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Does Single-Sex Education Solve Anything?

This fall, four schools will participate in an experiment that combines girls-only classes with online teaching. Supposedly, the classes will be tailored specifically to females because, according to Larry Goodman, director of strategic programming at the Laurel School (one of the four participating schools), “There is no one out there who’s thinking with a specifically feminine audience in mind.” So what would a female-geared online course entail? Goodman claims that “[g]irls thrive best in environments where connectivity is valued.” Therefore, the courses will focus on collaborative projects. The creators of the project hope that in future years, girls from all over the world, including those who attend co-ed schools, will be able to participate in the girls-only online teaching experience.
Both online courses and gender-segregated classrooms have grown in popularity in recent years. Online courses are (obviously) a more recent phenomenon, but private schools have offered single-sex education for ages. These days, public schools are starting to pick up the trend; the number of public schools offering single-sex classes has grown from 11 to over 500 in the last seven years.

The first question I have is why is this project only focusing on girls? Are girls really farther behind, or more distracted by the opposite sex, than boys? The evidence says no. As Judy Berman of Salon.com’s Broadsheet pointed out, boys are struggling in classrooms too. According to experts, their issues have been neglected, whereas there have been attempts to address girls’ issues for decades. So if these online courses are going to devote so much time and energy catering to girls’ “special” educational needs, why not have a boys-only component as well?

Or, as Amanda Hess of The Sexist blog suggests, why not forget single-sex education completely, and instead focus on strengthening co-ed teaching? She finds “this particular solution (single-sex teaching) to gender inequality in education to be utter bulls**t.” Hess doesn’t see online girl-only education as a solution to problems in co-ed classrooms; if girls and boys can’t be taught to work or learn together in the classroom, how are they expected to succeed in the co-ed, real world?

“Girls and boys will be collaborating and competing with each other well past prep school. Learning to collaborate and compete as equals is important, and not just in the interest of everyone getting along. If the sexes have different educational needs, as these segregated programs suggest, why see it as a liability? Why not, instead, see difference as a huge asset to both boys and girls, who can learn valuable tactics from each other?”

After reading up on the evidence, it still remains unclear whether single-sex education is beneficial. The “boys are better at math” myth was debunked, so maybe it’s time to also stop assuming that separate “feminine” and “masculine” ways of learning are the reason kids aren’t succeeding in school. My “learning style” didn’t stop me from acing calculus in a room full of dudes, and if I was utterly confused about something, it probably had less to do with my female mind and more to do with my professor’s lackluster teaching skills. Then again, I can’t say I wouldn’t have been less distracted (from cute boys) in a girls-only environment…

What’s your take on single-sex education?

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