Sex-Segregated Schooling Ineffective and Increases Gender Stereotyping, Experts Warn

Oct. 3, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas — Sex-segregated schooling is not superior to coeducational schooling and carries the risk of exaggerating sexism and gender stereotyping, according to a new report co-authored by a University of Texas at Austin psychologist.

In an article in the current issue of Science magazine, psychologist Rebecca Bigler, along with other members of the American Council for CoEducational Schooling (ACCES) call upon policymakers to take a close look at scientific evidence addressing the negative aspects of single-sex education.

Concerned with a Department of Education reinterpretation of Title IX that permits single-sex education within coeducational schools, the researchers cite evidence that it legitimizes institutional sexism without demonstrating actual improvement in academic performance.

The research comes as the Austin Independent School District, which operates an all-girls middle school, is considering opening two additional single-sex school campuses. Nationally, the number of single-sex schools has climbed steadily in recent years despite a lack of consensus that such schools lead to academic or psychological outcomes superior to those of coeducational schools.

“Given the scientific research on the topic, a further investment in single-sex schools does not appear to be a wise use of public funds,” Bigler says.

According to the report, proponents of single-sex classrooms often misconstrue evidence from neurobehavioral science to justify different educational methods. For example, Leonard Sax, the executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, inferred from research conducted on adults’ cardiovascular regulation in response to stress that boys respond best in the classroom with loud confrontation (“What’s your answer, Mr. Jackson? Give it to me!”), whereas girls should be approached much more gently (“Lisa, sweetie, it’s time to open your book.”).

Neuroscientists, however, have found very few differences in children’s brains tied to sex, and many believe that the perceived differences in the neural structure or function of adult brains are the result of a lifetime of sex-differentiated experiences rather than inherent differences.

Past research by Bigler and her colleagues has demonstrated that labeling and organizing children by social groups – even randomly assigned T-shirt colors — cause children to infer that the groups differ in important, meaningful ways and develop intergroup prejudices.

“Schools play a larger role in children’s lives beyond academic training—they prepare children for mixed-sex workplaces, families and citizenry,” Bigler says. “Institutionalizing gender-segregated classrooms limits children’s opportunities to interact with members of the opposite sex and to develop the skills necessary for positive and cooperative interaction.”

Also working on this research were Diane F. Halpern, Claremont McKenna College; Lise Eliot, Rosalind Franklin University; Richard A. Fabes, Laura D. Hanish and Carol Lynn Martin, Arizona State University; Janet Hyde, University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Lynn Liben, The Pennsylvania State University.

For more information, contact: Michelle Bryant, College of Liberal Arts, 512 232 4730;  Rebecca Bigler, Department of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts, 512-471-9917.

14 Comments to "Sex-Segregated Schooling Ineffective and Increases Gender Stereotyping, Experts Warn"

1.  Sharon said on Oct. 4, 2011

"Neuroscientists, however, have found very few differences in children’s brains tied to sex, and many believe that the perceived differences in the neural structure or function of adult brains are the result of a lifetime of sex-differentiated experiences rather than inherent differences."

What in the world? The differences are well documented in uses of pink vs. white matter utilized and the effects of testosterone vs. estrogen on the brain in adolescents as well as in the womb. "Many believe..."? SMH

2.  Unbiased said on Oct. 6, 2011

"...Rebecca Bigler, along with other members of the American Council for COEDUCATIONAL Schooling.."
Does the name of the council rings any bell? I think the council is there to promote co-educational schooling, therefore, it is apparent their research would never be against their AGENDA.

3.  MAI said on Oct. 6, 2011

I went to a single-sex school in El Paso, TX and I am happy to announce that my graduating class performed better than any of the co-ed schools in the city at the time (2006). We comprised a very small class (~140 students) and still got more scholarship money than co-ed schools with over 1,000 students. I'd say we did okay. I graduated with 2 degrees this past summer, and 2 of my fellow Top 10 percenters are now at Harvard Law. Haha! I agree with you, Unbiased.

4.  Reader said on Oct. 7, 2011

I encourage those of you interested in this research to read the article, rather than this summary: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6050/1706.full. The article speaks to each of the issues raised by commenters Sharon, Unbiased, and MAI.

5.  Kate said on Oct. 7, 2011

Gender bias happens in coed schools as well. You can't stop the media, clothing manufacturers, or parents from instilling strong gender stereotyping or differentiation. Also, it really does depend on age, sexual maturity, and peers, as to whether or not a student performs better in a single-sex or co-ed environment.

For myself, I know that if I weren't so distracted by members of the opposite sex, or harrassed by members of the opposite sex, I would probably have done better in high school. Perhaps co-ed schools could be divided along gender lines in core classes, but mixed in social periods, like lunch, and in electives, like music or art?

