Gender Segregation Education

Background

The number of gender-segregated schools has increased significantly since the change in Title XI in October of 2006.  This change made public gender segregated schools legal. In 2003 there were only 53 single-sex programs in public schools, but in 2010 there were around 405 single-sex programs.[1]  Because of this increase we all need to ask ourselves is this OK?  Is this something we want for our children? Is this ultimately a huge step back in the fight for gender equality? Or perhaps, is it a step forward using history to make necessary changes? This summary will discuss the arguments for and against gender segregated schools, followed by statistics behind the research and concluding with a discussion of the facts.

Arguments in Favor of Gender-Segregated Programs

Single-sex programs are geared toward, and have seen success in, lowering dropout rates as well as improving test scores and behaviors. These programs also eliminate the problem of having gender-biased standardized tests. This is based on the assumption that boys and girls process information differently and therefore would need to be tested differently. Traditionally, exams have tested based on the male’s process. When there is only one gender then the state can be sure to have the test geared toward the specific gender. Single-sex programs are also to eliminate distractions that may be caused in the coeducational setting.

Gender specifically, single-sex programs aim to improve the low academic achievement of many urban males and increase girls’ low academic performance in advanced mathematics and science. [2]  They have also found that while working in single-sex programs girls seem to improve in their confidence, competence, and leadership skills; as well as create broader career goals. [3]

Arguments Against Gender-Segregated Programs

Many argue that creating single-sex programs is simply a “quick-fix” to the real problems.  The real problems are large class sizes, lack of teacher training in diversity, lack of educational funding, and outdated testing materials. If efforts would be put into gaining more funding so we could shrink class sizes and train teachers, then there would be less of a problem with dropout rates. With these changes, students regardless of gender would get the attention necessary to understand each subject.

Those who argue against segregated programs claim that there are negative effects caused by gender segregation.  The most important is that it deprives students of real-world experiences.  Most workplaces are co-ed and students will not gain the skills necessary to contribute in those environments. There is also the issue with the writing of the Title IX law, which does not say facilities are to be “separate, but equal”, instead the revision to Title IX reads, “Separate and substantially equal.”[4] This identifies that there is not a provision for equal programs, and there is no guarantee that boys schools or programs will be equal in quality to the girls schools or vice versa. Gender-segregated programs can increase already existing stereotypes.  Gender-segregated programs have also been known to actually cause narrower interests and skill-sets.  This is said to be caused because they are not as exposed to other’s ideas and opinions. This is interesting as it is opposite to the claims made by those in favor of the segregated programs.

People with arguments against gender-segregated programs would say that the different results are due to questionable research.  Much of the research is inconclusive and many claim it is “junk” science. [5]  For example, the concept that boys and girls learn differently is unsupported by scientific evidence. When controlled for student’s prior ability and length of the school day, things that are said to be advantages of single-sex schools disappear. Other research indicates that teachers’ biases actually have more influence on children’s behavior than other children’s behavior. Segregating the children may not eliminate the problems if the teacher has pre-existing prejudices.

Research

As the qualitative research is inconclusive, this summary will focus on the difference in female test scores between the single-sex and co-educational programs. In three different subjects, math, science, and English, the single sex-programs had better test averages than the co-ed programs. Their scores were: Math-31.1%:29.2%; Science-44.1%:39.9%; English-71.4%:68.2%. This makes for an average difference of 3.1% in each school.[6]  It is up to us to determine if this is a significant enough difference in test scores to spark the overall change to single-sex programs.

Conclusions

In summary, the research is inconclusive and each side of the argument can find data to support their claims.  We do see that gender-segregated schools do help with problems such as: dropout rates, classroom sizes, and test scores. However, we could argue that this is simply due to external factors and co-ed programs could fix the problems given the same amount of budgeting and resources. Single-gender programs may create new problems like: reinforcing stereotypes and unequal education institutions. So even if single-sex programs do have a positive affect on tests scores and dropout rates.

Is this really the best answer to solve our problems with girls lower math and science test scores? I do not believe that segregation is ever the answer. Single-sex programs that allow for perhaps one or two classes to be segregated may help in the short term, but they are truly “quick-fix” problems.  The real issues lie in the culture that our children our saturated in that make it difficult for males and females to be educated together.  We should put our time and energy into fighting those issues with increased teacher training in diversity and dealing with different genders and increased effort to decrease class sizes.  With these sorts of changes the need for gender-segregated programs should dissipate and we can move forward and not backward.


[1] Rebecca S. Bigler & Margaret L. Signorella, Single-Sex Education: New Perspectives and Evidence on a Continuing Controversy Sex Roles. (2011) 65: 660.

[2] GAO/HEHS-96-122 Single-Gender Public Education, 4

[3] Ibid., 4.

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/25/education/25gender.html?ex=1319428

800&en=70f2ee029e27c6c3&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0

[6] Prepared for: U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development Policy and Program Studies Service 2005 Single-Sex Versus Coeducational Schooling: A Systematic Review Fred Mael Alex Alonso Doug Gibson Kelly Rogers Mark Smith American Institutes for Research Washington, D.C. (As subcontractors to RMC Research Corporation)

—by CK

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4 thoughts on “Gender Segregation Education

  1. womanstats says:

    I’ve never been able to make up my mind about same-sex education. Maybe it’s a personal enough decision, based on an individual’s characteristics, that there is room for both?

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