The Single Gender Schools Debate

Pro Arguments


Grace Chen, March 9, 2020, How Well Do Single-Sex Schools Really Work?

Proponents of same-sex classes tout a number of benefits from this classroom structure, including:

Elimination of distractions caused by the opposite sex, particularly in the pubescent learning years:

Ability to use teaching techniques specifically geared to how boys or girls learn best

The breakdown of gender stereotypes, which actually appear to be more prevalent in coeducational classrooms

A single-sex format offers opportunities to teachers and students that may not exist in the coed classroom

Proponents also point to the success of many single-sex schools across the country as evidence that single-sex education is effective. For example, the American Psychological Association reports on an all-male school in Chicago, the Urban Prep Academy. According to the APA, the first year the school opened in 2006, the students that attended had a dismal four-percent reading proficiency level. By the time this inaugural class graduated four years later, 100 percent had been accepted to four-year colleges or universities, and many had been offered academic scholarships.

Single-gender classrooms working in Winston-Salem

Winston-Salem Journal, December 10, 2013,, Single-sex classrooms: Educators, students say the change makes a difference

A change at Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy has shaken up classroom dynamics, even pitting boys against girls in the school’s lower grades.

Don’t worry, though, teachers say. It’s all in the spirit of healthy competition, and it’s leading to better classroom performance on all fronts.

It started when the school adopted a single-gender classroom policy for its middle-school core classes. The change was approved in April and implemented this school year. When classes began in August, Winston-Salem Prep’s sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders were divided into two classes of all boys and two classes of all girls for their math, science, language arts and social studies lessons.

School administrators and teachers were looking for a way to create a classroom where students were more attentive, more engaged and more comfortable participating.

“I was looking to change the culture and environment in the school,” said Janel Sharpe, an eighth-grade science teacher. “I wanted to improve test scores and learning conditions.”

So far, teachers say they’ve gotten all of that and more. Students are more comfortable sharing their ideas and answering questions. And because students are paying better attention, teachers say they’re able to move through material more quickly.

What do you think about single-gender classrooms?

Sixth-grader Lovely Ponce said she likes her all-girl classes. She gets more done, she said, because the new classroom makeup has removed a large distraction — the opposite sex.

“I won’t get distracted by the boys,” she said. “It keeps me from not doing my work.”

Distractions have been removed, but it’s also created a level of healthy competition between the gendered classes that teachers weren’t necessarily expecting, said Carlos Rodriguez, an eighth-grade math teacher. Now, when his boys hear that the girls’ class is ahead in a lesson, they’re more apt to focus and get work done.

“It helps promote more learning,” Rodriguez said.

With single-gender classes, teachers say they’re able to better connect with students.

It’s no secret that boys and girls learn differently. But instead of trying to cater to both in a single lesson, like traditional classrooms, Winston-Salem Prep’s middle-school teachers get to design lessons tailored to boys or girls. Danielle Moore, a sixth-grade language arts teacher, said it lets her choose different poems for the grade’s poetry unit for her boy classes versus her girl classes. During a unit looking at song lyrics, she can choose different songs. Creating two lessons to teach the same topic is extra work, but Moore said it’s worth it for the difference she sees in her students.

“Especially when we’re talking about feelings,” she said. “Girls are not as shy, and guys don’t feel like they have to remain ‘cool.’”

What about socializing with the other gender? Well, students still get to do that in their elective courses. Students are in co-ed classes for such courses as music, art and gym.

But during the core classes — the subjects on which they take standardized assessments at the end of the year, with scores that will be compared to those around the state — it’s all single-gender and it’s all business.

Teachers aren’t the only ones in favor of the move. Students, too, are saying they’re happy with their single-gender classes.

“Some of the boys would play with the girls in class,” said DeAndre Boyd, a sixth-grader. “I don’t want nobody getting distracted or trying to distract me.”

