Pros and Cons of Single Sex Classes in the Middle School

Introduction

The debate of same-sex classes has been in the education sector for decades and the reasons for this are not particularly hard to discern. The most important reason is the fact it remains a controversial issue that touches on the sensitive social topic of gender. Available literature and research articles on the topic have abided in the fact that there are both pros and cons of same-sex classes in middle schools. Efforts to understand the role of gender in enhancing the performances of students in middle schools led the United States Department of Education to provide more flexibility to middle schools in trying single-sex classes in 2006 without fear of lawsuits. This essay seeks to explore the controversial youth issue of the pros and cons of same-sex classes in middle schools. Towards this, the pros and cons will be analyzed based on gender and a brief historical perspective of the topic presented.

Historical Perspectives of Same-sex Classes

The question of how to educate men and women has been a turbulent history. “This is because of the fact that it has been linked to the social aspects of morality in the socialization of children, gender equality in regard to both sexes and the need to develop higher academic performance educational models and policies for both boys and girls” (Pytel, 2008)1. same-sex classes have been advocated by the conservatives in the fear of eroding societal culture while coeducation has been historically championed by the liberals. Whereas it is a fact that coeducation has grown in popularity in all parts of the world, same-sex classes and schools continue to dominate in other regions. Conservative states and nations especially in the Middle East are composed of predominantly same-sex classes and schools. These highlighted issues on the historical aspects of same-sex education demonstrate the core reasons as to why the topics of gender and education continue to cause controversy the world over.

“The history of education in regards to gender was composed on separate education for boys and girls and this reflected the different roles that each sex was assigned; giving rise to the unequal status of men and women in society” (John, 20042). The male literacy levels were higher than that of women. The males were trained to be the leaders in society by taking active roles in politics and war while women were trained to take up domestic chores. Coeducation thus “posed the greatest historical threat to the division of labor and thus had the greatest potential in undermining the existing hierarchy” (John, 2004)3. These shortcomings of coeducation led to the birth of same-sex schools and classes. In addition to the above, the need to develop same-sex classes in middle arose from the desire to understand the role of gender in student performances. This is in view of the fact that there have been stereotypes based on gender and subjects learned in middle schools.

Pros of same-sex Classes to Girls

Becoming A leader

According to 4Troubled Teens (2010)4, “Rosa Parks, Sally Ride, Nancy Pelosi, Condoleezza Rice, Tyra Banks, and Hillary Clinton all have two things in common; first, they are famous for their contributions and leadership roles in the society and second, they all attended all-girl middle schools, high schools, or colleges.” It has been demonstrated that single-sex classes and schools have the capacity to produce some of the best minds and talents in the world. This fact is buttressed by 4Troubled Teens (2010)5 in stating that “all-girls therapeutic boarding schools are particularly beneficial for girls struggling with low self-esteem, defiance, depression, substance abuse, or other behavioral issues.” Small classes are characterized by one on one attention in which the curriculum is aimed at enhancing the performance of students while at the same time creating the free atmosphere for the development of long-lasting relationships and the ability to develop skills in regards to personal identity.

It has been pointed out that when girls are put in classes and schools of their own, they are exposed to all the existing opportunity that enables them to become everything they want to be. According to 4Troubled Teens (2010)6, “whatever they choose, young ladies in all-girl boarding schools know they have the skills, confidence, and ability to become leaders in any setting”. The leadership skills are developed as a result of the free atmosphere in which they have to test their varying abilities. From leadership in the classroom, sports and dormitory to a skilled songwriter or poet, girls have all the opportunity to not only test their skills but also horn them for future roles in society. Such a free and open window of opportunity is not available in coeducation where competitions for opportunities with their male counterparts are high. Furthermore, males are more aggressive than females due to the genes that determine sexes, their tenacity to grab all the opportunities from their female counterparts have been pointed at by psychologists to be higher.

This competition between the sexes in a single classroom is illustrated by 4Troubled Teens (2010)7 in stating that teachers call on boys four times more often than they call on girls, teachers often direct the challenging questions to the male students while giving the female students less difficult questions and that teachers are more likely to praise and give positive reinforcement to the intellectual contributions of boys in the classroom while commenting on the social skills of girls.

The girls are denied the opportunity to demonstrate their skills lest they be seen as bearing masculine traits. Single-sex classes thus offer the best opportunity for young girls to test their leadership skills. The societal language has created a system in which ladies shy away from taking active roles in leadership positions because of the fear of success. This demonstrates the reason behind better performance in single-sex classes and schools among ladies than in coeducation where male students dominate in both sports and academic work. “If anyone loses out in coeducation, it is clearly girls; in that by the time coeducation is finished, boys have higher test scores, tend to dominate classrooms, and have more access to computers, math and science 4Troubled Teens (2010)8

Breaking the Stereotypes

Gender stereotypes impact negatively young girls and present them with a distorted view of their potential. According to 4Troubled Teens (2010)9 “young women assume they are destined to fall behind in science and math, place second or third in sports, train for traditionally female jobs, and receive less attention in class simply because they are female.” This is because society has labeled the female sex as the weak sex and as such inferior to the male sex. They, therefore, leave with the distorted background information that they are inferior and are incapable of achieving similar standards as their male counterparts. Whereas critics argue that same-sex classes aggravate the levels of stereotypes and segregation, the pivotal point is that females and males are different in many ways and not in the ways society perceives their differences.

