Sept. 22, 2011 -- Boys and girls may be opposites, but new research shows that in the classroom, separating the two sexes may not be the best way for either gender to learn and grow.
A new report, published in the journal Science, states that students who attend single-sex schools are no better educated than those who attend co-ed schools. Plus, children are more likely to accept gender stereotypes when they go to an all-boys or all-girls school.
"There's really no good evidence that single-sex schools are in any way academically superior, but there is evidence of a negative impact," said Lynn Liben, professor of psychology and education at Penn State and co-author of the study. "Kids' own occupational aspirations are going to be limited, and there could be long-term consequences where, for example, girls are used to being in roles only among other girls, then they have to face the real world where that's not the case."
Supporters of single-sex schools argue that boys' and girls' brains are wired differently, and therefore require different teaching styles to maximize education, but study authors note that neuroscientists have not found hard evidence that show differences in girls' and boys' different learning styles.
The report also cited a 2010 study which compared two preschool classes. In one class, the teacher used gender-specific language to address the children. The other teacher did not. After just two weeks, the researchers reported that children who had the teacher using sex-specific language played less with children of the other sex. The kids also showed an increase in gender-specific stereotypes (i.e. boys played with trucks, girls with dolls).
The study also noted that a review commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education found little overall difference in academic outcomes between children in single-sex schools versus those in coed schools.
Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments outlawed discrimination on the basis of gender in educational programs that receive federal funds, meaning students were no longer allowed to be rejected from gender seemingly-specific classes, like home economics or metal shop. But Liben said several people still argue for gender separation in the classroom.
"We know from the history of our country that separate is not equal," said Liben. "There's no reason to divide along the lines of biological sex."