In this paper argument in the favor of single gender classes is presented supported by evidence. The scientists have discovered that differences between girls and boys are profound both psychologically and physiologically. Research has indicated that even when girls and boys occupy the same classroom space, they sometimes receive quite different educational experiences. Gender stereotyping and gender bias can be major stimulators in coeducational classrooms. Single sex schooling has received a boost from the current administration. The U.S. Department of Education has announced it will interpret Title IX more flexibly to encourage single gender class options for students. Such a policy shift took place in the presence of over whelming evidence.
Single Gender Classes
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When the feminist movement took place and claimed a woman’s right of equality, it stubbornly rejected the fact that men and women are different. This difference between them does not render one gender inferior to the other, but it does recognize them as different in both physiological and psychological aspects.
The basic idea is that men and women are equal but not the same. They do have their gender specific differences, both physical and intellectual. In a teaching environment if these differences are not realized and catered for, one or both of the two groups will suffer. Research has shown that there are significant difference in the learning styles of boys and girls. On the basis of this research various educational institutes have experimented with single-sex classes to produce better results. For the most part the findings have been encouraging and positive.
In this paper argument in the favor of single gender classes is presented supported by evidence. Firstly, various physiological and psychological differences between boys and girls have been indicated, followed by the state of single gender education in the United States. Then the evidence of the positive impact of single gender education is discussed.
Understanding the Gender-Based Differences
The scientists have discovered that differences between girls and boys are more profound than anybody guessed. In girls, the language areas of the brain develop before the areas used for spatial relations and for geometry. In boys, it’s the other way around. A curriculum which ignores those differences will produce boys who can’t write and girls who lag behind in subjects like mathematics and science.
Similarly, in girls, emotion is processed in the same area of the brain that processes language. So, it is easy for girls to talk about their emotions. In boys, the brain regions involved in talking are separate from the regions involved in feeling. Girls and boys respond to stress differently. Stress enhances learning in males. The same stress impairs learning in females.
Sax (2005) is of that view that separating the sexes allows teachers and administrators to focus on the different ways boys and girls learn. Girls learn better in quiet classrooms and intimate schools where they are on a first-name basis with their teachers. Boys learn better when teachers challenge them to answer rapid fire questions and address them by their last names.
Single-Gender Classes in United States
The establishment of single sex classes was a reaction to the realization that access to educational experiences through mixed sex classes did not necessarily result in equity of educational opportunity. Research has indicated that even when girls and boys occupy the same classroom space, they sometimes receive quite different educational experiences. Gender stereotyping and gender bias can be major stimulators in coeducational classrooms. Girls at times receive less attention and are given fewer opportunities for learning and problem solving than boys. Also girls may feel self-conscious and constrained in some mixed-sex classes and in turn perform relatively worse than boys. These findings were particularly evident in math, science, and computer-related subjects. (Haag, 1998)
In approximately 15 public schools across the United States, teachers and administrators are segregating students according to sex. A few of these schools have held single sex classes for sometime and students are showing improvement in achievement and behavior. But by doing this such institutes have provoked protests from state education officials and feminists. Some schools, like the Ellenville Middle School in New York, segregate students for core subject classes but allow mixed sex classes for elective subjects. At the Southern Leadership Academy in Kentucky, boys and girls are together only for band and chorus. Teachers, students and administrators involved in single-sex schooling are generally enthusiastic about the results. Teachers report that students pay more attention to their work and are less troublesome and disorderly. Chicago’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy, now in its third year, is so successful that it boasts a student body of 325 and a waiting list of 400. Medical doctor and psychologist Dr. Leonard Sax pointed out that single sex classes allow teachers to tailor their instruction to the different ways children learn. (Sommers, 2002)
At least 10 single-sex public schools were opened in 2004 in Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and South Carolina. It is believed that separating the sexes can improve learning by easing the peer pressure that can lead to misbehavior as well as low self-esteem among girls. The number of US public schools offering single sex classes jumped from four to 140, between 1996 and 2004. It is expected that the number will increase Due to announcement of the US Education Department plans to change its enforcement Title IX. (Austin, 2004)
Single sex schooling has received a high-profile boost from the Bush administration. A clause in the president’s “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001 encourages widespread educational choices, and the US Education Department has announced it will interpret Title IX more loosely to encourage single gender class options for students.
Findings on the Performance of Single-Gender Classes
Though most of the findings in the report by Datnow, Hubbard and Woody (2001) indicated ineffectiveness of single-sex classes, but it also asserted that when committed and talented teachers were present, the single gender arrangement provided the space to offer social and moral guidance to students.
Similarly, in the study by Howard, Sansted and Du (2003) student opinion survey data suggest that girls perceived the single gender class more positively than boys. In the all-female class, students helped each other and enjoyed the class more. Furthermore, girls noticed that student discipline in class was well maintained. The experiences of the teachers in the study show that both boys and girls participated in tasks and discussion at a high level in single gender classes. The single gender class may also have contributed to the boys being more focused on tasks assigned by the teacher, and the girls being more inclined to participate actively in classroom discussion. Both boys and girls in the single-gender classes indicated their ability improved in focusing more on academics and less on trying to impress the opposite sex. Sommers (2002) cited an example of this in her work. And about the report discussed in the critique, she asserted that it failed to show whether the schools improved students’ grades or attendance. She also pointed out that most of the study was devoted to criticism by parents, teachers, and students, and it also failed to evaluate any of the academic benefits of the schools.
