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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Girl on Girl Education

After reading this article in Teacher Magazine, I've decided to revisit the idea of same sex schooling. I discussed it briefly in an earlier post about a Wisconsin school district that was experimenting with it, and had since forgotten about it. I'm not immediately opposed to it, and I certainly don't think it is sexist, like some of its detractors. For me, it's all about efficacy. If it works, let's make it available.

The very first thing I want to see is some empirical data. So far, all I am finding is anecdotal evidence, which you know I hate. Anytime you ask a person to subjectively rate an experience, especially those based on memory, you can easily cherry pick opinions for or against anything. These opinions are therefore completely useless when it comes to decision making. Even when the opinion comes from someone I hold in high esteem, like my blog-friend Rebecca, I still need to see some evidence.

This recent article provided little in the way of hard data. Actually, there were some red flags that caught my attention, like the following exchange.

Are there disadvantages or challenges to same-sex schooling?

For the book, I looked at single-sex schools that were recommended by friends and colleagues. I investigated seven new girls’ schools, (including Archer), three of them public institutions; I visited six established single-sex schools.

I can find no disadvantages for any students who attend any of these thirteen schools.

No disadvantages? From what I know of reality, seldom if ever do we find things with absolutely no negative repercussions. I decided to go in search of some more conclusive evidence, which I did find. The results of myriad studies show that girls do better in "non-traditional" classes like math and science when educated in same-sex environments. The results are not nearly as impressive for boys. Although they tend to enjoy more artistic endeavors like drama, their scores in the academic subjects do not markedly increase. I suspect this is where the systemic effects of living in a sexist society come into play. I really don't buy the whole "girls learn differently" line. I seriously doubt that the teaching methodology differs that much from co-ed to same-sex. Any positive effects are going to come from the environment. As proof of this, one study also compared class sizes and found that the positive results occurred mainly in medium size schools. Small schools weren't able to offer all of the options, regardless of gender, and in larger schools, the teacher-student ratios negated any positive effects.

So I guess my take on it is this. Does same-sex public education have benefits? Maybe. But then I suspect that similar effects could be created by segregating along ethnic lines, and I think we can all agree that that is a bad idea. Should same-sex public education be made more widely available? Fine by me. But I don't want to teach there. What I would prefer is that we find a way to teach co-ed classrooms so that girls feel equally empowered as boys. If positive results can only be achieved by eliminated distractions, then to me, those results are suspect and quite likely to disappear once the disctractions return.


Dan Meyer said...

Best title ever.

Anonymous said...

tony, i bought your birthday present in advance.

-pedro from the juarez branch