2008 Comeback Stories: Same sex schools
This post is part of our series on people, places and things that have found new life in 2008.
Single sex public schools - and classrooms - are a growing trend in the United States. It comes as a surprise to many of us and evokes some strong feelings. Are these schools better for boys? Are they better for girls? Are they discriminatory? If we can have "separate but equal" programs for boys and girls, are we on the path to re-segregation?
Here's what happened -- Revisions made in 2006 to Title IX of the federal Education Amendments allow local school districts to offer single-gender schools and programs. There has to be a rationale; the same program also must be offered in a coeducational classroom, and enrollment must be voluntary. This reverses a thirty year trend away from same sex schools.
According to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education (www.singlesexschools.org), the number of same-sex public schools has increased from about a dozen nationwide to more than 300 over the last five years. A 2002 study in England suggests that both girls and boys did significantly better in single-sex schools but the benefits were more impressive for girls than for boys. A 2000 Australia study of over 270,000 students also suggests that both boys and girls achieve more in same-sex classrooms and a study in Jamaica concurred. Most international studies concur that girls benefit most from single-sex schools.
Girls seem to hold their own in coed classrooms through about 6th grade. After that, they lose ground. It's a cultural and psychological phenomena that Mary Pipher, Ph.D. examined in "Reviving Ophelia - Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls" (1994). Pipher observed that at puberty, "Girls who were the subject of their own lives become the objects of others' lives. Girls stop being and start seeming."
"Twenty years ago, all girl schools seemed headed for extinction...Today they are experiencing an extraordinary renaissance. Between 1991 and 2001, more than 30 new girls' schools opened through the United States from Harlem to Silicon Valley, Atlanta to Seattle" (www.hoover.org/publications/ednext/11129951.html).
There is another way to think about the issue. In the middle school/junior high school grades, students have different needs than most schools currently meet. Parents should look for schools that offer both their sons and daughters a steady dose of emotional support and engagement. Particularly during this vulnerable, critical period in their development, young adolescents need to be where they are doing well. Many are not, and options, including same-sex schools, are good to have.