Sex segregation in schools detrimental to equality

Sep 22, 2011

Students who attend sex-segregated schools are not necessarily better educated than students who attend coeducational schools, but they are more likely to accept gender stereotypes, according to a team of psychologists.

"This country starts from the premise that educational experiences should be open to all and not segregated in any way," said Lynn S. Liben, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Human Development and Family Studies, and Education, Penn State. "To justify some kind of segregation there must be scientific evidence that it produces better outcomes."

In the current issue of Science, Liben and her colleagues report that there is little concrete evidence to support claims that single-sex schools are a better .

"Our examination of the existing studies leads us to conclude that there is not scientific evidence for positive effects of single-sex schooling," said Liben. "That's not to say that academic outcomes are definitively worse, but neither are they definitively better. Advantages have not been demonstrated."

Some supporters of single-sex schools claim that between boys and girls require different teaching styles. But have found few differences between male and female brains, and none has been linked to different learning styles.

When students are segregated by sex, they are not given opportunities to work together to develop the skills needed to interact with each other. When sex segregation occurs in public schools, the students are left to infer reasons for the separation. Are girls not as good as boys in some subjects? Are boys unable to learn in cooperative settings?

In 2010, Liben and her graduate student studied preschool classes to look at effects of gender divisions among the students. She found that after two weeks of teachers using gendered language and divisions -- lining children up by gender and asking boys and girls to post work on separate bulletin boards -- the students showed an increase in gender-stereotyped attitudes toward each other and their choice of toys, and they played less with children of the other sex.

"The choice to fight sexism by changing coeducational practices or segregating by gender has parallels to the fight against racism," the researchers write in the paper. "The preponderance of social science data indicated that racially segregated schools promote racial prejudice and inequality."

Currently most sex-segregated schools are private schools, and are often cited as evidence of the advantages of single-sex schools. However, private schools require admissions testing before students enter. Entrance exams and private status make using existing single-sex schools as examples problematic when comparing them to public schools.

In 1972 the enactment of Title IX outlawed educational discrimination on the basis of sex. Students were no longer allowed to be excluded from a class because they happened to be male or female -- home economics and wood shop classes were now open to everyone. But in 2006 the U.S. Department of Education reinterpreted Title IX -- public schools are now legally allowed to segregate classes or even entire schools on the basis of sex, but only if they show that the division is related to important governmental or educational objectives.

Today there is a significant advocacy effort from those who encourage single-sex schools, said Liben. But there is no comparable effort for coeducational schools -- probably because it was the status quo after Title IX.

Liben and her colleagues formed the non-profit organization, the American Council for CoEducational Schooling, in part to help disseminate scientific data relevant to single-sex and coeducational schooling.

"The bottom line is that there is not good scientific evidence for the academic advantages of single-sex schooling," said Liben. "But there is strong evidence for negative consequences of segregating by sex -- the collateral damage of segregating by sex."

Explore further: Precarious work schedules common among younger workers

Related Stories

Keep boys and girls together, research suggests

Apr 11, 2008

Boys and girls may learn differently, but American parents should think twice before moving their children to sex-segregated schools. A new Tel Aviv University study has found that girls improve boys’ grades markedly at ...

Parents misled by advocates of single-sex education

Aug 18, 2011

There is no scientific basis for teaching boys and girls separately, according to Lise Eliot from The Chicago Medical School. Her review reveals fundamental flaws in the arguments put forward by proponents of single-sex schools ...

Probing Question: Are boys really better at math than girls?

May 20, 2010

In 1992, Mattel sparked a nationwide debate about math and gender when the company released "Teen Talk Barbie." Among the doll’s 270 phrases were "Math class is tough!" (often misquoted as "Math is hard"), along with "Will ...

Multilingualism brings communities closer together

Feb 10, 2009

Learning their community language outside the home enhances minority ethnic children's development, according to research led from the University of Birmingham. The research, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research ...

Recommended for you

Precarious work schedules common among younger workers

17 hours ago

One wish many workers may have this Labor Day is for more control and predictability of their work schedules. A new report finds that unpredictability is widespread in many workers' schedules—one reason ...

Girls got game

18 hours ago

Debi Taylor has worked in everything from construction development to IT, and is well and truly socialised into male-dominated workplaces. So when she found herself the only female in her game development ...

Computer games give a boost to English

Aug 28, 2014

If you want to make a mark in the world of computer games you had better have a good English vocabulary. It has now also been scientifically proven that someone who is good at computer games has a larger ...

Saddam Hussein—a sincere dictator?

Aug 28, 2014

Are political speeches manipulative and strategic? They could be – when politicians say one thing in public, and privately believe something else, political scientists say. Saddam Hussein's legacy of recording private discussions ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

pdfsmail
1 / 5 (1) Sep 22, 2011
I knew some idiot would start this crap... school is for learning, not for social interaction of the opposite sex... breeding retards because they are not learning because we had to give them equal access to the opposite sex... I was in high school and I know it does affect you a lot, and my younger brother will tell you the same.. since he was recently taken out of public school to be home schooled, reason? problems with the opposite sex....
Ramael
1 / 5 (2) Sep 22, 2011
I knew some idiot would start this crap... school is for learning, not for social interaction


So where exactly do you expect to learn social skills? Sounds like your having problems with friends, and therefor girls, lol
Galilean_Cannonball
not rated yet Sep 24, 2011
...I was in high school and I know it does affect you a lot, and my younger brother will tell you the same.. since he was recently taken out of public school to be home schooled, reason? problems with the opposite sex....

So, let me get this straight, you and your younger brother have problems with the opposite sex, so not only are you advocating single sex schooling for brother, but for everyone as well.
Assuming the findings reported are on the level, then surely you must bring more than anecdotal evidence to rebut the claims made. I'm a teacher in a single sex school, but I'm not be so bold as to say that I know the outcomes one way or another, either way, I know school is more than just learning from a proscribed curriculum, it's as much about learning to interact with others as well.
My children attend a coeducation school, we think that's best for them; my gut feel is that they must learn to interact with the opposite sex when there is no advantage for them not to do so.