6.  Chris Alumnus said on Oct. 8, 2011

Egalitarianism effaces differences and any mechanism that might enhance them. Monies have been directed to eliminate any activity tagged as gender differentiating, and as alleged, using segregated schools as a means to differentiate sexes are indeed ineffective, thus serving this egalitarian goal. In this case, this true finding in my mind is fundamentally benign, because it distracts from the point that the segregation of boys from girls in school is solely for the purpose of eliminating hormone-driven distractions from student education, and to delay the loss of neoteny through sexual activity. It is precisely sexual expression that single sex schools serve to eliminate. Despite this, I allege, having explored all options of private, public and gender-differentied schooling personally and also as a long-term interest that the process of differentiating schools by sex introduces secondary characteristics to noncoed public schools that parallel those of better private institutions.
It would be much simpler to create a voucher system and recognize parents' right to choose the best schools that they can find for their children, be they single gender public, coed public, or private, which would then move the issue from a battle out of the hands of folks that are fighting over how to spend public funds on collective institutions and focus on the best way to educate students as individuals. That way, poorly performing educational institutions and methods will evolve out of existence.

7.  Zawadi said on Oct. 9, 2011

I don't think that you can say such a thing – I go to the school in AISD that you based your "data" on, I'm in 9th grade and I believe it's very out of place for you to speak about us in such a way without even knowing who we really are. We are a very diverse school and have students come from all over the district and from very different economic backgrounds.
By the way, we're not socially awkward or "limited to interact with members of the opposite sex". We definitely know how to interact with boys, and we do. Not all of our life is in school. Our school prepares us for college, opens us up to the world around us, and teaches us a lot about concepts such as cultural diversity, being leaders in today's world, being healthy etc.
I believe our school does a very good job at preparing us for the life that's ahead of us, and you coming in and saying our schooling in ineffective and a waste of time and money just doesn't sound right. Who will we become after all? You don't know.

8.  Ms. Claire said on Oct. 9, 2011

The Austin-American Statesman grabbed the tag line from this article which states that neurological functioning differences that were given a reasons to promote single-sex schools may not be significant. Yet news organizations often fail to interpret scientific studies. Nothing in this article discusses achievement of students who attend these schools - either the short-term scores on tests, or the long range success in graduating from high school and college. It would be interesting to see a follow-up article citing the research on achievement.

9.  Dave said on Oct. 10, 2011

While I appreciate the anecdotal evidence presented, they often point out or underscore the things the larger article mentions (smaller class sizes & a school were students were already scoring well on test - despite a 'lottery').
The hype behind SS schools is just that - it is 'cool' to talk about, but holds no true scientific merit for superior performance.
The numbers everyone likes to talk about are skewed by drop-out rates of underperformers and the educational climate of the homes of those students who attend these schools.
If you want to send your child to a SS school, that is your right, but please don't base it on intellectual superiority and/or force my tax dollars to be spent on it. 

10.  Ryan said on Oct. 13, 2011

We need more legitimation of institutional 'sexism' not less. Sex-segregated education would be a great benefit to the students of UT Austin.

11.  Beto said on Oct. 17, 2011

Estoy de acuerdo con estos resultados. Separar a los críos por sexo es una forma más de segregación, como se hizo en tiempos previos por razas.

12.  John said on Oct. 23, 2011

There's a reason in coed elementary schools that boys underperform when compared to girls. The system is feminized in order to cater to them. All of the liberal arts type of material is something the boys aren't really good at. It's also a reason why they tend to be the ones getting in trouble, they aren't interested and it's detrimental to their development when the authority figures are mostly women. There's no mystery as to why men are the majority in the hard sciences such as math, physics, engineering etc. Those are things that they are better at and interest them more. But the politically correct feminist movement doesn't want to admit to it.
And I think Kate's idea for co-ed education is a fantastic median.

13.  Jen said on Oct. 25, 2011

I have to question the legitimacy of this because it smacks of being politically motivated.

I mean just common sense alone brings this into question. You're going to tell me that having kids not distracted by, amongst other things, romance and sexual inclinations, will focus as much as, and do as well on their academics as students who are not subject to all of that? I find that very difficult to believe since reality has always proven otherwise in just about any given situation.

I'm sure there's plenty of scientific studies that also prove that a co-ed military has not had an effect on the efficiency of how it operates. However, I can tell you, that's just not reality. In fact, when a single sex is serving together, the mentality, morality, and competitive aspects are all different. Having a co-ed military, from my experience, increases stress, and adds to the unnecessary drama of the workplace. In fact, I have personally found it much more easy to work with others of my same sex on a regular basis and more difficult when it's a co-ed workplace.

I'm not in any way saying that one sex is less or more capable than the other, but I can definitely say that when they work together, efficiency and over-all moral suffers. And just because people become accustomed to it so that they don't really know that there is a difference does not negate the fact that there is a real difference.

14.  Andrew said on May 3, 2012

Single gender classrooms are a bad idea, I am a student and it makes no sense at all because we are going to have to work with each other sometime in life, so why not now?