15 Fascinating Facts About Same-Sex Schools

Same-sex schools have existed for centuries, with all-male colleges, all-girls schools, and college prep schools. But this old idea is enjoying a revival as educators look for new ways to serve students in better ways. Many turn to same-sex schools and classrooms for a way to improve educational and behavioral outcomes, and some are met with success. But at the same time, critics aren’t buying it, and argue that same-sex classrooms and schools can be useless at best and even harmful. We’ll take a look at points and facts from both sides of the story here.

  1. No one really knows if it’s beneficial

    There are so many studies with often conflicting information that it’s not totally clear whether same sex schools are beneficial, unhelpful, or neither. The Single-Sex Versus Coeducational Schooling: A Systematic Review study was commissioned by the Department of Education, and it concluded that there’s not enough evidence to support the idea that single-sex education might be better or worse than coeducation. Other studies, including one from the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, show that girls from single-sex schools tend to do better than their coed peers. However, most research seems to agree that coeducation may work for some children, but it’s not perfect for every child.

  2. They actually exist in abundance, even at the public level

    Although it doesn’t seem like same-sex schools are prominent, particularly in public schools, they really do exist, and there are quite a few of them. Estimates range from 400 to 540 public schools in addition to same-sex private schools that have existed for years, sometimes decades and even centuries. Gone is the image of same-sex schools existing only as private all-girls or all-boys prep schools, as clearly, public schools are joining the fray with either completely single-sex schools, or classroom offerings with single-sex curriculum.

  3. Single-sex education isn’t just beneficial for girls

    Research on same-sex schools typically focuses on the benefits of singling out girls, as they are believed to be less well served by co-education. And while some research indicates that’s true, boys also tend to benefit from single-sex education. In a Seattle elementary school, students who transitioned into single-sex classrooms to curb behavior problems succeeded in doing so, with an added bonus: the boys in the school showed amazing improvement on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. In fact, they went from being in the 10% to 30% listing to 73%, and even outperformed the entire state in writing, indicating that an all-boy classroom can be just as beneficial as an all-girl one.

  4. Federal law supports single-sex education

    Single-sex education has been illegal in public education since Title IX passed in 1972. Just twenty years later, only two public girls’ schools were left. Despite all the research that shows both girls and boys benefit from single-sex classrooms, organized political pressure prevents any experiments. Public school teacher unions are against "charter schools" (which can be single-sex) and many feminists do not like an emphasis on sexual differences.

  5. Girls achieve greater academic engagement in single-sex schools

    In single-sex schools, girls aren’t just doing better in the classroom, they’re doing more outside of the classroom as well. 62% of women who graduate from single-sex schools will spend 11 or more hours per week studying or doing homework in high school. In comparison, only 42% of coeducational graduates will do the same. Of course, this all translates into better grades, but it’s indicative of students who are more excited about studying and education in general.

  6. Parents want same-sex schools as an option, but most won’t use them

    Parents certainly seem interested in same-sex schools as an option for their children, but in practice, not many families actually choose to take advantage of them. More than 1/3 of Americans believe parents should have the option to send their child to a single-sex school, with only 25% of people opposing the idea. But at the same time, only 14% "definitely would" consider a single-sex school for their own children. It seems that parents and others in the community would like to be able to take advantage of the opportunity for single-sex classrooms, but may not be ready to try them out for their own kids just yet.

  7. Single-sex classrooms may not prepare students for a coed world

    Critics of single-sex education are quick to point out the fact that although classrooms might be only one gender, the entire world is most certainly not. They worry that by segregating students by sex, they will be ill-prepared for navigating a world that is full of the opposite sex. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women remarks, "Frankly, I think that it’s a little difficult for a boy who has never had to compete with a girl on anything, even an algebra test, to go out into the world of work and be supervised by a female," a situation that can be uncomfortable for men and women alike. But others don’t agree, pointing out that often, students in single-gender classes are not separated all day, spending coed time on field trips, during lunch, and at recess.

