In the last decade alone, hundreds of single-sex educational institutions have appeared in the U.S., touted as a viable solution to a wide array of student failures ranging from truancy to substandard test scores. The support for such schools is based upon the idea that the brains of boys and girls are wired differently and that children must thus be taught differently.
Separating boys and girls in education has been a long-standing tradition at many private educational institutions, but has only recently been popularized in American public schools in the hopes of raising test scores and reducing disciplinary issues. In 2006, as the movement for single-sex education gained traction, the Department of Education (which has long discouraged the creation of single-sex classrooms) modified its Title IX provision of the No Child Left Behind Act in order to ease restrictions on single-sex public schools.
However, such beliefs are founded upon very little evidence, none of which can be deemed reliable. Many of the supposed benefits of sex-segregated education have not been proven to result from separation itself, but rather to depend upon factors such as smaller classrooms and schools, fair teaching practices, and a focused academic curriculum, according to a 1998 study by the American Association of University Women.
A 2006 Arizona State University (ASU) study revealed that much of the research supporting gender-segregated education “is mostly flawed by failure to control for important variables such as class, financial status, selective admissions, religious values, prior learning or ethnicity.”
Additionally, the report stated that “the methodology of less than 2 percent of the more than 2,000 quantitative studies of gender-segregated education was of high enough quality to meet the standards of the National Center for Education Statistics.”
According to Juliet A. Williams in her L.A. Times Op-Ed “What’s wrong with single-sex schools? A lot.,” government-sanctioned studies have even noted that there is a glaring lack of evidence to prove that single-sex education improves student performance. A 2014 meta-analysis of studies regarding single-sex education found that no advantage existed for either sex in segregated education.
Moreover, when put into practice, single-sex education has been proven to to encourage the perpetuation of antiquated and limited stereotypes regarding gender and sex.
For example, when Hankins Middle School, a public school in Theodore, Alabama, implemented a new sex-segregated program, teachers were instructed to create “competitive, high-energy” classroom for boys and “cooperative, quiet” classrooms for girls, according to Teaching Tolerance.
Boys were to be taught “heroic behavior” and to take classes such as computer science, while girls were to be taught “good character” and to take classes such as drama. In a sixth-grade English class, boys were told to brainstorm action words used in sports, while girls were to describe their dream wedding cake.
The program was later terminated after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatened to file a lawsuit on behalf of parents who were dissatisfied with their students’ education at Hankins, charging that the school’s program violated Title IX. Similar programs have also received backlash for emphasizing stereotypical differences between girls and boys.
Separating students by sex in an educational and social environment does not prepare them for the integrated society in which they must work and interact with members of the opposite sex; instead, it teaches students a vast set of inaccurate generalizations regarding gender which gender equality advocates have been attempting to eliminate for decades. Much of this “science of sex” has been disproved, with neuroscientists refuting gender differences between male and female brains.
Sex-segregated schools can become breeding grounds for social inequality, as the sexist teaching methods of those who support the movement do not allow students to reach their full potential. Boys are not given the opportunity to learn creative thinking and collaborative working, and girls are not encouraged to build test-taking skills or to interact with their peers in a healthy competitive environment. It is in this manner in which sex-segregated schools fail to prepare students for gender-integrated workplaces, shared leadership, and equal partnership in families.
Rather than separating young men and women in classrooms, public schools should attempt to encourage all individuals to respect and understand one another and to work together to foster a more inclusive and supportive environment for all individuals.