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Single Sex Classrooms: Productive or Psychologically Regressive?

Schools in Florida are taking it back to the 19th century and segregating boys and girls with single sex classroom.

Charles Drew Elementary School right outside of Fort Lauderdale is one of several schools in Broward County that are experimenting with unisex learning by implementing single sex classrooms with about 25 percent of their classes.

Teachers “recognize the importance of understanding that Angeline learns differently from Angelo,” Angeline H. Flowers, principal of Charles Drew, told the New York Times.

About 750 public in the United States have at least one unisex classroom, while 850 public schools around the country are completely unisex, according to the federal Education Department. It has been an increasingly popular method for educating Black children, particularly Black boys, who often flourish when schools can construct curricula and a teaching approach that plays to their strengths.

But this new system of old thinking has gotten mixed reviews from experts around the country.

Rebecca Bigler, a psychologist at the University of Texas, said that segregating by any social category increases prejudice based on stereotypes.

“You say there’s a problem with sexism,” Bigler told the Times, “and instead of addressing the sexism, you just remove one sex.”

But studies show that single sex learning does have its benefits.

“The single-sex format creates opportunities that don’t exist in the coed classroom,” reports. “Teachers can employ strategies in the all-girls classroom, and in the all-boys classroom, which don’t work as well (or don’t work at all) in the coed classroom. If teachers have appropriate training and professional development, then great things can happen, and often do happen.”

Researchers at Stetson University completed a three-year project comparing single-sex classrooms with coed classrooms at Woodward Avenue Elementary School. Their initial results found that with boys in coed classes 37 percent scored proficient on the given tests and 59 percent of girls in coed classes scored proficient, whereas 86 percent of boys and 75 percent of girls respectively in single sex classrooms scored proficient.

In their 2013 update it appeared that while the single gender students still performed better over all, the gap was, in fact, narrowing. Whether that narrow gap of higher achievement is worth the psychological ramifications of separating children is yet to be determined.

“I am very concerned that schools could base educational offerings on stereotypes,” Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the US Department of Education, said in an email to the New York Times. “No school should be teaching students to live down to diminished expectations for who they can be.”

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