single sex ed paper

Patricia Camarda
Dr. Jones
Persuasive Paper #1
The Case for Single- Sex Education
America’s educational system has been through many changes, in legislation and form, pretty
much since the time of its creation. The way in which we educate our youth has been altered in many
different ways even since back in colonial times, but the change doesn’t only come in the form of
legislations or achievement requirements, but also in whether the classrooms were single-sex or
coeducational. At the start of the United States’ educational career the classes were primarily
coeducational, mainly because there were so few teachers and students that it didn’t make sense to
separate the sexes. As the years went by and schooling became more accessible the schools started to lean
to more of a single-sex education. This changed occurred more in the private schools being created and
the Universities, which were primarily just for men, with very few allowing women to enroll. Again
America took another turn and began to favor coeducational schooling, particularly with the public
education, since it was more cost effective. Even now the question of whether single-sex or coeducational
schooling is better for the youth of America is still a much debated topic, with both sides arguing
vehemently for their cause. When considering what is better for the children overall, academically and
socially, single-sex education provides many benefits and assists in those students become well rounded
and confident adults. The edge they receive academically alone help them get into better colleges and
from there better jobs. Single-sex schooling is also better equipped to accommodate for the brain and
learning differences between boys and girls. Socially they receive even more benefits since it makes them
more comfortable in the classroom, especially at a young age, and makes the students more ordered and
disciplined. Ironically, single-sex education also makes the students feel equal to the opposite sex in later
life instead of making the girls feel more inferior in a male dominated world. This is accomplished mostly
because of the positive role models in the schools. Many coeducational advocates with bring up the
argument that studies of the differences between the two types hardly allow for variables such as prior
achievement and therefore the results cannot be correct. That agreement however does have a few holes
since not all single-sex classrooms are in the private schools, which are usually more selective in whom
they choose to enroll. The debates over single-sex versus coeducational schooling has taken over board
meetings, teachers’ discussions, and sometimes even the dinner table talk, all focusing on the
overwhelming question of which is better for the kids. The evidence shows that single-sex education is in
fact the greatest way to make your child succeed to the best of their ability.
One of the main benefits that many focus on when it comes to single-sex education is the
advanced academic achievement single-sex students tend to exhibit. What many do not see is that the
education, or way of teaching, is not always different or even the deciding factor in what makes singlesex students’ grades better. Studies have actually shown that the coeducational system can be somewhat
sexist without even meaning to be. According to Cornelius Riordan, author of “Girls and Boys in
School”, studies on the organization of the classroom suggest that girls may be at a disadvantage in the
coeducational classes (Riordan). The classrooms tend to be more male dominated and the boys may
receive more of the attention, whether for educational help or disciplinary issues, but nevertheless leaves
the girls behind (Riordan, 9). The single-sex classes take that issue away since the teachers can really
only focus on what gender they have in that class. As Riordan says single-sex classes, “provide
unconstrained access to the full range of educational curricula for all students” (Riordan, 53). This quote
means that the students no longer have to stick with the subjects usually associated with their gender.
Studies have actually shown that girls take full advantage of this new freedom to choose whichever
subject they wish, with many turning more to the math and sciences, unfortunately the same change has
not occurred with the boys (Harker). An example of this comes from a study done at the University of
Missouri in Kansas City, where they had one math course set aside only for women and studied the
differences between that class and the mixed sex class. The girls in the single sex class received higher
grades and a better completion rate than the women in the coeducational class and 56% of them actually
went on to enroll in another math course (Riordan).
Another great advantage of single sex education is that they can better accommodate the learning
differences between boys and girls. When asked, 82% of teachers will say that girls and boys process
information differently and that they have to find ways in which to accommodate that (Spielhagen, 36).
