For many parents, the rationale for placing their child in a single-sex school is the belief that academic performance will be improved.
New research finds an absence of evidence to support this assumption. Moreover, evidence does exist that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping among children and teachers and legitimizes institutional sexism.
The findings are the crux of a new article in the journal Science that examines single-sex schooling.
Teaching boys and girls separately has become increasingly popular during recent years with at least 500 public school single-sex classrooms currently in the United States.
“Though public sentiment may have strengthened in support of such settings for improving the learning environment and outcomes for both boys and girls, the science is just not there to support this,” said Richard Fabes, Ph.D., one of the authors of the Science article.
Study authors cite evidence that single-sex and coeducational outcomes are equal. Similar large-scale reviews in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand found little overall difference between single-sex and mixed-sex academic outcomes.
Another misconception rebutted in the article is the claim that boys and girls learn differently. Study authors said that this premise is not supported by research as neuroscientists have found few differences in children’s brains beyond the larger volume of boys’ brains and the earlier completion of girls’ brain growth — neither of which is known to relate to learning.
What is known is that sex-segregated environments can make positive interactions between boys and girls constrained, write the researchers.
“Positive and cooperative interaction with members of other groups is an effective method for improving intergroup relationships,” according to the authors.
There is evidence, however, that sex segregation increases gender divisions among children.
“Separating boys and girls in public school classrooms makes gender very salient, and this salience reinforces stereotypes and sexism,” Fabes said.
The authors note that research has shown that labeling and segregation of any form – be it, gender, eye color, or randomly assigned T-shirt groups – is detrimental as this implies that the groups differ in important ways which may lead to the development of bias.
“Is it ever good to segregate on the basis of race, income or age? I think the answer is no,” Fabes said. “There is no good evidence that it is ever a good time to separate and segregate. Any form of segregation undermines rather than promotes equality.”
Source: Arizona State University