Nayef Alharbi ED 556 Dr. Shutkin RESEARCH ON: SINGLE SEX

Nayef Alharbi
ED 556
Dr. Shutkin
Learning can be influenced by various factors such as physical, social, intellectual
or emotional. Hence while analyzing the effects of any given type of educational
setting, such other factors must also be taken into consideration. Both single-sex,
as well as co-educational environment may provide similar kind of facilities,
infrastructure and syllabus to its students, however the outcome may differ
regardless of the facilities offered. This is on account of the presence of various
other variables which play an important role in a student’s learning process. The
same is discussed at length in the paper, to arrive at a logical conclusion,
regarding the viability and credibility of single-sex education as the most
preferred and beneficial environment for learning.
Various articles reviewed as a part of this study point to the fact that single-sex
education is increasingly preferred as the most feasible strategy in terms of
enhancing student performance, offering the best possible opportunities for
students, encouraging them to take up leadership roles, reduce gender bias and
instances of sexual abuse, increase and improve career preferences by
encouraging students to take up gender-dominated occupations, and breaking
gender stereotypes by introducing unconventional educational courses which
focus on all round development of the students.
Historically, educational institutions have been essentially gender specific, where
there were separate schools for boys and girls. This study begins with the history
of single-sex education in the U.S. and eventually traces the benefits, criticisms
and comparison of learning outcomes across various fields, with regard to studies
conducted world-wide, to trace the impact and influence of type of educational
setting on the students’ learning outcome – not only academically but with respect
to their long term benefits as well.
Brief History of Single Sex Education in the U.S
According to Bracey (2007) the American educational framework was
predominantly oriented toward single-sex education. Such a framework was an
outcome of inherent societal structure which was largely patriarchal in nature,
where the expectations, opportunities and attitudes towards education of girls
varied largely from that of boys. Boys were believed to be more in need of a
formalized education since they were naturally assumed to head their families and
hence take up more important jobs which required professional training, while
girls on the other hand, were assumed to take up family responsibilities and take
care of their domestic lives, hence were offered courses which involved practical
skills and subjects which could be implemented in real life. Thus both boys and
girls were educated separately, on account of the wide differences in the structure
of educational courses required by them (Cohen, 2000).
The change in socio-cultural environments have brought about significant
transformations with regard to the opportunities available for both male as well as
female students and hence played a major role in revolutionizing their educational
experiences (Bracey, 2007). During the early 20th century, the country witnessed
a shift from the highly conventional educational framework – that of single-sex
education to a new model of education – i.e. co-educational setting, which was not
only palpable but also inevitable, given the large scale socio-cultural
transformations in the American society.
The rationale, from the male perspective, behind such a shift was to control and
manage the supposedly disorderly behavior of the male students by including
female students in the classrooms; while from the female perspective, it was
believed that the girls required a just and an equitable educational setting which
can prepare them for the ‘real world’ outside of their homes (Bracey, 2006), since
the turn of the century had witnessed the emergence of the working class females.
Other researchers such as Riordan (2002) believed that educating both the genders
in a common setting i.e. together in one classroom, was an economically viable
alternative, which was needed during the beginning of the twentieth century.
On the other hand, researchers in support of the single-sex education had a
completely different perspective. Cohen (2000) stated that until the 1950s – 60s,
the male students received highly differentiated treatment as compared to their
female counterparts, in terms of better educational facilities, programs as well as
opportunities for learning and extracurricular activities. While the female students,
in the same educational setting (i.e. co-educational) received lesser importance a
fact which was both extremely blatant and yet perceptible to those with vested
interests in educating the females.
Benefits of Single Sex Education: Research Findings
The benefits of single-sex education extend far beyond the academic domain.
Research has shown that single-sex education has the influence of widening the
prospects of students’ by offering them the freedom to discover their own
strengths and concerns, devoid of any gender barriers.
According to a study
conducted by a British researcher, on a group of 13 – 14 year olds, for comparing
their attitudes towards various subjects, it was observed that students enrolled in
co-educational institutions displayed gender-specific preferences with regard to
the choice of subjects i.e. the male students in co-educational schools invariably
showed preference towards subjects such as math and science which are
considered as ‘male oriented’ subjects as opposed to the seemingly ‘girly’ subjects
such as art or drama. The same study conducted on boys in a single sex school,
revealed that they showed greater interest in all kinds of subjects regardless of the
social stigma attached to it. They chose subjects such as drama, biology as well as
languages. Similarly the girls in single-sex schools showed higher preference for
subjects such as math and science as compared to the girls enrolled in coeducational schools (Stables, 1990).
A similar study conducted by the University of Virginia in 2003 revealed similar
results. The study showed that boys enrolled in single-sex schools are twice as
likely to choose subjects such as art, music, drama, or languages as compared to
the boys enrolled in a co-educational setting (James, Richards, 2003). It was thus
concluded that while single-sex schools tend to break gender related stereotypes
the co-ed schools tend to reinforce them.
In yet another study conducted by Trickett & Trickett (1982) comparing the
attitudes of students in single-sex and co-educational (private) schools, with
regard to academics it was observed that students enrolled in single-sex education
displayed a positive attitude towards academics in general, and were far more
eager to learn as compared to students enrolled in co-educational schools. The
finding was based on observation of both the sexes. It was further observed that
students enrolled in a single-sex educational setting excelled in organizational
skills and displayed higher participation in classroom activities as compared to
students from co-educational schools.
Single – Sex Education: Conflicting Ideologies
Some researchers have claimed that single-sex education plays a vital role in
enhancing students performance – academic and otherwise (Mael, Alonso,
Gibson, Rogers, & Smith, 2005; Taylor & Lorimer, 2003). This study was
contradicted by other researchers, such as Howard and Sansted (2003) who in
their research which included two single-sex high schools, observed that there is
very little or no significant difference between the academic achievements of
students enrolled in single-sex or co-educational schools. Similar claims were
made, regarding insignificant differences between the academic achievements of
students by other researchers. In a study conducted by Ferrara (2005), on a group
of middle school students enrolled in a single-sex educational setting, it was
observed that students enrolled in either type of setting, displayed more or less,
similar academic achievements. Other researchers in support of single-sex
education have published findings which indicate that single-sex environment not
only help in enhancing the students’ academic performance but also help in
increasing their attendance levels, and improving level of discipline as compared
to co-educational schools (Ainley & Daly, 2002; Ferrara, 2005).
Not all of the research concerning the academic performance and other aspects of
the students achievement in single-sex and co-educational schools, has conflicting
perspectives. There are consistencies observed in the literature as well, which
provide evidence regarding the academic benefit of female students and to other
students belonging to minority communities, in a single-sex educational setting
(Riordan, 2002).
Single – Sex V/s Co-Education Learning – A Comparison
According to NASSPE (National Association for Single-Sex Public Education)
the single-sex educational environment offers various benefits and opportunities
which are normally not offered by the co-educational schools. For instance,
certain educational strategies which can be effectively implemented in an all-girls
or all-boys classroom cannot be applied in a co-educational setting.
In a recent three-year pilot study, conducted by researchers at the Stetson
University, Florida, at the Woodward Avenue Elementary School, aimed at
comparing the behavior of students in single-sex and co-educational classrooms,
students belonging to either type of educational setting were tested on various
parameters on the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test). The
observations made are mentioned below:
Table 1: Percentage of students scoring proficient on the FCAT
It was observed that the reading performance of girls from single-sex schools was
far better than that of girls from co-educational schools, despite having exactly
similar curriculum and facilities. For the purpose of this study, students from
single-sex and co-ed schools were interchanged to observe the difference in their
learning behavior. Significant changes were observed in case of boys from co-ed
schools who were transferred to single-sex school for this experiment. It was
observed that a majority of the boys who were transferred to the single-sex
schools displayed higher academic performance, despite being tested as having
ADHD and other learning disabilities. Their scores improved significantly when
transferred to an all-boys school.
According to another study it was observed that girls in single-sex schools
performed better than those in co-ed schools in math. The comparison is shown
below in the form of a graph.
Figure 1: Math Improvement of Single-sex Girls V/s Co-ed Girls
Figure 2: Reading Improvement of Single-sex Girls V/s Co-ed Girls
The findings of this study are consistent with the findings of other researchers
who have made similar claims regarding the better performance of students both
boys as well as girls in various subjects, in a single-sex school as compared to
their performances in a co-educational setting. However according to some
researchers the academic benefits were much higher and more significant in girls
in a single-sex school as compared to that of boys in single-sex school (Spielhofer,
O’Donnell, Benton, Schagen and Schagen 2002). Such an observation was further
supported by other researchers who seconded this hypothesis that girls tend to
benefit more from single-sex educational environment as compared to boys.
According to Mulholland, Hansen and Kaminski (2004) female students excelled
in English in a single-sex education while the performance of boys in the same
subject hardly showed any significant improvement. However, the study did
observe that although the boys lagged behind girls, in English improvement in a
single-sex institution their performance was remarkably better than that compared
to boys in a co-educational setting. Although it must be noted that the findings of
this study was based on observation of international students enrolled in
secondary schools.
