Opinion

Single-sex Schooling Is a Bad Decision

A Pitt Meadows public school defies research by making one kindergarten class all boys.

By Charles Ungerleider 11 Sep 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Charles Ungerleider divides his time between The University of British Columbia where he is a professor of the Sociology of Education and Directions Evidence and Policy Research Group where he is the director of research and managing partner.

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Mix it up: Research shows 'sex segregation increases gender stereotyping.'

Davie Jones Elementary School in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district has responded to a demographic quirk with a bad educational policy: segregating boys in a single-sex class.

At the school, 32 of the 40 incoming kindergarten students are boys. Rather than attempting to divide the students into classes with an equal proportion of boys and girls, the school has formed an all-boys class of 16, a co-ed class of eight girls and nine boys, with the remaining seven students enrolled in a Kindergarten-Grade 1 split class.

The school's principal admits that the all-boys class is "something of an experiment," though it is doubtful that the school will be able to conduct a rigorous evaluation. The school might have consulted the body of evidence examining the claims of the value of single-sex schooling as I and other have done.

In 2004, a colleague and I reviewed the literature devoted to single-sex schooling and achievement. Looking across studies and taking into account the methodological quality of the studies, we could find no evidence to support a recommendation to segregating boys and girls as a means of improving the achievement of one or the other group. Our study was critical of the quality of the literature devoted to the topic and the willingness of some advocates to make claims that were insupportable.

'Pseudoscience of single sex schooling'

One is, of course, obligated to consider new evidence that may have been published more recently. In the Sept. 2011 issue of Science, researchers produced a similarly damning indictment of the claims for single sex schooling with the title "the pseudoscience of single sex schooling." The Science article made reference to reviews conducted in Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and the U.S. as well as two commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education and one that made use of data from the Programme for International Student Assessment.

Looking across studies, the overall conclusion drawn by researchers working independently from one another is that "there is no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism."

Ideas such as single-sex schooling persist for at least two reasons. An uncritical reading of the evidence by some allows mistaken and misguided notions to persist longer than they should. For example, some consumers of research from the neurosciences have misconstrued data they believe justifies single-sex schooling. A second reason is that advocates sift the evidence looking for points favorable, and ignoring evidence contrary, to their points of view.

Depriving kids of key opportunities

The general problem is that fad, fashion and ideology are governing decisions that should be informed by a dispassionate reading of the evidence. In the case of single sex schooling, the problem is that segregating boys and girls deprives them of the opportunity and necessity of learning to work and play together harmoniously.

As the researchers in the Science article point out, when individuals are segregated along lines that are institutionally labelled and sanctioned, they infer that the categories differ in important ways and develop biases toward, and stereotypes about, members of the other group.

In a nutshell, the evidence indicates that sex-segregated schooling is a bad decision.  [Tyee]

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