This article present information on the growing trend of same-sex classrooms in the U.S. Traditionally, same-sex education has been provided by private schools, as almost all U.S. public schools are coeducational. Today, it has been estimated that there are between 250 and 300 public schools that offer at least some same-sex classes. There are no consistent, empirical and replicable results that support gender-specific segregation of boys and girls in same-sex classes. However, based primarily on case studies, it has been found that same-sex classes produce positive results for some students in some settings but the long-term impacts of same-sex education on boys and girls, including their social development, is unknown.
Traditionally, public schools in the U.S. have operated almost exclusively with coeducational, mixed-gender, or mixed-sex classes. These classes typically have variant numbers of students and compositions based on gender. However, the number of public schools adopting same-sex (or single-sex) education and establishing same-sex classes has been steadily increasing since the late 1990s. In same-sex classes, students are divided by gender, homogeneously grouped and placed in separate classes of boys and girls.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, a few public schools in the United States offered same-sex educational opportunities. In 2011, only 116 of the 506 public schools with such offerings were completely same-sex in format (National Association for Single-Sex Public Education, 2013). Girls-only programs were originally designed to insure equitable education for females and to increase their participation and achievement in certain academic areas. Concern has also developed related to the underachievement of boys, and same-sex classes are proposed to address this problem as well. Boys-only programs are a more recent phenomenon than girls-only programs and are generally scarcer.
Teachers in same-sex classes are able to adopt instructional strategies that are gender-appropriate and gender-inclusive and focus their instruction on the learning style differences of boys and girls. Same-sex classes may improve the general atmosphere and ethos of learning in classrooms and have become a viable option to better meet the learning needs and increase achievement levels for both boys and girls. Such classes allow boys to better focus on their schoolwork with fewer distractions and permit girls to excel in traditionally male-dominated subjects such as mathematics, science, engineering, computer science, and technology.
There is a rapidly growing vocabulary related to the pedagogical approach and instructional practice of same-sex education. A variety of terms are used in the educational research literature relating to same-sex classes. This is partially due to the fact that most research on same-sex education has originated in other countries. Although the variant terminology can sometimes be confusing, it causes no serious problems with regard to comprehension or interpretation. Table 1 summarizes the terminology relating to same-sex education.
Table 1: Terminology of Same-Sex Education, Classrooms, Classes/Courses, Instruction/Teaching
All-boy Basis All-boys' Class(es) All-female Class composition All-girl Class make-up All-girls' Class structure All-male Classroom(s) Boys-only Classroom environment(s) Gender-different Classroom structure(s) Gender-divided Context(s) Gender-grouped Course(s) Gender-inclusive Education Gender-segregated Educational practice Gender-separated Environment(s) Gender-specific Group(s) Girls-only Grouping(s) Homogeneous (by gender/sex) Instruction Instructional strategies One-gender Learning One-sex Learning environment(s) Same-gender Learning styles Same-sex Pedagogical practice Segregated (by gender/sex) Program(s) Sex-grouped Public education Sex-segregated School(s) Sex-specific Schooling Single-gender Setting(s) Single-sex Studies Teaching
Traditionally, same-sex education has been provided by private schools, and the same-sex classes they offer are broadly perceived to be highly successful ("California school to separate," 1999; Hughes, 2006). As of 1995, there were only three public schools in the U.S. that offered same-sex educational opportunities (National Association for Single-Sex Public Education, 2007a). In 1997, fewer than a dozen public schools offered same-sex instruction (Bixler, 2005).
The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) added new flexibility to the Title IX regulations of the Education Amendments of 1972 by permitting public schools to segregate classrooms by gender under certain conditions (Bixler, 2005). Schools have since had the legal right to design, develop, and utilize same-sex classes as appropriate to meet the needs and interests of their students (Hughes, 2006). By 2011, some five hundred public schools nationwide were offering same-sex instruction (Lewin, 2011). That year, there were approximately 390 coeducational public schools in the United States that were offering gender-separated educational opportunities (National Association for Single-Sex Public Education, 2013). Although most of these are same-sex classrooms within coeducational schools, at least 116 US public schools are completely same-sex in format (National Association for Single-Sex Public Education, 2013).
Historically, girls-only programs were designed mainly to ensure equitable education for females, and same-sex classes constituted an intervention strategy that was predominantly geared toward increasing the participation and achievement of girls (Blair & Sanford, 1999; Rowe, 1988). There are still concerns that public schools have not adequately addressed the underachievement of girls in academic areas such as mathematics and science and that there may still exist ongoing gender bias in coeducational classrooms (Sadler, 1999; Streitmatter, 1999). From 1995 to 2005, however, there was a shift in concern related to boys' underachievement in comparison to that of girls (Younger & Warrington, 2006).
