Single-gender education creates a spirited dialogue about how the classroom structure should be in the modern school. If you walk into the average class today in the United States, you’ll find about an equal number of boys and girls at each grade level. Instead of integrating them, the National Education Association notes that some experts believe that there should be separation between them instead.
Professors David and Myra Sadker from American University published research in 1993 that discovered striking levels of unfairness toward each gender in the public school system. Over three years of research found out that boys called out eight times more often than girls did when answering questions, but then didn’t receive the same reminders to raise their hands – often being praised for their contributions.
The Sadkers discovered that the teachers in Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Connecticut valued the comments from boys more than they did from girls. This issue even translated into the encouragement for the gentlemen to solve problems by themselves while helping the ladies who got stuck. Their paper was published in 1993.
The advantages and disadvantages of single gender classrooms do more than negate the patterns of male dominance that might exist in the educational system. It can also help boys and girls find a more successful path to their eventual adult life and career.
List of the Advantages of Single-gender Classrooms
1. It levels the playing field for girls in the public school system.
Data gathered from the U.S. Census Bureau and NCES shows that 54% of students in the average classroom are boys. If you take grades 1-12 by themselves, that figure is still 51% to 49% for the girls. That means there are more opportunities for boys to take over the learning experience since they are in the majority. Their contributions are usually rewarded because teachers believe that action encourages their participation.
When Jefferson Leadership Academies created entirely single-gender classes in 1999, girls did immediately better in science and math.
2. Having a classroom with both genders can create distractions.
Although the distractions of a mixed-gender classroom usually begin in the upper grade levels, there can be issues in grades 1-4 in the United States as well. Children can talk about the “crushes” they have on each other, test out the idea of a “relationship,” and focus more on the social elements found in the classroom instead of their educational processes.
Since boys can be impulsive more often than girls, the goal of creating a single-gender classroom is to create an environment that meets individualistic needs while still encouraging socialization. By eliminating the distractions that exist to learning, it becomes easier to retain the knowledge that teachers offer.
3. It can produce specific benefits consistently.
Research on single-gender classrooms consistently shows that girls who receive opportunities to learn STEM-based principles away from boys have significantly higher grades than those who are in a coeducational environment. Math and science among girls are much stronger with this advantage in particular. Although some of the other subjects do not receive the same boost in scores, the weakest areas in education for women today become stronger when there is an opportunity at separation.
That means a school could counter a poor performance in STEM-related categories by creating gender-specific classrooms in this area while still emphasizing co-education in the other fields.
4. This structure can reinforce the traditional roles of gender in society.
Even when we promote gender equality in society, there are specific ways that women are better than men and vice-versa. Instead of trying to normalize these differences by dragging individual strengths toward weaknesses, the single-gender classroom environment can help students implement their best attributes in ways that are equitable, healthy, and cooperative. Although this advantage may not apply to the most assertive girls or passive boys in a school, there are still ways to help each child learn to recognize what they are good at doing – and then encourage them to keep practicing that skill.
5. It removes the unnatural structures that are in the coeducational environment.
There are core gender differences that lead to different biological development in boys and girls. The former typically learns mathematics faster, while the latter picks up language concepts and reading with a greater intensity. That doesn’t make one method right and the other wrong. It just means that instead of equalizing the learning processes in this situation, teachers can use the same-gender structure to promote the most robust curriculum possible to increase knowledge at the correct time of a student’s development.
When boys are held back from math or girls asked to stop their language development, then it becomes a challenge for that student to reach their full potential. Single-gender classrooms make it easier to avoid that problem.
6. There is less bullying that happens in the single-gender classroom.
Although there are classrooms where aggressive boys and girls can trigger bullying behaviors in themselves and others, this issue is significantly reduced in the single-gender classroom. There are more opportunities for boys in this environment to pursue music and the arts because there are fewer issues with intimidation. Girls experience this advantage by having more opportunities in mathematics and science. Since there are fewer options to feel scared or embarrassed in front of the opposite sex, there are more chances to enjoy self-exploration and product better grades because of it.
