High school can be a tumultuous time for adolescents. Puberty, social maturation, increased responsibility and increased pressure to succeed can make high school a highly charged environment. Many parents have long felt that a single-sex educational environment is the best place for students to learn during these years, particularly girls. However, there is a lot of evidence that suggests that coed schools are a good choice.
Arguments for Single-Sex Education
For many years, single-sex education was the only kind of education available in the United States. Boys and girls were taught in separate buildings, and for a long while, girls were not eligible to attend school at all. That has thankfully changed, and students of all genders now have the opportunity to get free education in the United States. However, despite the fact that coeducational schools are very common, there are a number of reasons many parents choose to send their children to single-sex schools.
In the late 1990s, research suggested that coeducational environments did a disservice to girls by enforcing gender stereotypes about behavior and ability, making it difficult for girls to succeed, particularly in subjects like math and science. In addition, there is the age-old argument that mixed genders in the classroom can be a distraction. The idea that students who are going through puberty might be distracted by boys or girls and be unable to pay attention has fueled a number of single-sex education debates. There is also the added concern that boys who are socialized to be louder and to interrupt and take control of situations might trample on the participation of their female classmates.
It is also believed by champions of single-sex education that single-sex classrooms help to break down gender stereotypes and encourage boys and girls to be themselves without the pressure of conforming to a socially prescribed gender role. Researchers have often stated that given the way boys and girls are socialized in American culture, different instructional styles may be effective. A single-sex classroom allows teachers the ability to use gender-specific instructional strategies that may be more effective.
Arguments for Coed High Schools
As gender barriers continue to break down, there appear to be many advantages of co-ed schools. There is the argument that separating the genders makes it difficult for boys and girls to socialize with one another, thereby creating potentially strange dynamics that could further the very stereotypes that single-sex education hopes to fight against. There is also the worry that after years of being educated separately, boys and girls will have a difficult time interacting in college and the real world, not having had the benefit of exposure to the other gender during their school years.
In recent years, conversations around gender have pointed out that labeling people as either male or female is limiting and that the gender binary is a construct that shouldn't be strictly followed. Men who are biologically male but identify as female and vice versa may feel restricted by a single-sex classroom, causing social problems that can inhibit growth and academic performance. This is a relatively recent social phenomenon but one that is certainly brought to bear in discussions about single-sex and coeducational academic environments.
More Benefits of Coed Schools
Finally, there is simply too little research that proves that single-sex education is beneficial to either boys or girls. Critics of single-sex education believe that there is a way to create and develop instructional techniques that help all students to feel valued. The hope is that this will motivate all students to feel equally capable of achieving at high levels.
If this is the result, it can eliminate the need for single-sex education altogether. The result could be a school that offers the things people want from single-sex schools but with all the pros of coed schools. This ideally will work to create an environment where all students can safely and comfortably succeed.
Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.