In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education proposed giving schools even greater latitude and increased flexibility in offering same-sex classes but eventually relented when over 95 percent of the over 5,000 public comments that were received opposed the change (Thiers, 2006). The National Association of Single Sex Public Education (NASSPE), founded in 2002, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance same-sex public education for boys and girls in the United States. The organization provides professional development opportunities and serves as a resource and clearinghouse of information on same-sex education for the use of teachers, administrators, and other educators. It provides facts on same-sex public schools and classrooms, shares the latest research on same-sex instruction for boys and girls, and advises schools and districts interested in setting up their own same-sex educational programs (National Association for Single Sex Public Education, 2007b).
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) not only questioned the methodology and conclusions of the U.S. Department of Education's 2005 report but also opposed giving schools any greater leeway in offering same-sex classes because it could lead to losing gender-equity safeguards (Thiers, 2006). The recommendations of the AAUW have undoubtedly been instrumental in convincing some schools not to adopt same-sex classrooms ("California school to separate," 1999).
Classroom gender segregation has been recommended as academically beneficial, especially for girls (Barton & Cohen, 2004). There have been prevalent perceptions that schools are more likely to shortchange girls, thus necessitating all-female classes and all-female programs (Bushweller, 1994). Girls have been found to more often suffer from lowered self esteem that begins in early adolescence (Streitmatter, 1999). Educational programs that provide separate space and time for girls have been broadly viewed as having a positive youth-development philosophy (Academy for Educational Development, 1997).
Same-sex classes are used to promote high technology and increase mathematics, science, engineering, and computer-science skills for girls (Crombie, 1999). Girls' grades in mathematics and science traditionally begin to drop in the fifth grade (Garlington, 2001). Same-sex mathematics classes have been used to try to improve the proportion and the relative enrollment numbers by gender of females who take courses beyond minimum high school requirements (Sangster & Crawford, 1986).
There also exist significant sex differences in enrollment in coed computer-science courses, with girls enrolling much less frequently than boys (Crombie, Abarbanel, & Anderson, 2000). In one case-study example, girls in mixed-gender, grade 11 computer science classes perceived less support from teachers, lacked the confidence of their peers, and did not enjoy working with computers as much as boys. Male students, however, perceived the same or similar levels of teacher support and experienced the same or similar levels of confidence and enjoyment as their peers. When same-sex computer-science classes were offered, girls' enrollment in the courses reportedly jumped 40 percent (Crombie, 1999).
In some cases, gender segregation or gender grouping has been designed to address the perceived underachievement of male students (Mulholland, Hansen, & Kaminski, 2004). Boys-only programs, however, are an even more recent phenomenon than girls-only programs and are generally scarcer (Blair & Sanford, 1999). It has been theorized that boys do not learn as well or in the same ways as girls (Gurian & Stevens, 2005). Statistics with regard to educational and life outcomes for boys are also somewhat troubling. Boys have been found to receive a disproportionate percentage of the Ds and Fs given in schools: in 2007, 5.7 percent of boys versus 1.7 percent of girls received mostly D orF grades (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). Boys are more likely to be in special-education programs or diagnosed with a behavior disorder such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010, p. 1148) reported that between 2006 and 2009, 18.2 percent of boys--but only 9.2 percent of girls--aged five to seventeen had been diagnosed with a learning disability or ADHD. Boys suffer from self-destructive behaviors and commit suicide more often (Bushweller, 1994; Gurian & Stevens, 2005). Male students had an 8.5 percent status high school dropout rate in 2010 as compared to 6.3 percent for female students, and only 32.9 percent of male postsecondary students entering college in 2004 completed their undergraduate degrees within the usual four-year period, i.e., in 2008 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2012).
Because of the serious disadvantages and risks with regard to positive educational and life outcomes for African American male students, special, segregated all-male classes have been proposed as one possible solution for improving academic achievement and growth in self-esteem (Gill, 1991). However, programs that have experimented with all-male classes for African American male students have been very controversial and their long-term effectiveness has been questioned (Ascher, 1991).
Ultimately, arguments for same-sex classes need not be framed in the context of which gender is most entitled to or deserving of rescue from traditional coeducational settings. Achievement gains for same-sex classes can most likely best be made within the context of gender relations than one of either "recuperative masculinity" or "recuperative femininity" (Younger & Warrington, 2006).
