NEW YORK: Single-sex education is ineffective, misguided and may actually increase gender stereotyping, according to a team of psychologists in a new report.
The report, The Pseudoscience Of Single Sex Schooling, is likely to ignite a new round of debates and legal wrangling about the effects of single-sex education.
Due to be published in the latest edition of Science magazine by eight social scientists who are founders of the non-profit American Council for CoEducational Schooling, it asserts that 'sex-segregated education is deeply misguided and often justified by weak, cherry-picked or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence'.
'It's simply not true that boys and girls learn differently... Advocates for single-sex education don't like the parallel with racial segregation, but the parallels are there. We used to believe that the races learnt differently, too.'
The study's lead author Diane F. Halpern
THERE SHOULD BE CHOICE
'We are not asserting that every child should be in a single-sex classroom; we are simply saying that there should be a choice.'
National Association of Single Sex Public Education executive director Leonard Sax
But the strongest argument against single-sex education, the article said, is that it reduces boys' and girls' opportunities to work together, and reinforces sex stereotypes.
'Boys who spend more time with other boys become increasingly aggressive,' the article said. 'Similarly, girls who spend more time with other girls become more sex-typed.'
Lead author Diane F. Halpern is a past president of the American Psychological Association and holds a named chair in psychology at Claremont McKenna College in California. She is an expert witness in litigation in which the American Civil Liberties Union is challenging single-sex classes - which have been suspended - at a school in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana.
Arguing that no scientific evidence supports the idea that single-sex schooling results in better academic outcomes, the article calls on the United States Education Department to rescind its 2006 regulations weakening the Title IX prohibition against sex discrimination in education.
Under those rules, single-sex schooling was permitted as long as it was voluntary, students were provided a substantially equal co-educational option and the separation of the sexes substantially furthered an important governmental objective.
Ms Russlyn H. Ali, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department, said it was reviewing the research in the area.
'There are case studies that have been done that show some benefit of single-sex, but like lots of other educational research, it's mixed,' she said.
The article comes at a time when single-sex education is on the rise. There were only two single- sex public schools in the US in the mid-1990s; today, there are more than 500 public schools in 40 states that are either entirely for one sex or offer some single-sex academic classes.
Many of them did so because of a belief that boys and girls should be taught differently, which grew out of popular books, speeches and workshops by Mr Michael Gurian, author of The Minds Of Boys and Boys And Girls Learn Differently, and Dr Leonard Sax, who wrote Why Gender Matters.
Dr Sax, executive director of the National Association of Single Sex Public Education, was singled out for criticism in the article, for his teachings that boys respond better to loud, energetic, confrontational classrooms while girls need a gentler touch.
'A loud, cold classroom where you toss balls around, like Sax thinks boys should have, might be great for some boys, and for some girls, but for some boys, it would be living hell,' Ms Halpern said in an interview.
She said that while girls are better readers and get better grades in school, and boys are more likely to have reading disabilities, that does not mean that educators should use the group average to design different classrooms for the two sexes.
'It's simply not true that boys and girls learn differently,' she said. 'Advocates for single-sex education don't like the parallel with racial segregation, but the parallels are there. We used to believe that the races learnt differently, too.'
Dr Sax criticised the article on many counts, and said it did not fairly reflect his views. He vehemently rejected the comparison to racial segregation, and the use of the term 'sex segregation'. Legally, he said, race is a suspect category, while sex is not.
'We are not asserting that every child should be in a single-sex classroom; we are simply saying that there should be a choice,' Dr Sax said.
The authors of the article, though, say that because there is no good scientific research backing such a choice, the government cannot lawfully offer single-sex education in public schools.
NEW YORK TIMES