Though research has shown that there are significant differences in the learning styles of boys and girls, it has still not been proven that intellectually one is inferior to the other. Various educational institutes have experimented with single sex classes to produce better results. Critics of single sex education are of the view that it reinforces gender stereotypes and it is not supported by definitive evidence that single-sex education improves student achievement. There is considerable amount of evidence in support of this critique.
Single Gender Classes: A Critique
Throughout the history the difference between men and women was recognized and accepted, but somewhere down the road it took a very rigid and negative shape. The concept of stereotypes was born and implemented through religion and other social values. The women or men not contending to their stereotypical roles were condemned by the society as well as the religious authorities. Several times in history people rose against this discrimination but the typecast roles for the genders have remained the same to some extent.
Even now in a liberal country like United States certain practices are highly discriminating against one or other gender. Though research has shown that there are significant difference in the learning styles of boys and girls, it has still not been proven that intellectually one is inferior to the other. Yet on the basis of this research various educational institutes have experimented with single sex classes to produce better results. Critics of single sex education are of the view that it reinforces gender stereotypes and it is not supported by definitive evidence that single-sex education improves student achievement.
In this paper an effort is made to identify certain disadvantages of single sex classes, backed by various findings. Firstly, the history of gender discrimination United States’ education system is discussed. It is followed by evidence against single gender education.
Single-Sex Classes in United States
In the 1960s and the early 1970s in the United States, girls and boys were usually separated for some of their classes. In some cases, students were placed in separate classes with different but allegedly similar subjects. For example, in high schools, girls went to home economics classes while boys went to agriculture classes. These classes, strictly separated by sex, were usually required of all students. An assumption underlying these types of classes was that they were necessary to prepare girls and boys for the roles they would assume as adults. In other cases, girls and boys were sent to separate classes even though the subject matter was the same. Physical education and sex education were prime examples of these types of single-sex classes. Finally, some single-sex classes were established to exclude girls from certain activities based on gender stereotypes of what were and were not appropriate for females. (Haag, 1998)
Single-sex classes with such objectives and programs are no longer prevalent in today’s schools. Laws have been made and implemented to prevent sex discrimination in education. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions. Title IX does not categorically prohibit single-sex education in institutions it covers. It prohibits the institutions from operating sex-segregated programs or activities.
The regulations issued under Title IX contain certain exceptions. For example, institutions may offer segregated courses in physical education if the classes involve contact sports. The classes in elementary and secondary schools that deal exclusively with human sexuality may also be conducted in separate sessions for boys and girls. Institutions may also make requirements based on vocal range or quality that result in a chorus of one or predominantly one sex.
It has been argued this equality of access can be better accomplished through coeducation classes. Recently there has been a revival of interest in single-sex classes in schools. The thrust for this interest is fueled by quite different goals. Among these is the desire to enhance the academic achievement of girls in specific subjects and support classroom social organization. (Pollard, 1999)
Findings on the Performance of Single-Gender Classes
In 1998 a report noted that single-sex education is not necessarily better than coeducation. According to the report, boys and girls succeed on the basis of good education, regardless of whether the school is single-sex or coeducation. According to this report there is no evidence that single-sex education is better for girls than coeducation. The overall observation has been that when elements like, small classes and schools, equitable teaching practices, and focused academic curriculum, are present, girls and boys succeed. (American Association of University Women, 1998)
A report by Datnow, Hubbard and Woody (2001) presents findings from a three-year case study of single gender academies in six districts in California, started as a pilot program. A major goal of this study was to examine the equity implications of single gender public schooling. The results indicated that most of the educators viewed the single gender classes as a way to decrease distractions among boys and girls to improve students’ self-esteem. Another finding was that educators were hampered by implementation difficulties including lack of political support, and funding problems. In some districts, the academies operated below its capacity due to insufficient public interest. One important finding was that stereotypes were often reinforced in the single gender academies. Boys tended to be taught in a more disciplined, traditional, and individualistic style, and girls in more cooperative and open environments. The creation of separate academies for boys and girls on the same campus led to a dichotomous understanding of gender.
It was also observed and indicated in the above mentioned report that students received mixed messages about gender from their teachers. While girls were taught they had broad choices in life, they were also encouraged for being feminine. Boys were told they should be able to cry but on the other hand, they were told that they should learn to be strong men. The separation of girls and boys did reduce classroom distractions from the opposite sex. However, students still experienced teasing and harassment in the coeducational spaces of the single-gender academies. Students also endured a significant amount of teasing from other students for being enrolled in the academies. After two years of operation, four of the six districts closed their academies, and a fifth district closed their academies after three years. Only one district continues to operate single gender academies. (Datnow, Hubbard and Woody, 2001)
One study evaluated cognitive tests attempted by boys and girls from single sex and mixed sex education system. It was found that boys in single-sex schools did not have higher test scores than boys in coeducational schools and that girls experienced no statistically significant positive effects of single-sex school enrollment. (LePore and Warren, 1997)
A gender differences study conducted by the Edina Public Schools reveals that both boys and girls, over time, may not fully benefit from the mixed sex education system. In particular, boys lag behind girls in academic achievement and social well being. To overcome this problem two South View Middle School ninth-grade grade Social Studies teachers piloted a single-gender education experience for students in an attempt to study the effects of the learning environment on student achievement. The results suggest that no evidence is found that single gender education works better than mixed gender education in terms of academic performance. When elements of equitable education are present both boys and girls have an equitable opportunity to succeed. Both boys and girls thrive in a setting of effective instruction, regardless of the grouping of students is single gender or mixed gender. Both boys and girls reported that they liked mixed gender classes better. Reasons cited included the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of opinions and perspectives. (Howard, Sansted & Du, 2003)
There are proponents of both the systems. A detailed analysis has been carried out in this paper to scrutinize view point of both the sides. The evidence clearly indicates that though the single gender education system does not have any adverse effects on academic achievements and attitudes, it still has been proven more beneficial that mixed sex education system. In addition to that, it almost doubles the cost in terms of management, instruction and time and hence, seems likely to fail. What happened to California’s pilot project is a good example of it. Also any such project lacks the vital political and ideological support. It seems very clear that gender based segregation of classes is not practical in this age and time.