Friday, February 29, 2008

Single-Sex Public Education

An excellent and quite extensive piece on single-sex education in public schools in the U.S. in the New York Times newspaper. While there is a lack of scientific support to generalize single-sex education in the public school system, it seems like it works quite well in particular social environments. What is less clear is the extent to which neurological gender differences support it. Personally - read "based on purely subjective observations" - I think that in the particular cases where single-sex education has better academic outcomes that coed education, it seems to apply more to pupils in their early age and that with the coming of age coed education is far more preferable. Another observation I would like to make is that the article doesn't speak that much - rather not at all - about the possible downsides of single-sex education.

One thing that struck me in the article was the American public education system. While far from being a fully functional one, this particular example of single-sex education proves that in certain aspects the U.S. public education system offers enough space for experimentation in teaching models. This is a rare quality among public policies which must be safeguarded from any legislator's enthusiasm to impose a supposedly uniformly applicable model.

In the end I quote one of the final paragraphs of the article as it's final conclusion. But the seven previous pages definitely worth 30 minutes of your spare tame (or less if you're a fast reader, unlike me).

"That certainly appears to be the case for single-sex schools. The data do not suggest that they’re clearly better for all kids. Nor do they suggest that they’re worse. The most concrete findings from the research on single-sex schools come from studies of Catholic schools, which have a long history of single-sex education, and suggest that while single-sex schools may not have much of an impact on the educational achievement of white, middle-class boys, they do measurably benefit poor and minority students. According to Riordan, disadvantaged students at single-sex schools have higher scores on standardized math, reading, science and civics tests than their counterparts in coed schools. There are two prevailing theories to explain this: one is that single-sex schools are indeed better at providing kids with a positive sense of themselves as students, to compete with the antiacademic influences of youth culture; the other is that in order to end up in a single-sex classroom, you need to have a parent who has made what educators call “a pro-academic choice.” You need a parent who at least cares enough to read the notices sent home and go through the process of making a choice — any choice."