Winston-Salem Prep has struggled with academic performance, falling behind district averages on end-of-grade tests. While students who took the new READY Accountability assessments — statewide exams to test the standards in the new common core curriculum — met the growth targets that measure how much they learned in a single year, the school’s middle school composite score was one of the lowest at just 20 percent.

Teachers are hoping the improved performance they’re seeing in the classroom will translate into improved performance on test scores at the end of the school year, also.

It’s too early to have hard data to look at for comparisons against previous years, but teachers and students alike seem to believe single-gender classrooms have had a positive effect.

It’s one of a handful of schools in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools system to implement the practice, but the first to do so across entire grades.

At the high school level, Winston-Salem Prep is a magnet school with a college prep theme. Principal Richard Watts said there are no plans right now to implement single-gender classrooms at the high school level.

Single gender classrooms have been effective at Huntington schools

News Sentinel, 11-14, 13,

fter trying a few single-gender classes to see if it improves learning, Huntington’s Riverview Middle School teachers and principal said they have embraced the model because they have seen positive results.

Several years ago, teachers and administrators there saw a discrepancy between girls’ and boys’ language arts scores on standardized tests. Principal Curt Crago challenged his sixth-grade language arts teachers to find a way to close the testing gap. He urged them to think outside the box.

Teacher Cari Whicker said she and her colleagues tossed around the idea of creating a few single-gender classrooms, but were hesitant to fully embrace the concept. What if it didn’t work? What would students think? Would parents be on board?

A few months passed, and Crago shared some articles in support of the teaching model. Whicker and her colleagues agreed to give it a try. With the school board’s support, they created one all-boys language arts class and one all-girls language arts class that first year.

The teachers read books and journals about single-gender classrooms and visited Colorado for a weeklong conference. As it turns out, boys and girls are wired differently, Whicker said. Their brains process information in completely different ways, which means traditional approaches to teaching don’t always work across the board. Whicker and her colleagues took what they’d learned about brain science and revamped their classrooms accordingly.

At the end of the year, teachers and administrators pored over test scores, and they uncovered some surprising results. Both boys and girls in Riverview’s single-gender classrooms showed significant improvement, but the gap between the two remained.

Whicker said they celebrated their success. Across-the-board test improvements sealed the deal that single-gender classrooms offer loads of benefits, even if disparity between girls and boys remained.

Today – several years after the inaugural single-gender ‘experiment’ took place – the teaching model is in full swing. All sixth-grade language arts classrooms at Riverview are single-gender.

“There really are differences in learning styles and preferences, and there are strategies and techniques that are better for each gender,” Whicker said.

Among the things she’s observed:

•With girls, you might ask them how they feel about a particular piece of literature. With boys, asking what they should do will likely garner more of a response.

•Desks in a boys class might be arranged differently than in a girls class.

•Girls tend to feel more secure and confident in a classroom of their peers. One girl recently told Whicker that she felt like she could be a leader in the single-gender environment.

•Boys are more willing to be a little silly without girls around.

Single gender classrooms improve test scores

John Elizondo, 1-15, 2014, “Single gender classrooms improving behavior and test scores,”

It’s a new way to approach discipline issues, single gender classrooms. Waco ISD is trying boys-only classes at one of its elementary schools and so far it has worked.

The pilot program at J.H. Hines Elementary is one of kind in Central Texas and school officials say it could be expanding soon. Students say it has been quite an adjustment, but they enjoy their new classes.

“It’s my first time being in a all-boys classroom, but I like Mr. Webb he is like a good teacher to me. He teach me right and stuff,” J.H. Hines 3rd grader Troy Galvin said.

The school district had noticed too many discipline problems at the school in the past and tried to find a way to fix it.

“Disruptive behavior, frequent office referrals…those kinds of things are stopping classrooms from functioning,” J.H. Hines Principal Tra Hall said. “So we felt we needed teachers with specialized skills so that we can really work on growing those particular boys socially, emotionally, and psychologically.”

Parents of third, fourth, and fifth graders at J.H. Hines were asked to volunteer their student to be a part of the program. Those kids then formed three classes of nine to 12 students large.

The small classes have not only addressed the behavior issue, where office referrals have gone down, but the student’s academic scores have improved as well.

“Well we have seen interim growth in all of our benchmark exams with these students. And used some universal screeners for reading and math and that sort of thing,” Hall said. “We have seen growth from these boys and it is not something we have seen from them in the past.”

School officials have mostly gotten a positive response about the program from parents and are considering expansion.

In order to make the program work initially, the district needed to hire additional staff. School officials say funding would not be an issue if they want to expand this program, but finding the right teachers may be difficult.

“We got to find the right folks that understand the specialized needs of boys with behavioral, social, and emotional issues and some times that is pretty challenging to find,” Hall said.

Thursday night the Waco ISD school board will meet for a workshop meeting. There they will hear about the results of this program and discuss whether the program will expand into more classrooms next school year.

To read Thursday night’s agenda and get more information about the single-gender classrooms click here.

Con Arguments

Single sex classrooms in California led to the reinforcement of gender stereotypes

Elizabeth Zwerling, 2001,  is a journalist based in Southern California, specializing in education, business and women’s issues, Women’s News. California Study: Single Sex Schools No Cure All,

Two major problems were the lack of a gender equity-driven agenda and the overriding goal of helping primarily at-risk, low-achieving students instead of addressing gender inequities and empowering all students, the study said.

Other problems included short time-lines; lack of planning, resources and qualified teachers; lack of proper student recruitment and advertising to communities and the reliance on the use of some coeducational spaces, which were distracting and detrimental to equity-building.

The study identified some benefits to both girls and boys: The single-sex setting in some cases eliminated social distractions and allowed for better concentration on academics and open discussion about dating and pregnancy.

But these benefits were undermined because gender equity often was not addressed in the classrooms, gender stereotypes were often reinforced and in some cases stereotypical behaviors were worsened, according to the report.

“Single-gender, public academies need to guard against becoming a new form of tracking or resegregation,” it said. “Segregation might lead to a safe or comfortable space for some populations, but they clearly create tensions for race and gender equity.”

The academic success of both girls and boys was influenced more by small classes, strong curricula, dedicated teachers and equitable teaching practices than by single-sex settings, the researchers said. This finding reinforced those of a 1998 study by the American Association of University Women that concluded that separating the sexes does not necessarily improve the quality of education for girls.

Single gender schools are based on flawed science and reinforce gender roles

Juliet Williams, Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, Summer, 2010, LEARNING DIFFERENCES: SEX-ROLE STEREOTYPING IN SINGLE-SEX PUBLIC EDUCATION, p. 561-2

Many of these recommendations hardly would attract controversy were it not for the implication that these innovations somehow hold sex-specific benefits. Don’t girls need to be adequately hydrated? And shouldn’t pessimism be discouraged in boys, too? In foregrounding the discourse of biological sex differences as the guiding principle for education reform, however, the movement for single-sex public education has evoked vehement opposition. Noting the paucity of solid research evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of single-sex education, critics see a dubious “emerging science” being invoked to supply crucial legitimacy to segregationist practices that resuscitate stereotypical gender assumptions and reinforce existing inequalities. n26 The specific concern is that claims about neurobiology are being used to justify educational arrangements in which boys and girls are trained to conform to sex-role stereotypes rather than to challenge them. n27 When an educational environment is designed in accordance  with purported scientific facts concerning the relative ability of girls and boys to sit still, work collaboratively, or tolerate stress, the end result may be classrooms which equip boys with the skills for professional success in the adult world (exposure to “fact-based” materials and emphasis on competition), while girls are relegated to classrooms that subordinate formal instruction to the purported biological need of females to talk amongst themselves. Even the most ardent proponents of single-sex education acknowledge the risk of sex-role stereotyping in single-sex classrooms. For this reason, advocates like Sax insist on the importance of proper teacher training. n28 Otherwise, Sax warns, “teachers start teaching algebra to girls with shopping analogies, and algebra to boys with sports analogies, and that reinforces stereotypes.” n29

