Single-sex schools are becoming more common. According to Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, only 11 U.S. public schools had sex-segregated classrooms in 2002, but that number rose to more than 550 in 2009. Though many private schools separate genders based on conservative ideology, some public schools have done so to accommodate learning differences. Research has shown that there are advantages and disadvantages to such an arrangement.
Improved Academic Performance
Much of the research about sex segregation in classrooms has shown that students perform better academically when they are separated. GreatSchools.org cites research from psychologist Leonard Sax that shows that when boys and girls are separated, teaching styles can be adapted for the needs of each sex, which can result in better academic performance. But others say different factors can cause those stronger results. "The apparent edge girls' schools give pupils seems to stem from their initially superior performance when they entered these schools," John Gray, a Cambridge University education professor who analyzed the issue for England's education regulatory agency, told the Telegraph in 2002. Other advocates of single-sex classrooms say that even adjusting classroom temperature -- warmer for girls, cooler for boys -- can enhance learning, according to Teaching Tolerance. Teaching Tolerance also said that advocates of single-sex classrooms encourage teachers to use louder voices and plenty of movement when teaching boys, but a calming tone and less movement when working with girls.
Stronger Interpersonal Relations
One reason researchers think that separating classrooms by sex may promote learning is because of the influence the practice has on interpersonal relations. The Telegraph cites research from the Department for Skills and Education that boys are more assertive in the classroom, which can make girls shy away from speaking up in class. By separating the two, girls gain more confidence and have the ability to take on more leadership roles in the classroom. However, a disadvantage to separating the sexes, the Telegraph says, is that girls have a calming influence on boys, and that this positive influence is removed.
The influence of single-sex classrooms has been cited as both a pro and a con as it relates to gender stereotyping. The Telegraph argues that by promoting girls' confidence, segregated classrooms allow them to act outside of gender stereotypes and to take on more leadership roles. However, Kim Gandy, the president of the National Organization for Women, told The New York Times that segregated classrooms can reinforce gender stereotypes because they are not challenged. For example, if a boy has not had to face a girl who has a strong personality -- or be beaten by a girl on a test or in a game -- he may not be able to handle working with a strong woman later in life.
The biggest disadvantage that critics cite for sex-segregated classrooms is that they do not prepare students for the real world. The workplace will not be segregated by sex. Students must learn to adapt to the differences that sex creates, both in interpersonal relations and in situations where they are expected to perform, such as school and work.
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