Is a Single-Sex Education Right for Your Child?

Important Information for Parents

Students Working on a Science Experiment in Class
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Whatever you choose to call it—single-sex, single-gender, or gender-isolated—an all-boys or all-girls school education can be an ideal learning situation for some children. It was widely accepted in the 20th century and it’s back in vogue, as parents learn more about the research and weigh the pros and cons. There are plenty of schools to choose from too: More than 500 institutions are counted as members of the National Coalition of Girls Schools and the International Boys’ Schools Coalition. And private schools are not the only avenues for single-sex learning environments, as there are about 850 entirely single-sex public schools.

Three reasons to choose a single-sex education for your child:

1. Curbing Social Pressures

Some children thrive in a single-sex school. Why? For one thing, social pressures can be significantly lower. Your child can grow at his or her own pace. This often is a good thing for both boys and girls, as they typically mature at different rates.

The faculty at single-sex schools also keenly understand how their students learn. They adapt their teaching styles to those specific needs.

Many proponents of single-sex education argue that boys in co-educational settings are less likely to take courses in the arts or tackle advanced academic subjects simply to avoid being typecast as a nerd. Similarly, girls avoid the sciences and technology subjects because they don't want to appear to be tomboys. Single-sex schools are flourishing once again as parents realize that allowing their son or daughter to learn in his or her own individual way is a very important consideration in choosing a school.

2. Instilling Healthier Competitiveness

Your child's happiness is one of the most important factors in selecting a school. Equally important is finding a school with inspiring, gifted teachers, considering their teaching style, and what's being taught. Will the school help nurture your child's individuality and socialization with peers?

Boys tend to soften their competitive edge and become more collaborative in a single-sex setting. They can just be boys and not worry about what the girls might think or how they are perceived by girls. Boys enjoying poetry and playing in an orchestra as opposed to a marching band are the kind of thing you will see in a boys' school.

Girls often are less shy in a single-sex environment, which means they often take more risks. They become more positively competitive. They embrace sports with gusto without worrying about appearing like tomboys.

3. Eliminating Gender Stereotypes

If the teacher understands how to teach boys or girls, they can employ specific teaching strategies and engage classes in activities that accomplish specific goals. Often, girls are empowered to become leaders and boys are taught to better collaborate. In the right environment, students will quickly feel comfortable exploring nontraditional subjects. For girls, this is often mathematics, advanced sciences, computers, technology, and woodworking. Boys often participate more in the arts, humanities, languages, choirs, and orchestras in single-sex settings.

Children are more likely to break out of their stereotypical roles and behaviors when they are left to their own devices. Single-sex education has a delightful way of encouraging children to be fearless, curious, and enthusiastic—in short, to just be themselves.

Blended vs. Co-Institutional Choice

But what if you’re on the fence? You like what the single-sex education offers your child, but you also want him or her to experience a co-ed environment in preparation for the real world.

There are schools that enroll both genders, but divide classes into single-sex learning environments. For instance, many Roman Catholic schools have their own unique approaches to single-sex schooling by offering co-institutional or blended schooling. Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colorado, has two distinct high schools operating under the same roof: one for boys, the other for girls. This is the co-institutional approach. St. Agnes and St. Dominic School in Memphis, Tennessee, blends its single-sex education with co-educational, depending on the grade level involved.

Compare the separate campus, co-institutional, and blended schools. Any approach might be right for your son or daughter. Boys' schools and girls' schools have many advantages to consider.

Single-Gender vs. Co-ed Classroom

We have spent several generations advancing the equality of the sexes. Beginning with the women's suffrage movement and continuing through to the present day, many legal and social barriers to women's equality with men have been removed. Much progress has been made.

With that in mind, co-education based on that laudable theme of equality seems like the right way to go. That's why most private and public schools use the co-education model. Most of the time that works well.

On the other hand, some research seems to suggest that boys and girls learn in different ways. Research shows that a girl's brain is different from a boy's brain. If you accept that premise, co-education probably will not work satisfactorily for every child. Co-education does have the advantage of being politically acceptable, however. Recently, public schools have begun to experiment with single-sex classes and, in some cases, single-sex schools.

Applying the Research

Perhaps the most revealing research on single-sex versus co-education is Single-Sex Versus Coeducational Schooling: A Systematic Review. This study was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education and was released in 2005. What were its conclusions? Basically, it seems to conclude that there is not enough evidence to suggest single-sex education is better than co-education, or vice versa.

  • Another national study from the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies claims to show that girls from single-sex schools have an edge over their co-ed peers. 

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski