Monday, December 16, 2013
The recent PISA results (Programme for International Student Assessment) show no statistical difference between boys and girls in math or science in the United States. That finding knocks another leg out from under the rationale for single sex education, even though some other assessments like NAEP and AP exams have shown differences in recent years. The explanation for the differening results between the assessments is unclear. But where girls have underperformed, Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, attributes it to a differential "mindset" about their ability to perform well on the assessment. That is consistent with the PISA report, which found that "[E]ven when girls perform as well as boys in mathematics, they tend to report less perseverance, less openness to problem-solving, less intrinsic and instrumental motivation to learn mathematics, less self-belief in their ability to learn mathematics and more anxiety about mathematics than boys, on average; they are also more likely than boys to attribute failure in mathematics to themselves rather than to external factors."
A differential mindset is not, as one might assume, a reason to separate boys and girls, particularly if that mindset is a product of social inputs. More bluntly, boys' and girls' different mindsets appear to be a function of the social stereotypes that they internalize, not innate differeces. Is the point of single sex education to unravel those stereotypes or is it a concession to the notion that there are innate differences underlying stereotypes? The PISA results strongly challenge the innate differences explanation and I am unaware of single sex programs systematically focusing on eliminating stereotypes. In fact, single sex education would seem to be no better suited to eliminate gender stereotypes than racially isolated schools are to eliminate racial stereotypes.