Attending same-sex classes has the capacity to break the stereotype because of the different psychological abilities of the sexes. They, therefore, learn differently and have different structures of the brain. In addition to the above, the two sexes face different societal pressures and react differently to similar pressures. Results however indicate that girls are likely to perform in male-dominated fields such as sciences and math, have important opinions and have the capacity to excel in sports. These abilities can only be enhanced when young girls are given the best opportunity to demonstrate the same. In addition to the above, allowing ladies to work among themselves gives them the opportunity to develop emotional connection them that is critical in the enhancement of learning skills and development of self-confidence.

Furthermore, stereotyping in females is also broken when girls are placed in same-sex classes in that they are given the same curriculum and individualized attention as the boys. Such a scenario provides a learning environment that lacks gender stereotyping and teasing thereby giving them the power to exploit their potential. “This leads to higher test scores, increased college enrollment, and greater self-confidence; in addition to less negative peer-pressure and a stronger sense of sisterhood” (4Troubled Teens, 2010)10.

The separation of girls from boys has therefore been demonstrated to give them the power to break away from society stereotyping and equip them with necessary skills that rival their male counterparts in academic performances. This fact is supported by (4Troubled Teens, 2010)11 in demonstrating that all-girls settings seem to provide girls a certain comfort level that helps them develop greater self-confidence and broader interests, especially as they approach adolescence. Research has found that single-sex schools and classes promote less-gender-polarized attitudes toward certain subjects – maths and science in the case of girls and language arts and foreign languages in the case of boys.

Redefining the “Real World”

Whereas critics have argued that same-sex classes prevent girls from having true experiences in the real world that may have negative impacts on their future relationships, the fact is that these classes give young girls the required break from the pressures of life. This is critical in their personal growth and exploration of challenges and opportunities they have in life. This is best illustrated by 4Troubled Teens (2010) in stating that it’s best that you understand your own world, your own values, your own inspirations first; then you are better able to navigate the coed world. If we can, in any way, allow girls to hold onto their childhood and their youth and postpone their engagement in behaviors that are really inappropriate, I think that’s good.

This means that same-sex classes have the ability to give young ladies the needed time to discover their personal selves before coming out of the world. This prevents the interference and distraction associated with coeducation at a critical time in their lives when they need to focus on their studies. Single-sex classes offer an environment in which academics and a sense of personal development are at the forefront. “In an environment where teachers feel empowered and where girls understand their inherent value and intelligence, girls can be 100 percent strong and 100 percent girl” (4Troubled Teens, 2010)12.

Pros of same-sex Classes to Boys

Researchers and critics have demonstrated that same-sex classes are beneficial to boys as well. The problem of stereotyping has been pointed at as a problem of both sexes. This is because boys in coeducation schools have demonstrated laxity in majoring in arts subjects for fear of being labeled a homosexual. Society has stereotyped arts subjects to be domains of girls while math and science as regarded as boys subjects. A boy who performs well in arts but poorly in math and science is likely to be branded a homosexual. This is sad in that society fails to understand this group in the best way possible. According to Pytel (2008) “boys become less competitive and collaborate more because they don’t have to worry about girls’ opinions of them; they can also feel free to participate in the arts with a class full of other boys”.

In addition to the above, practical experiments prove that boys benefit more from same-sex education. Jackson and Smith (2000)13 discuss the core benefits of same-sex education to boys by stating that “Other research points out that single-gender schools are particularly beneficial for boys because they promote male bonding and optimize male character development and that males from low income and minority backgrounds especially profit from single-gender schools”. There are other advantages that have been demonstrated by researchers. Researchers in education suggest that the type of schoolboys attend has a greater impact on their subjects of choice than anything else. This is because a single-sex environment will enable boys to pursue subjects of their choice as opposed to coeducation where this may be influenced by stereotyping that influences them to pursue traditional boys subjects. In addition to the above, boys feel better and comfortable in same-sex classes and schools as opposed to in coeducation schools. “There is a subtle pressure toward gender stereotyping in mixed schools in that in boys’ schools, boys feel free to be themselves, to follow their interests and talents in what might be regarded as non-macho pursuits: music, arts, and drama” (The NASSPE, 2005)14

The benefits have thus been demonstrated to include other factors such as better behavior and success in academic pursuit because of the free atmosphere presented by single-sex classes. This demonstrates the reasons behind their current revitalization and concerted research endeavors to unravel the mysteries that surround the relationship between gender and academic performances. The debate on specific benefits of single-sex classes to boys has been on for so long with some critics arguing that same-sex classes prevent young boys from exploring their skills in developing quality relationships and thus may impact negatively in their future and workplace relationships. The truth is that within these ranges in young boys’ age, academic pursuit and excellence should form the greatest than other areas of development. In addition to the above, single-sex classes do not completely separate boys from girls but only provide a single-sex atmosphere during the learning periods.

