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Single Gender Education - Why?

By — Gender Differences Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

With the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and its subsequent amendment, educational policy makers, administrators and educators within the public sector have accelerated and intensified efforts to identity the most effective instructional strategies that will target all students regardless of gender, ethnicity or other educational or societal categorization. There exists great debate surrounding the wide variety of methodological approaches that might be used to ensure improved educational experiences for all students within public education. As mandated by NCLB instructional strategies identified as having the potential to increase student achievement for students in every population sector within public education must be research based. Evidence of the creditability of these newly identified instructional strategies, through well-conducted scholarly research methodologies, will be necessary for implementation of those strategies and for the receipt of promised additional federal funds as allocated by NCLB.

One such instructional strategy having been identified by some educational researchers as having the potential to facilitate the educational experience for all students is that of single gender education. Single gender education refers to the education of students in an environment which consists of a single gender; that being all-male or all-female. This single gender environment may take the form of a single gender class, consisting of either males or females within a coeducational school setting or a single gender school, consisting of all single gender classes.

Implementation is the next step, right? Think again. NCLB mandates research based innovative instructional strategies. Bradley, (2006) outlines the danger of implementation without first conducting quality current, intensive and high quality research utilizing the public school environment.

“Over the past 25 years the roadway to school reform has been littered by would-be reform panaceas fat on the wayward spending of educational funds. Evidence of fiscally gluttonous, failed and abandoned reform efforts, most attempted without empirical evidence lending creditability to the effort or without appropriate professional development necessary for implementation is everywhere.”

What Does “Recent” Research Indicate?

Single gender education has been identified by some researchers as being instrumental in elevating student achievement for all students. The investigation and research on single gender public education, long needed, but impeded by constraints of the law is currently in full swing across the nation. Slowly data is emerging, some of it in support of single gender and some of it not necessarily identifying single gender education as a better school sector over coeducational education, but not labeling it as detrimental either.

In addition to academic achievement, a wide variety of outcome variables have been investigated in recent research; improved attendance rates, reduction of discipline referrals, increased career aspiration and improve self-esteem. For instance, Barnes and Hall, (2006) have published research findings that support the assertion single gender education is a viable strategy for not only maximizing student academic achievement, but also improving attendance. A student being present in the classroom is the first step toward helping him/her to become successful in school.

Data collected and reported by administrators in the educational arena support the claim that single gender education is a viable strategy in reducing discipline referrals (retrieved Sept. 2007 from http://www.singlesexschool.org/classrooms.html). Conversely, some data has been reported recently to indicate that the discipline referral rate will not necessarily decrease due to the implementation of the single gender environment (Sax, 2005).

Furthermore, the enhancement of career aspirations for all students has been reported as a potential positive outcome of the single gender educational experience. Some researchers report that males exposed to the single gender environment exhibited more positive attitudes toward courses traditionally associated with females, i.e. nursing or education. By the same token, there is evidence to indicate that females exhibit higher ideal and more realistic career aspirations when exposed to the single gender environment. In addition, minimizing gender stereotypes and increasing course selection of non-traditional courses for both genders have been reported as having the potential to be positive outcomes of single gender education (Mael, Alonso, Gibson, Rogers and Smith, 2005).

Another possible outcome variable investigated by researchers is that of improved self-esteem. Research conducted by Salomone (2006), supports the assertion that single gender education helps to boost self-esteem and self-confidence. Other researchers have recently published results that echo Salomone’s findings.

The investigation of the possible benefits from single gender schooling for special populations has gained momentum due to the increased emphasis of NCLB on the achievement of ALL students. Possible benefits gained from single gender education for minority and disadvantaged students have been investigated by a number of researchers. Wills, (2006) reports findings that support the claim that single gender education can positively impact academic achievement for at risk male students.

However, there are skeptics. Some educational theorists doubt whether single gender education will actually have any positive benefits, but rather represent another educational bandwagon. Younger and Warrington, (2006) conducted research that does not support the assertion that single gender education is beneficial to either sex. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) categorize research on the benefits of single gender education to date as being “inconclusive” at best.

The National Organization of Women (NOW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are staunchly opposed to single gender education and view implementation as a step backward for females. There are even those who question the harm that single gender education may have the potential to cause. They warn that the single gender environment has the potential to devalue girls and exacerbate stereotypes.

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