This website profiles several Catholic schools that are either all boys or all girls schools. Extant research suggests that relative to their peers in co-educational schools, single sex school students see higher achievement scores and eschew gender roles to involve themselves in a more diverse range of academics and activities. Conversely, critics argue that most teachers are not adept at teaching to a specific gender and that many students don’t learn according to gender stereotypes.
Proponents of single-sex education argue that co-education reinforces expected gender roles rather than helps break down stereotypes. Single-sex education, on the other hand, fights “gender intensification,” or the tendency of boys and girls to conform to prevailing cultural notions about each gender. Students at single-sex schools are more likely to study subjects or join clubs considered non-traditional for their gender. Girls have more leadership opportunities and boys tend to become more collaborative.
With proper training, teachers can employ strategies that cater to different learning styles between the sexes. Students can act and answer questions without worrying about what the other gender might think. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that girls attending girls’ schools and boys attending boys’ schools were significantly more likely to attend a 4-year college than their co-ed peers. Single-sex educated students were also more likely to earn higher college entrance exam scores and have higher college-attendance rates.
The Case for All-Girls Schools
Girls at girls’ schools are more likely to study non-traditional courses (advanced math, physics, computer science), take leadership positions, and embrace athletics without fear of being perceived as unfeminine. At a girls’ school, a girl is always the top student, always the best athlete, always the Student Council President. In a girls’ school band, a girl plays each instrument—no instrument is considering a “boys’ instrument.” Girls are encouraged to be daring and to take risks.
Additionally, at single-sex schools girls tend to have greater autonomy, especially in heterosexual relationships. Although they are engaged in just as many relationships, if not more, than their co-ed counterparts, they are less likely to become pregnant. Because their boyfriends’ networks of friends are obviously more separated from their own social lives, the girls can more easily contemplate their lives without them and find it easier to say “no.” A decrease in social risks and pressures leads to greater autonomy over their sexual decision-making.
The Case for All-Boys Schools
In recent years, girls have been out-pacing boys academically. Many boys think of academic achievement as emasculating. This growing problem of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men can be better addressed in a single-sex environment. Boys in boys’ schools are more than twice as likely to study foreign languages, art, music, and drama. Choirs are much more popular among boys at all-boys schools than among their coed peers. No boy is a “target” for joining a club comprised mainly of girls.
Without the presence of girls, boys tend to stop acting out as class clowns to avoid seeming imperfect. They are more willing to appear vulnerable when expressing their reactions to an English reading. Additionally, some social pressures are lessened, allowing boys to mature at their own rate.
Critics argue that there are not enough educators trained to use gender-specific teaching techniques and that learning differences are not the same across the board. They worry that each gender will be boxed into a specific learning model without consideration for the spectrum within each gender, or worse, that a teacher will subconsciously treat the students differently enacting a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some say that the differences between men and women are not very large and have been overblown due the public’s fascination with them. Finally, some have concerns that the children will suffer a lack of opportunities to interact and collaborate with the other gender.
Both critics and proponents agree that separating boys and girls into separate classrooms is not enough. Single-sex education requires strong leadership and teacher-training programs to succeed.
There are many different options for single-sex education. Students can opt to attend a co-ed school with single-sex classes, an isolated single-sex school, or a single-sex school with a sister or brother school. Some schools combine single-sex education with select co-educational classes for upper classmen and co-educational events likes dances. If they are interested, students should visit to see which educational model is the right fit.
Article last updated on March 5, 2014.
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