Although there have been observed and measured tendencies for teachers in mixed-gender or coeducational classes to call on boys more often than girls, they have not specifically or consciously focused on the learning styles and needs of boys or girls (Garlington, 2001; Laster, 2004). This is despite the fact that educators have come to the conclusion that some instructional approaches and strategies are more gender appropriate for boys or girls (Thiers, 2006). Teachers in same-sex classes adopt different strategies...
NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education
Found In: teaching strategies
If you walked into the average public school classroom in the United States, you'd find an equal number of boys and girls. But some experts suggest it may be time for a change.
Single-gender education and the often-spirited dialogue surrounding it have raised a number of issues concerning the best manner to educate boys and girls.
In 1993, American University professors Myra Sadker and David Sadker published their research in Failing in Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls, which describes striking discoveries about fairness in American schools. During a three-year study, trained observers visited more than 100 elementary school classrooms in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, and the District of Columbia and noted student-teacher interactions, including the following:
- Boys called out eight times as often as girls did. When a boy yelled out, the teacher ignored the "raise your hand" rule and usually praised his contribution. Girls who called out got reminders to raise their hands.
- Teachers valued boys' comments more than girls' comments. Teachers responded to girls with a simple nod or an OK, but they praised, corrected, helped, and criticized boys.
- Boys were encouraged to solve problems on their own, but teachers helped girls who were stuck on problems.
Male dominance in the classroom may come as no surprise to advocates of single-gender education who suggest that boys and girls are regularly treated differently in coeducational settings and that both boys and girls could both benefit from single-gender classrooms. Studies suggest that when boys are in single-gender classrooms, they are more successful in school and more likely to pursue a wide range of interests and activities.
Girls who learn in all-girl environments are believed to be more comfortable responding to questions and sharing their opinions in class and more likely to explore more “nontraditional” subjects such as math, science, and technology. In addition, advocates believe that when children learn with single-gender peers, they are more likely to attend to their studies, speak more openly in the classroom, and feel more encouraged to pursue their interests and achieve their fullest potential.
Of course, these beliefs have been challenged as well. The American Association of University Women published Separated by Sex: A Critical Look at Single-Sex Education for Girls (1998), which notes that single-sex education is not necessarily better than coeducation. According to the report, boys and girls thrive on a good education, regardless of whether the school is single-sex or coeducational. Some findings include:
- No evidence shows that single-sex education works or is better for girls than coeducation.
- When elements of a good education are present—such as small classes and schools, equitable teaching practices, and focused academic curriculum—girls and boys succeed.
- Some kinds of single-sex programs produce positive results for some students, including a preference for math and science among girls.
Additional research on the effectiveness of single-gender classrooms is necessary, but we all can agree that we need to construct an educational environment that meets the social and intellectual needs of boys and girls.
Here are two additional studies from the current research on single-gender education:
- Is Single-Gender Schooling Viable in the Public Sector? Lessons from California’s Pilot Program( PDF, 402 KB, 83pp)
This report provides a good background and review of the literature with a broad assessment of where research stands on the controversy. It covers a pilot program in California, the nation's biggest pilot project, a project that was subsequently shut down. This report presents the findings of a three-year case study of an experiment of single-gender schools with the public sector. It provides a thorough analysis of the topic and examines future directions for single gender school reform program. Amanda Datnow et al., 2001.
- The Evidence Suggests Otherwise: The Truth About Boys and Girls ( PDF, 363 KB, 21pp
"The real story is not bad news about boys doing worse; it's good news about girls doing better. In fact, with a few exceptions, American boys are scoring higher and achieving more than they ever have before. But girls have just improved their performance on some measures even faster. As a result, girls have narrowed or even closed some academic gaps that previously favored boys, while other long-standing gaps that favored girls have widened, leading to the belief that boys are falling behind. There's no doubt that some groups of boys—particularly Hispanic and black boys and boys from low-income homes—are in real trouble. But the predominant issues for them are race and class, not gender. Closing racial and economic gaps would help poor and minority boys more than closing gender gaps, and focusing on gender gaps may distract attention from the bigger problems facing these youngsters. The hysteria about boys is partly a matter of perspective. While most of society has finally embraced the idea of equality for women, the idea that women might actually surpass men in some areas (even as they remain behind in others) seems hard for many people to swallow. Thus, boys are routinely characterized as 'falling behind' even as they improve in absolute terms." Sara Mead, Education Sector (2006).