Furthermore there is evidence based on nation- wide studies conducted in various
countries aimed at studying the behavior differences of students enrolled in singlesex and co-ed schools as well as to explore and analyze the benefit of single-sex
schools over co-ed schools. According to a study conducted in England by the
National Foundation for Educational Research, in over two thousand high schools
across England, to observe the impact of type of educational setting as well as the
size and composition of students in classrooms on their academic performance, it
was observed that:
 Despite belonging to similar backgrounds and demographics, the students
enrolled in single-sex educational settings performed significantly better
than their counterparts in a co-educational setting.
 The benefits (of studying in a single-sex school) were far greater for girls
as compared to boys in case of high-school students, while the boys
benefited more in kindergarten and elementary levels.
 Girls in single-sex schools were highly likely to opt for unconventional
courses such as advanced math or physics, defying all norms normally
associated with the gender stereotypes.
 The single-sex schools were known to counter the gender bias rather than
reinforce it as in the case of co-educational schools.
 Lastly, it was observed that the size of classrooms mattered in case of
students’ academic performance. The ideal number of students, as
observed from this study, was stated as 180 students per grade. It was also
observed that smaller schools lacked adequate and appropriate course
structure which adversely affects the students’ performance.
In another nation-wide study conducted in Australia by the Australian Council for
Educational Research (ACER) which aimed at comparing the academic
performance of students in either type of educational setting, it was observed that
the both boys as well as girls enrolled in single-sex schools categorically
outperformed their counterparts in a co-educational setting. Their score was found
to be almost 15-22% higher than that of students enrolled in co-educational
The study also made certain interesting observations regarding the
behavior of students enrolled in either type of educational setting. It was observed
that the students enrolled in single-sex schools were better behaved, enjoyed
learning and showed greater interest in the school curriculum as compared to
those in a co-ed setting. It was also stated in the study that the co-educational
environment lacks adequate facilities which is extremely essential in coping with
the cognitive, social and developmental needs of both boys and girls which vary
significantly among students of both the sexes, particularly those aged between 12
and 16 years.
A major criticism against the single-sex form of education is that the single-sex
public schools mostly enroll students from affluent families. Hence critics of
single-sex education mostly use this parameter to judge the difference between the
academic performances of students in single and co-educational settings,
suggesting that the economic backgrounds of the students in single-sex public
schools is more or less responsible for higher and better performance of students
rather than the type of educational setting itself. However, this claim was
dismissed by proponents of the single-sex education, as well as the nation- wide
studies conducted in Australia as well as England, on the basis of lack of credible
evidence to support such a hypothesis.
Furthermore American researcher Riordan provided counter evidence in support
of the single-sex educational setting stating that girls attending single-sex Catholic
schools largely belong to lower socio-economic backgrounds as compared to girls
in co-educational Catholic schools, while so such difference in socio-economic
backgrounds was observed in case of boys in single-sex or co-educational setting.
The impact of socio-economic background of the students on their learning
process and academic achievement was highly debated by various researchers. In
order to provide evidence regarding the same, a study was conducted by the
British Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED). The study was aimed to
assess the test results of students from over eight hundred public schools – both,
single-sex as well as co-educational. It was observed that the socio-economic
background of girls in single-sex Catholic (public) schools cannot be held
accountable for their higher performance, and it is in fact the result of the singlesex educational setting itself. It was also noted that the girls in a single-sex
educational setting displayed positive attitudes towards learning in general, as
compared to those enrolled in a co-educational setting, thus leading to their better
academic achievements (Dean, 1998).
A series of papers were published by a professor of sociology Cornelius Riordan,
which aimed at comparing the short as well as long term effects of the graduates
of single-sex Catholic schools in the U.S. with that of graduates of co-educational
schools in the country. The study compared the students’ performance on various
levels and the outcome of the study revealed that girls in single-sex educational
schools consistently outperformed their counterparts enrolled in the coeducational framework (Riordan, 1990).
Similar observations were made by a team of researchers at the University of
Michigan, who were studying the beneficial effects of single-sex education over
co-education. It was observed that the benefits offered by single-sex educational
schools lasted longer than that offered by co-educational schools. Furthermore it
was also observed, based on the findings, that the students of a single-sex
educational setting are far more likely to enroll in prestigious universities after
graduation, and achieve higher and better qualifications as compared to their
counterparts from a co-educational setting. This observation held true for both
boys and girls belonging to the single-sex educational system (Lee, Marks, 1990).
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