Students in single-gender schools or classrooms don’t do any better academically than those in co-ed ones, a new study says.
Despite the increasing popularity of single-sex classrooms and schools, the study didn’t find the benefits of single-sex schooling that have been touted by supporters.
“There are lots of wonderful all-boy and all-girl schools out there,” said Erin Pahlke of Washington’s Whitman College, one of the study’s authors. “The question is: Is it necessary that they are gender segregated? The answer here is it doesn’t look like it.”
The students in single-sex settings didn’t do any worse either, but Pahlke hopes the study, written along with two professors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will end the debate over whether single-sex education, by itself, should be promoted as a tool to improve America’s schools.
The new study is a meta-analysis, which means the researchers analyzed a large number of studies — in this case, 184, published from 1968 through 2013.
The authors judged 57 to be high quality, saying they either assigned students randomly to single sex or co-ed settings, or controlled for socioeconomic factors that might cause performance differences in one setting versus the other.
The lower-quality studies, which had no such controls, did show some benefits for single-sex schooling, but Pahlke said researchers think those probably reflect something other than the fact that students were in single-sex classrooms.
In the high-quality studies, Pahlke said, the picture was clear: The differences were trivial, or nonexistent.
They also found that girls’ interest in math, science and engineering was the same in both types of settings.
The researchers did find some advantages in single-sex schooling for middle-school girls, but warned they were based on such a small number of studies that the results should be viewed with caution.
They also said there weren’t enough studies to judge whether single-sex schooling has advantages for students from low-income families – as many proponents say exists.
The National Science Foundation paid for the analysis.