Flawed Study: Unclear Results on Single-Sex Schooling

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:

  • students could only choose “increased” or “decreased” (learning ability, etc), instead of being offered “no change.”
  • there was no control group of children enrolled in co-ed classrooms for comparison purposes.
  • the “Hawthorne effect,” or the expectation that by studying the effects of a change, that there will be change.
  • 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.

    More posts like this:

  • Single-sex Schools: “Bad” for Boys and Girls?
  • Sex-Segregation in Schools Challenged
  • Photo credit: Mark Hadley via Flickr


    Martha Eberle
    Martha Eberle6 years ago

    When I see and hear the things that boys and girls do together in today's schools, I've been thinking that single sex schools might be good, because it would cut down on distraction. Also, dressing to look good for the boys, is a distraction. Know no statistics, but it makes sense to me, and school uniforms, same reason.

    One of my daughters went to a women's college in Philly, and loved it, and mentioned that she liked not having boys around because they were a distraction.

    Laura Ferlitto
    Laura F7 years ago


    Novinha L.
    .7 years ago

    Thank you for the post!

    Ernie Miller
    william Miller7 years ago

    I think the best thing ever told me by a teacher was. It is not my job to teach you anything but to teach you how to learn.

    jane richmond
    jane richmond7 years ago

    It eliminates a distraction.

    gerlinde p.
    gerlinde p7 years ago

    thanks for the article

    Cristi Sturgill
    Cristi Sturgill7 years ago

    These schools tend to reinforce gender stereotypes and give the students little ability to deal with the other gender in the real world.

    Loo Samantha
    Loo sam7 years ago

    thanks for the information.

    Anna G.
    Anna G7 years ago

    thank you.

    Dirk De Lu
    Dirk De Lu7 years ago

    It is pretty clear that our society is broken, our culture disfunctional.

    Families are stressed by modern life and with both parents, when there are two, forced to work, creative and healthy responses to the turmoil are a bit much to expect.

    Enter the expectation, the need, for schools to assist in raising healthy children. Too bad successive governments just cut education spending, our teachers are overworked, underpaid and often disrespected.

    Single sex education is more grasping at straws, not a panacea. Good for some, not for others.

    One size does not fit all, be it single sex, back to basics, open learning or ...

    Investing in our children, recognizing that they are both the present and future and prioritizing accordingly will do far more than arguing over the right approaches.

    Provide real educational choice with resources to back it up.

    O' that's right, no money, we have rich people in need of tax breaks and another country to invade. Perhaps we should bail out a bank? That will save the world.

    Our children are watching and learning. They see what we do.