History of Single-Sex Schools and Present Day Debate

Many colleges were once single-sex learning environments. In fact, the first four major universities founded in the United States – Harvard (1636), William and Mary (1693), Yale (1716) and Princeton (1746) – were originally male-only institutes of higher learning. By the early 1800s, several options for secondary education opened for women, but these were liberal arts-based schools that focused on preparing women for marriage and child-rearing. These schools included Georgia Female College and Tennessee’s Mary Sharp College. It wasn’t until the 1850s that universities like Oberlin began to open up to the idea of co-ed schooling.

After the Civil War the imperative to educate women began to gain momentum, exploding to an increase of more than 300% of college admissions to women by the early 20th century. The idea that women were just as capable as men began to take hold, although a college campus was still widely viewed as a great place to find a husband up until the sexual and social revolutions of the 1960s; after the rights movements of that era, co-education became less and less of a novelty, and gender-segregated education was seen as an unnecessary element to women gaining traction in the academic and business worlds. As a result, single-sex institutions experienced a drop in enrollment.

Now the idea of a single-sex learning environment is being looked at once again, this time at a middle and high school level. The reasoning, partially based on educational studies, involves factors such as:

– the difference in learning styles between male and female students
– lack of progress for girls in science, maths and technology
– a perceived bias on the part of instructors and faculty toward male students
– too much focus on social issues among students in a mixed-gender learning environment

By the Numbers

The move back toward a single-sex educational environment really gained momentum after a 1992 study determined that a co-ed public education shortchanges girls academically. This was followed by a book entitled “Failing in Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls” (1993). The book, written by university professors Myra and David Sadker, is based on their three-year study of the modern co-ed learning environment in public middle schools in the United States; their findings were mirrored in the 1998 American Association of University Women’s paper entitled “Separated by Sex: A Critical Look at Single-Sex Education for Girls,” and again in a 1999 article in Education Week called “The Silent Gender Gap,” by Professor Cornelius Riordan of Providence College.

The Sadkers visited more then 100 7th and 8th grade classrooms in four states and the District of Columbia over the course of three years. They found, among other things, that:

– boys more actively engaged in class discussions, often dominating the narrative
– boys were more likely to be called to answer questions, and were engaged in follow-up discussions by teachers more often
– male students were encouraged to use their problem solving skills more often when the were having trouble with classwork

Other studies have concluded that boys also benefit from a single-sex education, at least in the most formative years. If you’re considering sending your child to an all-girls or boys middle or high school, here are some additional advantages:

– less social pressure
– more focus on academics
– more active participation in class discussion
– class instruction geared toward differences in learning style
– encourages girls to become more engaged in traditionally ‘male’ subjects, and vice-versa

The evidence is still not conclusive about which option is best for either sex, but the general consensus is that a high-quality educational environment is essential for future success. In the end, choosing a school is about finding a learning environment that meets your intellectual and social needs. Professional profiles, like the one for the Archer School for Girls on Linkedin, are a way for consumers to learn more about a company or school before they interact with them.

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