credit another factor: Department of Education loosened its Title IX regulation in to diminish prohibitions on single-sex education. In addition, more than public coed schools offer single-sex classrooms.
Halpern, PhD, a psychology professor at Claremont McKenna College who has served as an expert witness in several federal court cases on single-sex education in public schools. Coeducation advocates and researchers also report that segregating students by gender — be it via entire schools or simply classrooms — can lead to greater gender discrimination and make it harder for students to deal with the other sex later in life.
Learning differences Single-sex education advocates often point to brain differences as evidence for the benefits of separating girls from boys in the classroom. According to a longitudinal pediatric neuroimaging study led by a team of neuroscientists from the National Institute of Mental Health, various brain regions develop in a different sequence and tempo in girls compared with boys NeuroImage, Vol.
Using brain scans gathered over two years from subjects from 3 to 27 years old, researchers found several remarkable differences. The occipital lobe, for example — the one most associated with visual processing — shows rapid development in girls 6 to 10 years old, while boys show the largest growth in this region after 14 years old.
Other studies have also shown disparities in language processing between the sexes, concluding that the language areas of the brain in many 5-year-old boys look similar to that of many 3-year-old girls Developmental Neuropsychology, Vol. For example, a meta-analysis of studies conducted between and — published in the November Psychological Bulletin Vol.
For example, despite performing as well as boys in math courses, girls often doubt their ability to develop their math skills when faced with difficult material, according to research by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, PhD.
Teachers also draw parallels between brain and muscle development, reminding struggling students that the mind strengthens with effort, and that practice makes the work easier. Department of Education comparison of same-sex and coeducational schools found a dearth of quality studies examining academic benefits and concluded that the results are mixed and not conclusive enough for the department to endorse single-sex education.
Most research on single-sex education has been done with private schools, not on single-sex classes in U. Even if they are public — and not charter or magnet — schools often also make academic changes when they switch to a single-sex format, making it hard to attribute gains or falls to any one measure.
Bigler, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies gender role development and racial stereotyping.
Bigler adds, however, that as public single-sex schools increasingly begin to offer admission based on a lottery system, opportunities for more effective studies on the topic should emerge. Bigler is co-editing a special issue of the journal Sex Roles slated for this year that will include several studies on single-sex schooling that have controlled for selection biases.
The research is also inconsistent on whether single-sex education can reduce gender stereotypes. A University of Virginia study led by educational psychologist Abigail Norfleet James, PhD, for example, found that boys who attended single-sex schools were more than twice as likely to pursue interests in subjects such as art, music, drama and foreign languages compared with boys of comparable ability who attended coed schools Psychology of Men and Masculinity, Vol.
Although she has no research on it, Damour adds that at Laurel students seem much more focused on school than on the other typical concerns of adolescent girls. A study by Liben and her graduate student Lacey Hilliard found that highlighting gender promotes stereotyped views in children as young as 3. The researchers evaluated 57 3- to 5-year-olds at two similar preschools over a two-week period. In one set of classrooms, teachers were asked to avoid making divisions by sex, and in the other, teachers were asked to use gendered language and divisions, such as lining children up by gender and asking boys and girls to post their work on separate bulletin boards.
At the end of two weeks, the researchers examined the degree to which children endorsed cultural gender stereotypes — asking the children, for example, whether only girls should play with baby dolls and assessing their interest in playing with children of each sex.
They found that children in the classrooms in which teachers avoided characterizations by sex showed no change in responses or behaviors. However, children in the other classrooms showed increases in stereotyped attitudes and decreases in their interest in playing with children of the other sex.
They also were observed to play less with children of the other sex. These results suggest that children are strongly affected when the surrounding environment makes gender divisions explicit, even though they are already well aware of gender, Liben says.
Often, Klein says, women receive fewer quality resources, and many single-sex schools and classrooms exaggerate and encourage sex stereotypes by emphasizing competition and aggression among boys and passivity among girls or by setting the expectation that boys are not good at writing.
Psychologists and education experts are likely to hear much more about this controversial issue as researchers on both sides continue their work. Amy Novotney is a writer in Chicago.