Saturday, September 24, 2011

Study Suggests Single-Sex Education Does More Harm than Good

Even as Kris pointed out that single-sex education is on the rise, a review article in the journal Science that was reported widely on yesterday (see, e.g., here, here, and here) casts doubt on claims that separating students by sex makes them better learners. But evidence does suggest that the practice promotes gender stereotyping and sexism. For instance, the review cites a recent comparative study of two preschool classrooms, which found that the classroom where the teacher used gender-specific language to address the children quickly produced greater tendency among the students, when compared to a classroom where no gender-specific language was used, to exclude children of the opposite sex and to rely on gender stereotypes. The study also references a Department of Education report found little overall difference in academic outcomes between children in single-sex schools versus those in coed schools. Factors other than sex, such as economic factors and parent involvement, are more likely to influence academic success.

The study's authors, who include psychologists, education specialists, and a neuroscientist who studies gender, have created a American Council for Coeducation Schooling, and are using their findings as the basis of a political movement to urge the Department of Education to rescind the regulations that allow for single-sex education, which were promulgated after the 2002 No Child Left Behind law authorize single-sex education in elementary and secondary schools as an exception to Title IX's general prohibition on sex discrimination. As we have pointed out on this blog in the past, many school districts (see, e.g.) appear to be implementing single-sex education in a broad, coercive, and groundless manner that is not authorized by the regulations.

Given the Secretary of Education's record support of single-sex classrooms such as those in his home city of Chicago, it will be interesting to see whether he is open-minded to reform and keeps in mind President Obama's professed commitment to evidence-based policymaking.