As discussed above, it is justified to claim that the achievement of boys in single-sex classes is higher than that in coeducation. In fact, this has been one of the most controversial topics in same-sex classes. According to Nicholson (2005)15 “there are studies that demonstrate that single-sex schools are better at achieving higher academic levels; there are also studies that demonstrate that coeducational schools are better at achieving higher academic levels”. Our judgments on this, therefore, depend largely on the pros and cons of single-sex classes and the available research works on the same. It is, however, true that comparative works on same-sex classes and coeducation in the analysis of results of standardized tests abide in the fact that the performances of boys in single-sex classes are higher than those of coeducation. This is buttressed by Dhindsa & Chung (2003)16 in reporting that

Similarly, the mean achievement scores in science for boys in the single-sex school were significantly better (p= 0.005, ES= 0.30) than of those in coeducational schools. These results demonstrate that, on average, the scientific achievements of male, as well as female students in single-sex schools, were moderately better than that of students in coeducational schools. (p. 916)

Other researchers have also found similar findings that abide in the ability of single-sex classes to offer the best atmosphere for better performance. This demonstrates that superior achievements in diverse areas of studies that transcend all levels of gender stereotypes have been reported to occur in single-sex classes. NASSPE (4)17 in the analysis of one comparative study noted in their article that “Even after controlling for students’ academic ability and other background factors, both girls and boys did significantly better in single-sex schools than in coed schools.” Based on the foundations that conducted the study, it was concluded that “It would be possible to infer from the findings that, in order to maximize their performance, [public] schools should [have] about 180 pupils per cohort, or year, and be single-sex” NASSPE (2005)18

Last, the strongest support for single-sex classes was perhaps demonstrated by “before and after” studies. These were studies that were aimed at analyzing the effects of co-educational institutions in their transformations to single-sex schools. The data retrieved from transformation was then compared to the data retrieved from achievement levels after the switch to single-sex education. O’Reilly (2000)19 summarizes the results of these studies by stating that

Before and after studies are done at just one school, before and after its transformation to a single-sex school. Same students, same teachers, same facilities. These studies offer another compelling proof of the superiority of single-sex education.

In conclusion, the above-presented arguments have pointed to the merits of single-sex classes as opposed to coeducation. This extends to the psychological impacts and attendances on the learners of different genders.

Cons of same-sex Classes to Both Boys and Girls

Whereas a cocktail of reasons has in support of same-sex classes have been presented by researchers and strongly supported by conservatives, liberalists and critics on the other hand have argued that coeducation still remains the option. The first reason that has been pointed to by supporters of coeducation is the lack of resources to develop single-sex academies, especially in rural areas. It is therefore a preferred method of educating large numbers of students in a single setting. This has therefore been pointed out as a more practical solution to the advancement of compulsory education that is one of the Millennium Development Goals as opposed to the creation of single-sex academies.

The supporters of coeducation argue that single-sex classes and schools erode the socialization benefits of an individual at a very tender age. They argue that the ability to develop long-lasting relationships across gender lines remains important in determining the future success of an individual. This will impact greatly on the work environment in which one must have the capacity to deal with both genders. There are researchers who have moved away from their counterparts and fully rallied behind the support of coeducation. According to Robinson and Smithers (1999)20 “It has been suggested that educating the sexes together is more like real life, and the experience of growing up with the opposite sex makes it easier to move on to the mixed environments of university and employment.”

Legal issues also come into sharp focus as a very strong point against single-sex education and in support of coeducation. This is especially is in “regard to public single-sex education and its impacts on the Title IX laws that were enacted in the early 1970s” (Nicholson, 2005). These laws demanded that available resources were allocated equally for the provision of education for both sexes. The threat posed by erosion of Title IX laws is well illustrated by Bronski (2002) in stating that

The threat raised by single-sex public schools and classes is the rapid erosion of Title IX’s effects. This fear is not unfounded; there’s already a major right-wing effort to reinterpret and redefine Title IX on the grounds that it discriminates against men’s sports by demanding allocation of equal amounts of money for both men’s and women’s sports, even though more men than women try out for teams.

This means that a number of men’s activities will have to be cut in support of the single-sex academies.