7. There can be fewer issues with reproductive health problems.
By then age of 18, over half of teenagers in the United States say that they have had at least one sexual encounter. It usually occurs with someone who is a serious boyfriend or girlfriend, but it can be a casual friend, an acquaintance, or even a stranger in some situations. This statistic is consistent in religious schools as well. When students are placed in single-gender classrooms, the risk for STIs and STDs won’t disappear, but it can be significantly reduced. It eliminates the impulsiveness that distractions cause in the classroom, reduces sexually-fueled aggression, and encourages students to focus more on their intimate relationships outside of the classroom.
8. Students still have an opportunity to participate in after-school activities.
High schools that promote single-gender classrooms still provide sports, creative endeavors like art and band, and other after-school activities just as a coeducational environment provides. Although there are some changes that can be spotted (like a lack of cheerleaders), students receive the same options to be active in whatever pursuits are of interest to them. There are multiple ways to pursue character development opportunities and mixed-gender classrooms are only one of those options.
9. It eliminates the double standard that exists for girls.
Coeducational opportunities typically hold girls to different aesthetic standards than boys, even when the dress code is simple or casual. Many of the regulations that are in place involve apparel that girls typically wear to school. Instead of teaching kids about equality, they create single-gender perspectives through the implementation of different policies and procedures that involve student appearance.
As NEA Today pointed out in 2018, many school districts use dress codes that have gendered language. “Girls must not show cleavage or wear spaghetti straps,” is just one example. The reason for this issue is the “distraction” that this could cause the boys. It is a form of victim-blaming that disappears if a single-gender classroom policy is in place. To make matters even worse, it can be almost impossible to find clothing that meets the expected standards of gender-based dress codes.
List of the Disadvantages of Single-gender Classrooms
1. There is no evidence that single-gender classrooms improve results.
Jefferson Leadership Academies decided to reverse their same-gender policies in 2007 because test scores were disappointing in all categories. There were scheduling conflicts that began to arise with the structure. Despite the research presented by the Sadkers which suggested that boys received preferential treatment, there isn’t that much of a gap between the different learning styles of each gender. That means there doesn’t need to be a mandate that would create separate instruction opportunities.
2. Women outnumber men when looking at college and university classrooms.
Even if the Sadkers were correct over 20 years ago with their research observations about gender preference in the classroom, that issue is not impairing the success of women as they graduate from high school. Boys might outnumber girls in the K-12 setting, but there are 14% more women than men who pursue an undergraduate degree or higher. That means when it is time for these students to enter into the workforce, it is the girls who will have their first foot in the door.
3. Girls are less likely to be held back a grade in the United States.
Another one of the issues that same-gender education settings face is the fact that boys are more likely than girls to be held back a grade because of their performance in school. Trying to help only girls in a classroom setting by segregating them from the boys could be counterintuitive to the overall educational experience. One of the reasons why teachers praise the participation of boys over girls in the classroom is the fact that they’re the ones who typically don’t perform as well. By creating positive feelings for a correct answer, even if the rules aren’t specifically followed, the hope is that more participation will occur in the future.
4. We live in a society where genders are not kept separate from one another.
The classroom environment is a place where students learn what life will be like once they enter the real world. If you segregate classrooms by gender, then there is the creation of unrealistic expectations for life afterward. The average workplace doesn’t make men and women work in separate corners. There is an expectation for everyone to work together. Schools that offer a same-gender classroom structure do not give students an opportunity to work on this essential social skill.
Students who come from a single-sex educational experience, like the 30% of Catholic high schools in the United States, face an adjustment period when they start their vocation because of this disadvantage.
5. Classroom structure is more effective at changing learning behaviors.
The American Association of University Women published a study in 1998 that looked at how same-gender classrooms impacted the learning experiences of girls. This research discovered that when the elements of an excellent education are present, such as a small classroom size, a smaller school, and equitable teaching practices, then both genders saw more success than those who learned in gender-specific ways. Even the presence of a focused academic curriculum was enough to provide this overall benefit.
6. Boys tend to mature slower than girls.
One of the benefits of coeducation is that boys and girls get to learn in the presence of one another. Even if there are physical distractions because of this classroom structure in the later grades, it is essential to remember that boys typically develop physically and emotionally at a slower rate than girls. By keeping both genders together in the classroom, it allows the girls to offer a positive influence on the boys so that everyone has a chance to maximize their success. Does this process hold some girls back? Possibly.