There is also scientific proof to back the teachers’ opinion as well to give it more credence. It is said that
girls have stronger neural connections and use the cerebral part of their brain more, which makes them
have better listening skills, a greater memory, and tend to be more interested in the languages. They also
have better attention spans and can make faster transitions between lessons (McBride). Boys on the other
hand use the more primitive areas of the brain so they will tend to focus more on movement and have
shorter attention spans. They also have less blood flow to the brain so boys tend to compartmentalize
learning and not be able to make transitions between lessons quickly (McBride). Because of these
differences, teaching the sexes separately can be beneficial since then the teachers can base their lesson
plans on how each gender learns. This way neither gender is likely to fall greatly behind or fell that they
are going too slow. There are many different strategies for each sex the teacher can use to make the
student better understand what is going on, and thus getting better grades than their coeducational
counterparts. For instance, to better accommodate for the boys need for movement teachers can make
lessons more kinesthetic and experimental so it gets them to focus more on what they are learning
(McBride). Lessons that focus around the needs of girls or boys with get them to concentrate more and
have them better understand the content material.
One of the other main talking points with this debate is the social benefits that go along with
single-sex education. According to Riordan, student interaction makes up 29% of the students experience
in the school, so it seems obvious that the social environment plays a big role in how the child develops
(Riordan, 56). In coeducational classes males are usually the dominate group and as sad as it is to say,
because of this girls may not even try to reach their full potential. By taking away that variable in the
classroom, girls have a better of being their best and not be afraid to participate in class. As Karen
Zittleman says, “[single sex schools are] a place to free voices too often silenced in coeducational
schools” (Sadker, 253). This quote exemplifies the fact that girls tend to not participate in classroom
discussions for fear of being teased, especially during the middle school years, which can deter their
growing achievement. In Frances R. Spielhagen’s book, “Debating Single-Sex Education”, she gives
many first hand examples of how middle school aged girls feel after they switched to single-sex
classrooms. One 6th grader, by the name of Becky, said that she was always worried about the boys
teasing her because she was smarter and now that she’s in single sex classes she feels safer to show how
smart she is. Nancy, a 7th grader, feels the same way as Becky saying, “You wouldn’t be nervous to ask a
question and be wrong and then the boys might laugh at you”. Nancy also feels that being in a single sex
classroom has actually made her grades improve saying, “We get higher grades [now] because we pay
attention more and do not get distracted.”(Spielhagen, 38-39). The social benefits to girls speak for
themselves since they tend to have higher self-esteem while in school. Not only do the benefits of single
sex schooling show during their education but also during their adulthood. Studies have shown that
women who have gone to single-sex schools usually have higher occupational achievement, self-esteem
and self-control as well as more happiness in their marriage (Riordan, 147).
Students that went through single-sex education also tend to view themselves as equal to the other
gender, instead of viewing one sex as dominate over the other which often happens in coeducational
systems. A study done by Lockheed and Hall shows the truthfulness of this statement when they observed
coed students working on group assignments, group one being students who have always been in a
coeducational system and the other, group two, with girls who were once in a single-sex environment. In
the first group the study showed that the men were more inclined to dominate and lead the discussion.
However group two exhibited the females feeling of equality since they did not let the men dominate and
in a way forced the boys to see them as equals (Riordan, 56). This study shows how single-sex schools
actually create a feeling of equality among its students toward the opposite sex, instead of making the
girls feel more inferior or the boys feel more domineering, as many coed advocated are wont to say.
The social benefits also include the increased sense of order and discipline among the students
who attend single-sex schools. Boys are, by nature, usually the troublemakers in a classroom, regardless
of what kind of schooling they receive. The amount of times that they do get in trouble though
significantly drops once they are in a single-sex environment (Riordan, 58). Studies have shown that
13.9% of boys in single-sex classes get in trouble opposed to the 20.9% in the coeducational system that
got in trouble (Riordan, 59). Studies have also shown that when schools go from a mixed sex to singlesex setting the infractions decrease and overwhelming 22%. Much of the decrease came from fewer
infractions in things that influenced the student’s achievement such as tardiness, unpreparedness, or
incomplete homework (Spielhagen, 74). So by decreasing the infractions in those areas the child with
actually become a better student and their grades with improve.
Single-sex schools also have many positive role models, for both girls and boys, which contribute
to their success and positive self-image. Each school present very successful role models for their own
sex, which make them want to become more like the men or women they emulate. For boys seeing other
male students achieve and get high grades also make them want to be good students (Riordan, 49).