Growth and development in regard to personal identity and the capacity to effectively handle challenges posed by the adolescence period have been shown to be higher in coeducation schools than in single-sex classes. This is because the constant exposure and interactions with the opposite sex equip an individual with skills in dealing with pressures posed by the opposite sex. The environment in single-sex schools attaches so much to the aspects of academic development than other critical areas of self-development such as changes in puberty, individual growth and personal development.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it can therefore be stated in confidence that single-sex classes have more pros than coeducation. This has been the reason behind the surge in single-sex classes in the recent past. In fact, in urban areas, the number of single-sex schools and classes has surpassed that of coeducation by far. Parents prefer to have their children attend exclusively single-sex schools because of their higher performances and the fear that their children are in safe hands especially girls.

While a great deal of research has been successfully completed on the topic of single-sex education, it is, however, sad that very few have been aimed at analyzing the impacts of single-sex schools on boys. In addition to the above, the United States lags behind in the number of research works on the overall effects of single-sex schools. With the increase in the drive for single-sex classes in public schools in the United States that has been propelled to greater levels during President Bush’s administration, it is yet to be proven whether this movement will overcome the challenges posed by the legal provisions of Title IX regulations set in the 1970s.

In addition to the above, the issues that surround the aspects of legality, such as separate but equal will still form the focus of debates on single-sex education. That point in time will only be reached when there will be substantial research findings on the best type of education for children in their formative years. In the end, the fact remains that in the analysis of the types of education available, what is best for the student takes focus, not what is best for the masses. Parents have therefore the responsibility to analyze the demands of their children and provide the best form of education that will ultimately address these unique demands.

Bibliography

  1. 4 Troubled Teens (2010). In a School of Their Own: Young Girls Thrive in Single-Sex Boarding Schools.
  2. Bronski, M., (2002). single-sex Schools [electronic version]. The Boston Phoenix;
  3. Dhindsa, H., & Chung, G. (2003). Attitudes and achievement of Bruneian science students. International Journal of Science Education, 25, 907-923.
  4. Jackson, C., & Smith, D. (2000). Poles apart? An exploration of single-sex and mixed-sex Educational environments in Australia and England. Educational Studies, 26, 409-423.
  5. John, Rury. (2004). Coeducation and Same-Sex Schooling. Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society.
  6. NASSPE (2005). National Association for single-sex Public Education.
  7. Nicholson, Todd William. (2005). A Research Paper Related to the Impact of Single-Sex Education on Males in Secondary Schools.
  8. O’Reilly, J. (2000). Mixed school hits new heights with single-sex classes. Sunday Times (London), n.p.
  9. Pytel, Barbara. (2008). Pros and Cons of Same-Sex Classrooms.
  10. Robinson, P., & Smithers, A. (1999). Should the sexes be separated for secondary education – comparisons of single-sex and co-educational schools? Research Papers in Education, 14, 23-49.

Footnotes

  1. Pytel, Barbara. (2008). Pros and Cons of Same-Sex Classrooms.
  2. John, Rury. (2004). Coeducation and Same-Sex Schooling. Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society.
  3. John, Rury. (2004).
  4. 4 Troubled Teens (2010). In a School of Their Own: Young Girls Thrive in Single-Sex Boarding Schools.
  5. 4 Troubled Teens (2010).
  6. 4 Troubled Teens (2010).
  7. 4 Troubled Teens (2010). In a School of Their Own: Young Girls Thrive in Single-Sex Boarding Schools.
  8. 4 Troubled Teens (2010).
  9. 4 Troubled Teens (2010). In a School of Their Own: Young Girls Thrive in Single-Sex Boarding Schools.
  10. 4 Troubled Teens (2010). In a School of Their Own: Young Girls Thrive in Single-Sex Boarding Schools.
  11. 4 Troubled Teens (2010).
  12. 4 Troubled Teens (2010). In a School of Their Own: Young Girls Thrive in Single-Sex Boarding Schools.
  13. Jackson, C., & Smith, D. (2000). Poles apart? An exploration of single-sex and mixedsex Educational environments in Australia and England. Educational Studies, 26, 409-423.
  14. NASSPE (2005). National Association for single-sex Public Education.
  15. Nicholson, Todd William. (2005). A Research Paper Related to the Impact of Single-Sex Education on Males in Secondary Schools.
  16. Dhindsa, H., & Chung, G. (2003). Attitudes and achievement of Bruneian science students. International Journal of Science Education, 25, 907-923.
  17. NASSPE (2005). National Association for single-sex Public Education.
  18. NASSPE (2005).
  19. O’Reilly, J. (2000). Mixed school hits new heights with single-sex classes. Sunday Times (London), n.p.
  20. Robinson, P., & Smithers, A. (1999). Should the sexes be separated for secondary education – comparisons of single-sex and co-educational schools? Research Papers in Education, 14, 23-49.