Thursday, March 27, 2014

Comprehensive Study Trounces Single Sex Education, While Public Opinion Pushes It Forward

Janet Hyde et al. have completed a new meta-analysis of single sex education research, The Effects of Single-Sex Compared With Coeducational Schooling on Students’ Performance and Attitudes: A Meta-Analysis, which was published in the Psychological Bulletin last month.  To date, it is the largest and most comprehensive study of its type.  Hyde states: "We looked at 184 studies, representing the testing of 1.6 million students in grades K-12 from 21 nations, for outcomes related to science and mathematics performance, educational attitudes and aspirations, self-concept and gender stereotyping. From these, we selected 57 studies that corrected for factors like parental education and economics, which are known to benefit children's school performance."  They found that most of schools' claims on behalf of single-sex education are not supported by the research:

  • "One claim of single-sex schooling advocates is that, for girls, it will improve math-science performance because they are not mixed with boys who, it's claimed, dominate the classroom. But there is not any advantage, if you look at the controlled studies."
  • "The claim that boys do better verbally in single-sex schooling, because they get squelched in a coed setting, did not hold up. And the claim has been made that girls will develop a better self-concept, but again there is no evidence for that."
  • "There has been some thinking that this would help ethnic minority boys, but we did not find enough studies covering that topic."

They found the research more consistently showed the harms of single sex-education.  "There is a mountain of research in social psychology showing that segregation by race or gender feeds stereotypes, and that's not what we want. The adult world is an integrated world, in the workplace and in the family, and the best thing we can do is provide that environment for children in school as we prepare them for adulthood."

These findings spell legal trouble for the 500 or more districts currently operating some form of single sex education.  Supreme Court precedent and federal regulations requite single sex education to be supported by an important government interest.  One would be remedying past discrimination, the other improving educational outcomes.  Most schools claim the latter, which this study undermines.  Nonetheless, a recent story in the Atlantic reports that single sex education has been making somewhat of a comeback.  It explores the heated politics on both sides of the issue.

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It would suggest you study the statistics from a single sex pioneer, Stetson University, which has ten years of stats showing the statistically significant advantages for single sex classes. There is a lot of value in the right circumstances for single sex classes.

Posted by: Richard Jacobs | Sep 9, 2014 3:47:03 AM

Mr. Jacobs, the study does not say there are no studies to support single sex education, but that the overall consensus is that there is no benefit as a general matter. I would assume the authors would allow there might be exceptions to the general rule. If they are only exceptions, however, my legal point would also hold, which is courts are not going to be particularly amenable to the programs. I still take your point to be a valid one, which is that it would be wrong to throw out all single sex programs if some are, in fact, valid. On the other, hand we should be extremely careful about building policies around exceptions.

Posted by: Derek Black | Sep 9, 2014 7:58:34 AM

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