That is why it is critical to identify highly-capable students in each classroom as early as possible. By creating environments which offer the benefits of coeducation at all levels of learning, the maturity of each student doesn’t become as robust a factor to their future success.
7. It could be an illegal educational structure in some parts of the world.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit in 2008 against Breckinridge County Middle School in Kentucky on behalf of a student because of their practice of offering single-sex classrooms in their district. Even though the school didn’t require attendance in those settings and coeducation was still offered, the ACLU argues that the mere presence of such a setting is in violation of several federal and state laws. That included the Educational Opportunities Act and Title IX.
Although the courts ruled in that case that the students lacked standing against the school, there have been multiple other cases, including Doe vs. Wood County Board of Education, where courts have issued injunctions against the practice.
8. There is less diversity in the classroom.
When students go into a classroom setting where everyone looks and thinks like they do, then it reinforces the stereotypes that they believe of the other gender, different cultures, and even skin color. This disadvantage can lead to the development of a singular world view where there are fewer future opportunities available to the student because of this perspective. It requires a variation of experiences, opinions, and ethnicities to broaden a person’s horizon. That is why students who come from classrooms with diversity as an emphasis can transfer their skills over to their vocation much faster than those who do not.
9. It reduces the opportunities to enhance communication skills.
There might be distractions in a coeducational environment, but there are also opportunities to learn new communication skills. The exposure to a melting pot of cultures, identities, and genders allows a student to explore outside of their personal circles and comfort zones. They get to practice in-person communication skills in a safe environment where judgment is kept to a minimum. Instead of relying on computer screens or the words of an instructor for success, they can base their decisions on the confidence they have in the skills that they developed independently.
This disadvantage applies to teachers as well. When there are single-gender classrooms in place at a school district, then many of the programs are based on the stereotypes of boys and girls instead of focusing on their actual needs.
10. This structure continues to promote societal sexism.
Over 40% of women in the United States say that they have encountered discrimination at least once during their career. About 1 in 4 women say that their co-workers, usually men, treat them as being incompetent at their vocation. Just 6% of men feel the same way about their co-worker interactions while at their job. When we separate genders in the classroom, then we continue to promote these societal stereotypes. Boys see girls as being inferior and needing their own classroom, while girls see boys as being attention-hungry, aggressive, or lacking intelligence. Neither is a healthy approach to life.
11. It is an expensive proposal to implement.
The cost of single-gender classrooms in the United States creates the need to have two classrooms for the same subject instead of one. That means a school district must hire two teachers to fulfill those obligations. Smaller districts might get away with a single teacher to cover both genders, but that will also eliminate the single-gender structure since the adult with be of the opposite gender to at least one set of students.
Since there is no meaningful difference in the educational outcomes, self-esteem development, or overall performance with coeducation compared to a single-gender classroom, the cost of creating this structure could be viewed as a waste of money.
12. This structure struggles to adapt to students with alternative gender identities.
Although there are some groups in society that say there are only biological men and women and nothing more, there are several different identification categories which exist. Some students may see themselves as non-binary, genderfluid, agender, or bigender. Some people identify with multiple genders at once. Some children are born intersex, which is a biological difference where the chromosomes do not exactly match either male or female. Trying to fit students into a specific gender category could be psychologically devastating, especially if that individual is not entirely sure of who they are.
This disadvantage doesn’t apply in the coeducational environment because everyone is welcome there.
Verdict on the Advantages and Disadvantages of Single-gender Classrooms
Some parents might not want their children in a coeducational environment because students of the opposite gender might create a distraction. We must also take into consideration the fact that if you separate boys from girls for the sake of doing so without a curriculum in place, then there are few benefits available to consider with that outcome. If teachers use techniques geared toward the specific gender they instruct, then there can be an enhancement in the learning process.
There are physical reasons to consider separate classrooms as well, including the ambient temperature in that environment.
When we look at the advantages and disadvantages of single-gender classrooms, we must consider the needs of each student. Some kids might learn better when they are in an all-boys or all-girls environment. Others may prefer the coeducational environment. That is why a hybrid approach that encourages coeducation and separation for specific subjects tends to provide the best results.
Crystal Lombardo has been a staff writer for Future of Working for five years. She is a proud veteran and mother. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our editor-in-chief a message here.