An Idaho public school switched to single-gender classes in 2003. In math, science, social studies and English, students were segregated into boy and girl groups. The teachers and students say the system has helped them do better work. They believe that separating boys and girls has eliminated a major source of distraction in class i.e. interaction with the opposite sex. The teachers have observed that in my mixed classes the boys dominated the conversation and in the segregated classes all the students interact with the instructors. (CNN, 2003)
In 1999 the Jefferson Leadership Academies offered separate classes for boys and girls. About 1,000 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders entered single-gender classes. A report released by the Long Beach USD Office of Research, Planning and Evaluation compared cumulative grade point averages (GPAs) to current GPAs for all students who attended Jefferson in 1998-99 and who are currently enrolled in 1999-2000. The finding was that the GPAs for students who had attended Jefferson in either grade increased for all students in both grades 7 and 8 under the single gender academic system. But it has also been noticed that some teachers have had a hard time with their all-boy classes. (Sharpe, 2000)
In 1993, American University professors Myra and David Sadker published a book named Failing in Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls. During a three-year study, trained observers visited more than 100 classrooms in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. They noticed that boys called out eight times as often as girls did. If a boy called out, the teacher usually praised his contribution. Girls who called out got reminders to raise their hands. The teachers responded to girls with a simple nod or an OK, but they praised, corrected, helped, and criticized boys. Boys were encouraged to solve problems on their own, but teachers helped girls who were stuck on problems. (Sharpe, 2000)
One report deals with single-sex education at the elementary and secondary levels in United States. This report basically was a review to document the evidence for or against the effectiveness of single-sex education. The results show some support for the idea that single-sex schooling can be helpful, especially for academic achievement and positive academic ambition. There is also limited support for the view that single-sex schooling may be harmful or that coeducational schooling is more beneficial for students.
A study investigated self-esteem for students in secondary schools in Northern Ireland. He used a multidimensional measure of self- esteem made up of four subcategories which were social, cognitive, athletic, and general, and concluded that single-sex schools are linked with benefits in self-esteem and locus of control. (Cairns, 1990)
Another research discovered that among African American and Hispanic American students, both males and females in single-sex schools scored higher on standardized cognitive tests than those in mixed-sex schools. It was argued that policies in single-sex schools that emphasize the academic side explained all of the test score differences between the two types of schools. Both males and females in single-sex schools also gained on attitudinal aspects such as leadership behavior. (Riordan, 1990)
One of Cincinnati Public’s underachieving high schools initiated single gender classes. The major response by teachers was that separating the classes by gender allows the boys not to worry about the girls. They can focus on class. Teachers have reported fewer discipline problems and students are less intimidated when answering questions. The teachers claimed that they teach boys and girls the same lessons in their classes but use unique opportunities in single-sex classes to explain things differently. (Mrozowsky, 2002)
In 2000 the Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Seattle, Washington, was changed from traditional coeducation classrooms to single sex classrooms. The administrative authorities were concerned about the high number of discipline problems. About 30 children every day were being sent to the principal’s office because of that. So the decision was made to switch to single sex classrooms in hopes of decreasing the discipline problem. The outcome was that discipline problems dropped to one or two per day. The boys and girls were able to focus on academics. The boys outperformed the entire state in writing in the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. They went from being in a low percentile of 20 to 53% in writing.
An inner-city high school in Montreal made the switch from coeducation classrooms to single sex classrooms in 2001. Since making that switch, absentees have dropped from 20% to 7%. The rate of students going on to college has nearly doubled. (National Association of Single Sex Public Education, 2006)
In a study by University of Michigan, the researchers compared grades of graduates of Catholic single sex high schools with graduates of Catholic coeducation private schools. Boys in the single sex high schools scored better in reading, writing, and mathematics. Girls at the single sex schools did better in science and reading than girls in coeducation schools. In fact, these researchers found that students at single sex schools also had higher educational aspirations, more confidence in their abilities, and a more positive attitude toward academics, than did students at coed high schools. And, girls at the single-sex schools had less stereotyped ideas about women. (Lee and Bryk, 1986)
Black Mountain Middle School launched a pilot program of four single gender classes in 2005. The results show that students get higher grades and focus on their studies. A lot of girls prefer attending a girls-only science class because they no longer have to worry about what the boys think, and has more confidence to speak up and ask questions. The teachers are of the view that in a single gender class students are more focused, they are ready to learn and they have fewer distractions. In the single sex Physical Education classes, the boys and girls are reported to be more energetic, willing to participate and relaxed. The real gain in single gender classes is in the students’ academic performance. School officials say that students are doing better in the single gender classes. It was found that girls in the single gender class are the highest performers in science out of the entire school. The average GPA for single gender science class girls is 3.67. For girls in the coeducation class, it ranges between 2.9 and 3.2. Boys in the single gender science class are also outperforming their counterparts. They have an average GPA of 3.22 while boys in the coeducation class have GPA of about 2.44. (Musicar, 2005)
This paper presents the positive aspect of single gender classes supported by the evidence. Despite all the criticism, the impression by teachers and students indicate that single sex educational system does cause an affirmative change in the academic achievement and classroom behavior. It also indicated that any failure of an effort for the establishment of single sex education system can be attributed to factors like, lack of political support and inadequate finances. It was also found that where such hindrances did not exist, single gender education produced superior results as compared to coeducation system.
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