Having positive role models is especially helpful to having girls become more confident. A writer by the
name of Mary Conroy, who had gone to a single-sex school, said, “Almost by osmosis we learned one
assumption: that girls could achieve … everywhere we looked we saw girls as star athletes, class officers
and editors…We also saw role models among the faculty… After four years… it never occurred to us that
women couldn’t lead” (Sadker, 254). Since all the top students or athletics and student leaders will all be
female, the other students feel as if success is within their grasp and that they can achieve anything they
want (Riordan, 49). Seeing such success around them has an encouraging influence and makes them work
harder, which then contributes to their higher achievement.
While the advantages of single-sex education are so clearly seen, many coed advocates are still
quick to bring up their one strong argument, being that the studies that convey the higher single-sex test
scores do not contain the variables such as prior achievement before they got to that school or the
selectivity of that school. When you don’t account for those variables the differences between test scores
seem vast, but the results can be seen as not correct. Since one of the main arguments for single-sex
education is the higher academic achievement having erroneous studies can put a bad light on the case
made by single-sex advocates. Herbert W. Marsh said in his article about Single-sex and Coeducational
schools, “Single-sex schools are more likely to be private selective schools, their students more typically
brighter, come from socioeconomic backgrounds, maybe more highly motivated.” (Marsh). Most high
status or private schools tend to be single-sex schools and since they are very selective in who they enroll
those schools have the students who have the highest achievement levels and the motivation to continue
the hard work. So of course when studies are made to display the differences in achievement between the
two types of schools the single-sex sides triumph. When studies do take into account of those variables,
the results show that there is in fact no immense difference in achievement (Harker).
Unfortunately for the coed advocates this argument does not always ring true. There have been
many cases in which studies have in fact accounted for those variables and found the results to still be in
the single-sex educations favor. For example, one study found that even after all the variables, such as
prior achievement, were considered girls in the single-sex school still score a .5 grade equivalent higher
than there coeducational counterparts (Riordan, 94). Also single-sex schools are not just in the private
sector but also available in a public setting, which takes away the argument of selectivity. The schools in
New Zealand, for example, has many single sex schools in the public sector making them available to
anyone that wishes to receive that type of education. The scores still show that the single-sex schools are
still achieving at a higher level (Harker).
The question over whether single-sex education is better than coeducational schooling has been a
much debated topic for many years, possibly ever since America started its public education system. The
coeducational side makes very avid arguments, but the benefits single-sex education provides to the
students are perhaps too good to look over. The academic advantages are the most obvious of these
benefits since the test scores show the high achievement level and success afforded to those students. The
single-sex schools are also better able to accommodate the learning and brain differences between boys
and girls, which helps them, learn more efficiently, contributing to that high achievement. The social
benefits are also very great since it helps build their self-esteem and create a sense of equality that will
stay with the students past their graduation and later into adulthood. The presence of positive role models
for each sex also shows the students that they can be a success too and do not have to be held back
because of their gender. The obvious benefits of single-sex education make it seem as if the debate should
be an open and shut case. Single-sex education can make a kid turn into a confident, successful adult,
making it the best choice for an educational system.
Works Cited
Harker, Richard. “ Achievement, Gender, and the Single-Sex/Coed Debate” British Journal of
Sociology of Education Jun. 2000: 203-218. Taylor & Francis. Web. 10 Oct. 2011.
Marsh, Herbert W. “Public, Catholic Single-Sex, and Catholic Coeducational High Schools: Their
Effects on Achievement, Affect, and Behaviors.” American Journal of Education May
1991: 320-356. Chicago Journals. Web. 10 Oct. 2011.
McBride, Bill. Teaching to Gender Differences. Web. 5 November 2011.
Riordan, Cornelius. Girls and Boys in School: Together or Separate? New York: Teachers College
Press, 1990. Print.
Sadker, David, Sadker, Myra and Zittleman, Karen, R. Still Failing at Fairness: How Gender Bias
Cheats Girls and Boys in School and What We Can Do About It. New York: Simon and
Schuster, Inc., 2009. Print.
Spielhagen, Frances R. Debating Single- Sex Education: Separate and Equal? Lanham, Maryland:
Rowman & Littlefield,2008. Print.