World and Nation

Study calls single-sex education misguided & stereotype-reinforcing

Single-sex education is ineffective, misguided and may actually increase gender stereotyping, a team of psychologists asserts in a paper to be published Friday.

The report, “The Pseudoscience of Single Sex Schooling,” to be published in Science magazine by eight social scientists who are founders of the nonprofit American Council for CoEducational Schooling, is likely to ignite a new round of debate and legal wrangling about the effects of single-sex education. It asserts that “sex-segregated education is deeply misguided and often justified by weak, cherry-picked or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.”

But the strongest argument against single-sex education, the article said, is that it reduces boys’ and girls’ opportunities to work together, and reinforces sex stereotypes. “Boys who spend more time with other boys become increasingly aggressive,” the article said. “Similarly, girls who spend more time with other girls become more sex-typed.”

The lead author, Diane F. Halpern, is a past president of the American Psychological Association who holds a named chair in psychology at Claremont McKenna College in California. She is an expert witness in litigation in which the American Civil Liberties Union is challenging single-sex classes — which have been suspended — at a school in Vermilion Parish, La.

Arguing that no scientific evidence supports the idea that single-sex schooling results in better academic outcomes, the article calls on the Education Department to rescind its 2006 regulations weakening the Title IX prohibition against sex discrimination in education. Under those rules, single-sex schooling was permitted as long as it was voluntary, students were provided a substantially equal coeducational option and the separation of the sexes substantially furthered an important governmental objective.

Russlyn H. Ali, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department, said it was reviewing the research in the area. “There are case studies that have been done that show some benefit of single-sex, but like lots of other educational research, it’s mixed,” she said. “When you’re talking about separating students, treating them differently, you want to do it in a way that’s constitutional, and you want to make sure that there is adequate justification. We certainly want to safeguard against stereotyping.”