Though studies over the years have produced mixed data regarding the instructional outcomes of students taught in single-sex environments, this educational format is enjoying a revival in the public school sector. New charter schools devoted to single-sex education are springing up across the country, and formerly co-ed public schools are adding single-sex classrooms. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of single-sex public schools in the United States grew from only about a dozen to an estimated 500, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.
“One old-school model once reserved primarily for private and religious schools seems to be gaining traction among traditional public schools and public charter schools: single-sex education,” the74million.org, an education news website, reported in November 2017. “In the past two years, new single-sex charter middle schools have opened in Denver, Los Angeles, and El Paso, Texas. School leaders say having only girls or only boys makes their school communities feel like families, increases student confidence, and provides a safe place for students to develop their identities.”
Impressive College Achievement
Megan Murphy, executive director of the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS), which includes private and public institutions, says single-sex education has been shown to do wonders for many underserved girls.
“Graduates of The Young Women’s Leadership Schools (TYWLS), a network of public schools throughout the boroughs of New York established in 1996, achieve four-year college degrees at nearly four times the rate of their peers,” Murphy said. “Approximately 80 percent of TYWLS graduating seniors are the first in their family to attend college.
“In Texas, the Young Women’s Preparatory Network of public schools was established in 2004 to primarily serve students from families in the bottom income quartile,” Murphy said. “In 2016, 100 percent of the students from the network’s six graduating classes were admitted to college.”
Sees Multiple Benefits
In the small town of DeLand, Florida, Stetson University has taught single-sex classes and studied educational outcomes at the Woodward Elementary school since 2005.
Bette Heins, director and chair of the Nina B. Hollis Institute for Educational Reform at Stetson University, says her research has identified many benefits of single-sex education.
“Our program is in a Title 1 school in a small town of 30,000,” Heins said. “Most of the parents are not college-educated. However, they have chosen this option for their children, as they have seen, as have we at the university, academic gains, fewer behavior problems, and higher attendance.”
‘Open and Safe’ Environment
Murphy says there are a variety of reasons for the positive outcomes of single-sex education, including the fact that occupying all roles throughout the classroom enables girls to build confidence and develop leadership skills.
“According to the High School Survey of Student Engagement, girls’ school students are more likely than their female peers at co-ed schools to experience an environment that welcomes an open and safe exchange of ideas,” Murphy said. “Nearly 87 percent of girls’ school students feel their opinions are respected at their school, compared to 58 percent of girls at co-ed public schools.
“In an all-girls’ school, a girl and her unique capabilities are embraced for what they are and not limited to what society expects them to be,” said Murphy. “Regardless of what problems a young girl wants to solve when she grows up, she needs to know—not just think, but really know, deep down in her gut—nothing can stand in her way. Girls’ schools send that message to girls every day.”
‘Not for Every Boy or Girl’
Heins says although not all children would benefit from single-sex education, the overall results of the format are strongly positive.
“Single-gender classes are not for every boy or girl,” Heins said. “But certainly our research has shown for the last thirteen years a significant difference in achievement scores for children in single-gender classes over children in mixed-gender classes.”
Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Teresa Mull, “Why Single-Sex Schools Are Growing in Popularity,” The Heartland Institute, December 4, 2017: https://heartland.org/multimedia/podcasts/why-single-sex-schools-are-growing-in-popularit