The mention of "all-girls" or "all-boys" schools brings our parents' generation to mind for many of us. However, single-sex schools, around for years in the independent and parochial school worlds, are now on the rise in the public school realm as well. Educational researchers and policymakers disagree on whether or not these schools actually provide benefits to children that coeducational programs do not. Education expert and former teacher Eva Ostrum has some information and advice on how to determine if a single-sex school might make a good fit for your child.
Policy, research, and real-world experienceSingle-sex education provokes passionate policy debate, which makes it difficult for parents to get to the bottom of all the information out there. Opponents fear that single-sex schooling lays the foundation for an unequal division of resources, in which boys get more and girls get less. Advocates say that single-sex schooling provides an alternative that could benefit both boys and girls and address some of the major problems that we see in our schools today. Some research studies, such as a significant one in Australia a few years ago, document that students in single-sex environments outperform their counterparts in co-ed settings. Other researchers point out that single-sex programs also frequently have other characteristics that set them apart from co-ed ones, e.g. smaller classes or more motivated and skilled teachers. So you cannot know for sure which factor is leading to the improved academic outcome.Then you get to anecdotes, stories about individual schools such as the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Seattle, Washington. Test scores at that school have soared and discipline problems have plummeted since boys and girls began learning separately in their own self-contained academic programs several years ago. Yet, at the same time that the school began teaching boys and girls separately, it also lengthened the school year and reduced class size. So, you still do not know if any one element of change had the greatest influence on academic improvement or whether the combination of several simultaneous changes made the difference.What almost everybody agrees on
Almost everybody agrees, including staunch policy opponents of single-sex schooling, that, at the very least, single-sex educational environments produce some positive results for some students in some cases. For example, girls in co-ed settings tend to base their self-worth on physical appearance more than students in an all-girls environment do. Both genders, when placed in a single-sex program, have more positive attitudes towards subjects stereotypically associated with the other gender than their co-educated counterparts do. For example, students in an all-girls school tend to have a stronger preference for math and science than those in a co-ed school do. Similarly, boys in a single-sex environment express more pronounced preferences for subjects like music and art than their peers in co-ed schools do.
Deciding whether to send your child to an all-girls or all-boys schoolIn addition to the advantages already mentioned, it is worth noting that single-sex schools frequently bring other educational advantages with them, such as smaller classes and a more structured learning environment than co-ed schools. However, you can find the same resources in co-ed programs if you look for them. A short quiz may help you figure out if a single-sex school would make a good fit for your child. A score of three or higher means that you may want to take a close look at single-sex schools for your son or daughter.
- My child judges him/herself largely based on his/her physical appearance.
- My child has (or could have) an interest in an academic subject or hobby that others may not see as feminine (for a girl) or masculine (for a boy).
- Peer opinions and attitudes strongly influence my child.
- My child is easily distracted by others in the classroom.
- My child would benefit from a structured, orderly learning environment.