Despite cognizance of the risk of sex-stereotyping in the new generation of single-sex public schools, recent news reports suggest that this is exactly what is happening, as largely unsupervised single-sex experiments are being undertaken across the United States. In many of these schools, “brain-based research” is cited to justify sex-differentiated pedagogies premised on generalizations about the different learning styles of boys and girls. At the recently opened Young Oak Kim Academy in Los Angeles, girls-only classes are organized on the principle that girls prefer a “collaborative atmosphere” while boys require more “management.” n30 At a school in St.  [*563]  Louis, teachers report that “boys seem to learn better if they are presented a concept first, then allowed to experience it before coming back as a group to discuss it. Girls, they say, learn better if they talk about the concept first and then attack an activity on their own.” n31 Other “brain-based” teaching innovations include placing girls face-to-face under bright lights for group work, while boys sit in dimly lit rooms with side-by-side desks so they do not face one another. n32 After reading books by Sax and Gurian, teachers at a public school in Michigan concluded that “boys are likely to do well with hands-on, active lessons, such as learning the alphabet while throwing a ball back and forth. Meanwhile, the girls might prefer flash cards and games at their desks.” n33 In Florida, a principal returned from the Gurian Institute summer training and decided to decorate the all-girls classrooms in pastels to provide “cozy” learning areas, while all-boys rooms were painted in primary colors and equipped with rafts and tents. n34 Convinced that “boys thrive on competition,” they are given timed quizzes, whereas in girls’ classrooms, teachers call upon students by their first names to ease tension and create a more relaxed environment. n35 Boys’ classrooms are provided with books about “cars, snakes and dinosaurs,” whereas girls’ rooms are supplied with “fairy tales and stuffed animals.” n36 Meanwhile, at a new single-sex school in Virginia, girls sit in flower-adorned classrooms while working in pairs or small groups, while boys sit in “sprawling seating arrangements” and move around during lessons. n37

Many problems and few benefits for single sex education

Elizabeth Zwerling, 2001, is a journalist based in Southern California, specializing in education, business and women’s issues, Women’s News. California Study: Single Sex Schools No Cure All,


While separating boys and girls solved some educational problems at some of the schools, it also created others the researchers did not expect. The relative success of each of the six programs had much to do with the preparedness of its educators and commitment of its students, which varied widely among the schools, the researchers found.

Other findings:

  • White, average or high-achieving students of both genders were more likely to choose to attend the academies, though some districts encouraged low-achieving, low-income or minority students to enroll.
  • Traditional gender stereotypes were often reinforced in single-sex academies. Boys tended to be taught in more regimented, traditional and individualistic fashion and girls in more nurturing, cooperative and open environments.
  • Students received mixed messages about gender. While both were told women could be anything they want, girls were made aware of restrictions on their behavior reinforced through expectations about clothing and appearance. Boys were led to assume that men are primary wage earners, that they should be strong and take care of their wives who were emotionally weaker.
  • The creation of separate academies for boys and girls on the same campus led to a dichotomous understanding of gender, in which girls were seen as “good” and boys were seen as “bad.”
  • The elimination of classroom distractions from members of the opposite sex was academically beneficial to some students. But students still experienced harassment and teasing in coeducational spaces of single-gender academies. Girls received unwanted comments and were touched while they were in coeducational spaces. Students not in the academies teased those who were enrolled, calling them “bad” kids, “preppy” or most commonly “gay.”
  • Public, single-sex academies were not sustainable under California’s policy framework.

Public schools can offer single sex classrooms

Nancy Prothore, Director of Special Projects, Educational Research Services, 2009, Single Sex Classrooms,  Principal, May/June

Although single-sex education was once the norm in the U.S., the practice has largely been confined to private schools for more than a century. However, with the introduction of the final version of  the U.S. Department of Education’s so-called single-sex regulations in 2006, public schools were allowed greater flexibility to offer single-sex opportunities.