  8. Some schools are using same-sex classrooms to fix the "problem with boys"

    We’ve covered the possibility of same-sex classrooms helping boys academically, but another interesting benefit is in behavior issues. Leonard Sax, head of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, insists that some of the most successful all-boys classrooms allow students to move around, some with desks that can be adjusted to allow boys to lie on the floor, sit, or stand up as they choose. In this sort of classroom, boys are able to deal with restlessness that may plague them, without being a bother to others, presumably girls who may be better able to sit quietly. Of course, this does assume that boys will be restless, and girls will be quiet, which is not always the case.

  9. Single-sex graduates have higher academic self-confidence

    Girls seem to do much better in the academic confidence department if they’re single-sex graduates. Nearly all (81%) female graduates from independent single-sex schools rated themselves "above average" or "in the highest 10 percent" for academic ability, compared with 75% of female coeducational students. Single-sex graduates also rated themselves much higher in intellectual self-confidence, writing ability, and public speaking ability, all skills that are vital to success in education and beyond.

  10. Some worry that single-sex education is a slippery slope to single-race education

    Although schools have been integrated for about 50 years now, some critics of single-sex education worry that by separating groups in this manner, no matter the demographic chosen, we are opening the door to someday separate by race once again. Professor Jack Balkin of Yale University questions, "Why isn’t single-sex education as troublesome as single-race education?," and "If single sex-classes could have genuine educational benefits, why wouldn’t single-race classes for African-American children?" Balkin encourages those concerned to keep in mind that elements of race and class are inevitably involved in single-sex classrooms, especially in the urban setting, where school administrators might be tempted to focus on the interests of black boys instead of black girls. As for his own opinion, Balkin believes that dollars might be better spent improving general education quality instead of creating single-sex schools and classrooms.

  11. Colleges have become increasingly coed

    Colleges were once boys’ clubs, institutes of education that women were simply not allowed to use. In 1910, the U.S. had 1,083 colleges, with 27% exclusively for men and 15% for women, but those numbers are much different today. Only 1.3% of women who are awarded BA degrees get them from single-sex colleges these days, especially now that the Ivy League is coed and women may be swayed away from elite women’s colleges including Mount Holyoke, Wellesley, and Smith.

  12. All-girls schools may breed more female leaders

    At an all-girls school, girls are responsible for all of the leadership positions, including the debate team, yearbook, and sports, giving them even more chances to step up and learn how to become effective leaders. As a result, girls who have benefited from same-sex education may be more confident in the future and pursue positions of leadership in any field, like Hillary Clinton, a Wellesley graduate, and Gloria Steinem, a graduate of Smith College.

  13. Girls at single-sex schools are more likely to take non-traditional courses

    Supporters of same-sex classrooms often tout the ability to help girls pursue subjects like math and science, and the research certainly seems to back up that presumption. Single-sex schooled girls were found more likely to take "non-traditional" courses, those that run against gender stereotypes, like advanced math and physics. Researchers believe that girls’ schools work to counteract the distinction between traditional "girl subjects" like language and "boy subjects" like math. And although single-sex schools seem to take girls out of their comfort zone in a good way, researchers did not see a similar effect for boys, who were less likely to take non-traditional courses like cooking.

  14. Single-sex classes may reinforce sex stereotypes

    The American Council for CoEducational Schooling put together a report, The Pseudoscience of Single Sex Schooling, which worked down to break some of the "cherry picked" claims that back same-sex education. In this report, the organization asserted that single-sex education reinforces sex stereotypes, arguing, "Boys who spend more time with other boys become increasingly aggressive," while "girls who spend more time with other girls become more sex-typed." The lead author of the report, Diane Halpern asserts, "It’s simply not true that boys and girls learn differently," reminding readers that "we used to believe that the races learned differently, too."

  15. Coeducation has its benefits

    Although much has been said about the benefits of same-sex schools, not many are touting the benefits of the old standby of coeducation. According to the ACLU, some studies find that students in coeducational schools can do better than single-sex students. And the ACLU is quick to point out that same-sex schools that do well are successful not because they are segregated, but because they have the hallmarks of good educational environments, including small classes, adequate funding, parental involvement, and qualified teachers, which help bring about success in coeducational classrooms as well. The ACLU underlines that socialization, competition, and collaboration between sexes in school prepares students for success in the real world as well, as real life is not separated by gender.

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