September 2011, Week 4


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Fri, 23 Sep 2011 23:02:26 -0400
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Sex Segregation in Schools Detrimental to Equality


ScienceDaily (Sep. 22, 2011) -- Students who attend sex-
segregated schools are not necessarily better educated
than students who attend coeducational schools, but they
are more likely to accept gender stereotypes, according
to a team of psychologists.

"This country starts from the premise that educational
experiences should be open to all and not segregated in
any way," said Lynn S. Liben, Distinguished Professor of
Psychology, Human Development and Family Studies, and
Education, Penn State. "To justify some kind of
segregation there must be scientific evidence that it
produces better outcomes."

In the current issue of Science, Liben and her
colleagues report that there is little concrete evidence
to support claims that single-sex schools are a better
learning environment.

"Our examination of the existing studies leads us to
conclude that there is not scientific evidence for
positive effects of single-sex schooling," said Liben.
"That's not to say that academic outcomes are
definitively worse, but neither are they definitively
better. Advantages have not been demonstrated."

Some supporters of single-sex schools claim that brain
differences between boys and girls require different
teaching styles. But neuroscientists have found few
differences between male and female brains, and none has
been linked to different learning styles.

When students are segregated by sex, they are not given
opportunities to work together to develop the skills
needed to interact with each other. When sex segregation
occurs in public schools, the students are left to infer
reasons for the separation. Are girls not as good as
boys in some subjects? Are boys unable to learn in
cooperative settings?

In 2010, Liben and her graduate student studied
preschool classes to look at effects of gender divisions
among the students. She found that after two weeks of
teachers using gendered language and divisions -- lining
children up by gender and asking boys and girls to post
work on separate bulletin boards -- the students showed
an increase in gender-stereotyped attitudes toward each
other and their choice of toys, and they played less
with children of the other sex.

"The choice to fight sexism by changing coeducational
practices or segregating by gender has parallels to the
fight against racism," the researchers write in the
paper. "The preponderance of social science data
indicated that racially segregated schools promote
racial prejudice and inequality."

Currently most sex-segregated schools are private
schools, and are often cited as evidence of the
advantages of single-sex schools. However, private
schools require admissions testing before students
enter. Entrance exams and private school status make
using existing single-sex schools as examples
problematic when comparing them to public schools.

In 1972 the enactment of Title IX outlawed educational
discrimination on the basis of sex. Students were no
longer allowed to be excluded from a class because they
happened to be male or female -- home economics and wood
shop classes were now open to everyone. But in 2006 the
U.S. Department of Education reinterpreted Title IX --
public schools are now legally allowed to segregate
classes or even entire schools on the basis of sex, but
only if they show that the division is related to
important governmental or educational objectives.

Today there is a significant advocacy effort from those
who encourage single-sex schools, said Liben. But there
is no comparable effort for coeducational schools --
probably because it was the status quo after Title IX.

Liben and her colleagues formed the non-profit
organization, the American Council for CoEducational
Schooling, in part to help disseminate scientific data
relevant to single-sex and coeducational schooling.

"The bottom line is that there is not good scientific
evidence for the academic advantages of single-sex
schooling," said Liben. "But there is strong evidence
for negative consequences of segregating by sex -- the
collateral damage of segregating by sex."

Also working on this research were Diane F. Halpern,
trustee professor, psychology, Claremont McKenna
College, Claremont, California; Lise Eliot, associate
professor, neuroscience, Rosalind Franklin University,
North Chicago, Illinois; Rebecca S. Bigler, professor,
psychology, University of Texas; Richard A. Fabes,
professor and director, social and family dynamics,
Laura D. Hanish, associate professor, and Carol Lynn
Martin, professor, social and family dynamics, Arizona
State University; and Janet Hyde, professor, psychology
and women's studies, University of Wisconsin--


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