Does separating boys and girls boost achievement? Not so fast.
Thousands of American schools have opted to separate boys and girls, hoping to improve achievement and avoid the perceived social pitfalls of having them in the same classroom.
But does it make a difference?
Janet Hyde, a UW psychology professor, tackled that question in the largest and most thorough effort to examine the issue to date. Analyzing 184 studies from 21 countries — representing the testing of 1.6 million students — she found scant evidence that single-sex classrooms offer educational or social benefits.
“The claim that boys do better verbally in single-sex schooling, because they get squelched in a coed setting, did not hold up. And the claim has been made that girls will develop a better self-concept, but again, there is no evidence for that,” Hyde says.
Many existing studies used unreliable methods, she says. Families choosing single-sex classrooms tend to have more money and education, traits that are typically associated with better school performance, yet studies that show better student performance fail to account for those advantages. Hyde found that the best studies debunked claims for single-sex education: math and science performance did not improve among girls who were not integrated with boys, and, similarly, boys did not do better on verbal measures in single-sex classes.
Data were too scarce to draw conclusions in one disputed area: possible benefits for minority boys. “We urgently need high-quality study of these programs that make careful comparisons with coed schooling, comparing students with equal resources, to see if the single-sex configuration really makes a difference,” Hyde says.
Even if the benefits of single-sex schooling are uncertain, Hyde says the hazards are real. “There is a mountain of research in social psychology showing that segregation by race or gender feeds stereotypes,” she says. “The adult world is an integrated world, in the workplace and in the family, and the best thing we can do is provide that environment for children in school.”