It’s Better Together

Single-sex education causes more harm than good

Some cootie-phobic students’ wishes are coming true: Many public schools are reverting to single-sex classrooms where boys and girls are segregated. Supporters of the 445 such classrooms nationwide insist that separating the two sexes will allow students to learn better. For the most part, they claim that females will be more likely to speak up in a classroom where there are no males and that males will focus more on learning and less on showing off to the girls by causing trouble. In general, we are in favor of innovative education methods. Yet reverting to single-sex education is an ineffective and potentially harmful experiment that simply should not be conducted.

One major goal of education is to ensure that students are sufficiently prepared for the world outside the confines of their schools. Segregating girls from boys means that students of opposite sexes are deprived of the opportunity to collaborate on projects, feed off each other’s ideas, and learn from each other. Critics of single-sex education worry that boys who are never forced to work on tasks with girls will have problems later in life working under a female boss or alongside female coworkers. This concern is certainly valid, and the effect cuts both ways: Being perpetually separated from boys may cause females to have qualms about standing up to male coworkers or supervisors. In order to be prepared for the working world, students must grow up without feelings of intimidation or inferiority about members of the opposite sex—this can only be accomplished when students learn together.

Research has shown that many of the studies showing the benefits of single-sex education are flawed: Benefits incurred in such environments are generally due to other aspects of the schools in which such experiments are carried out, such as the small classrooms or more affluent students that are only possible at single-sex private schools. Therefore, many of the supposed benefits of single-sex education are not actually due to the segregation of boys from girls.

There are many ways—other than segregating the sexes—to improve our schools so that girls are less intimidated in the classroom and boys are less likely to be a distraction. Smaller class sizes would mean that teachers would notice girls who are hesitant to participate and be more likely to discipline boys appropriately. Providing incentives for teachers will also, on the whole, improve their teaching and thus their students’ performances.

There is a reason that this country has, on the whole, moved away from single-sex education. While teaching boys and girls separately may solve a few minor disciplinary issues, it does not have enough benefits to justify its enormous disadvantage: Members of the two sexes never learn to work together in an educational environment. Moreover, segregation can be unfair; catering to different needs among the sexes very well means that there may be discrepancies in what the students learn.

With the educational gap between boys and girls closing, it is precisely the wrong time to revert back to single-sex education. Girls are finally becoming more comfortable in a mixed-gender classroom, and it is high time to fully break the vicious cycle of discomfort in a coeducational environment.

In 1943, Radcliffe women were finally allowed to learn in the same classrooms as Harvard men—now is not the time to revert back to pre-WWII conceptions of how to educate. All students should be able to graduate from elementary and secondary school having experienced mixed-sex education and ready for the world they will face.