In recent decades, the fiercest advocates for single-sex schooling were women and girls seeking room to thrive away from the dominating presence of males. In the most recent fifteen years, some of the most energetic advocates of single-sex classes (or even public schools devoted to teaching one gender or the other) are people concerned about lagging male scholastic achievement. (Eleven public schools were single sex in 2001, now thanks to legislative changes, there are 540 all across the U.S.).
With fewer boys excelling at school, more of them diagnosed with learning disabilities or behavioral disorders, and an achievement gap that widens even further among non-white boys, educators urgently hope that teaching boys separately from girls will stop the downward trend.
When the South Carolina State Board of Education released a study surveying 7,000 children on their self-reported satisfaction with single-sex classes, most students and their parents reported approval. Single-gender education is a main feature of South Carolina’s public school system by design; State Superintendent of Schools Jim Rex has made it a centerpiece of his administration.
Parents like their children to focus on the books, not romantic interests, and some parents feel their daughters grow up more self-confident and outspoken when surrounded by other girls.
But two critics of the study say its methodology raises questions about the results.
…let’s not mistake students’ opinions for evidence that separating boys and girls can close gender gaps in achievement—or even that it is in their best interest. These aren’t questions children can answer themselves.
Professors Lise Eliot and Diane Halpern point out three main flaws that the designers of the study didn’t account for:
What’s interesting is that despite the positive–and perhaps not very rigorously-gathered–feedback about single-sex classes in South Carolina, their numbers decreased due to budget cuts. Because the option is considered an “add-on” to regular co-ed schooling, single-sex classes are the first to go when the budget-cutting axe swings. And that’s in spite of their popularity with parents.
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Photo credit: Mark Hadley via Flickr