K-12 Single-Sex Education: What Does the Research Say? (page 2)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

Attitudes Toward Academic Subjects 

Several studies found that girls in single-sex schools may have stronger preferences for subjects such as math and physics than their coeducated peers. Mallam (1993) found that students in all-girls' Nigerian schools favored math more than girls in coed Nigerian public boarding schools, particularly when mathematics was taught by female teachers. Finally, Colley et al. (1994) surveyed British students (ages 11-12 and 15-16 years) from single-sex girls' and boys' schools and coeducational schools, asking them to rank their school subject preferences. In the younger age group, girls from single-sex schools showed stronger preferences than their coed peers for stereotypical "masculine" subjects such as mathematics and science, and boys from single-sex schools showed stronger preferences for stereotypical "feminine" subjects such as music and art. 

Achievement Variables

Research findings are ambiguous concerning the effects of single-sex schools on girls' achievement. For many studies that did find gaps favoring girls in single-sex schools, once findings were adjusted for socioeconomic or ability variables, these differences diminished. For example, Harker and Nash (1997) used data gathered in a longitudinal study of more than 5,000 eighth- grade students in New Zealand and controlled for individual characteristics (such as socioeconomic status) and school type. As with other studies, the researchers confirmed statistically significant differences in favor of girls at single-sex schools. Yet after applying controls for ability levels and for social and ethnic backgrounds, differences disappeared. LePore and Warren (1997), using data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988, found that boys in single-sex schools did not increase their test scores more than boys in coeducational schools and that girls experienced no statistically significant positive effects of single-sex school enrollment. 

Studies that have found positive achievement outcomes attributable to the single-sex environment have all dealt with single-sex schools rather than classes. A study by Riordan (1990) used longitudinal data to clarify the effects of single-sex education on different populations and curricular areas. Riordan conducted separate analyses for students by sex and race on academic and attitudinal outcomes. He discovered that among African American and Hispanic American students attending Catholic secondary schools, both males and females in single-sex schools scored higher on standardized cognitive tests than their peers in mixed-sex schools. To explain the differences, Riordan applied a set of school variables as controls. He argued that policies in single-sex schools that emphasize the academic side of these variables explained virtually all of the test score differences between the two types of schools. Both males and females in single-sex schools also gained on attitudinal variables such as leadership behavior, but much less of this difference was explained by school variables. 

Lee and Marks (1990) investigated the "sustained effects" of single-sex schools on attitudes, behaviors, and values. They discovered that women who had attended single-sex schools had higher educational aspirations and were more likely than their coed counterparts to attend selective four-year colleges. However, after controls were applied for attendance at a selective college, effects on young women's aspirations disappeared, leading the researchers to conclude that single-sex education may be an indirect influence that facilitates entry into a select college in the first place. The study found that girls educated in single-sex schools continued to hold less stereotypic views of gender roles into college. 

Lee and Lockheed's (1990) study of 1,012 students in ninth-grade Nigerian public schools measured mathematics achievement and stereotypic views of mathematics. Analyzing data drawn from the Second International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, Lee and Lockheed found no significant gender gap between mathematics scores of Nigerian boys and girls, once other variables were taken into account. But girls in single-sex schools outperformed other girls in mathematics, while boys in single-sex schools did the reverse, after the study adjusted for substantial differences in student background, school resources, and teacher attitudes. As in other studies, girls in single-sex schools had a less stereotypical view of math, while boys in single-sex schools had magnified stereotypes of the subject. 

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