The Return of Single-Sex Classrooms

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When it comes to education, is it sometimes better to keep ‘em separated?

This past Sunday, a New York Times article highlighted a return to single-sex classrooms. The practice of separating boys and girls for either some or all parts of a curriculum was a fixture of education in the past, but has fallen into disuse in modern times except for a private school here or there.

Now, however, an increasing number of public schools are experimenting with single-sex education, and have been pleased with the results. The schools, mostly in struggling areas, are finding that separating boys and girls has increased academic performance and cut down on discipline issues.

Based on my own experience, I’m not surprised. I began my school career as an exceptional student, but by eighth-grade, I was mediocre. Gradually, my attention had become overwhelmed by the social concerns of school, and I operated under the well-ingrained prejudice that it was not cool for boys to appear smart.

Then, my parents and I decided that it would be best for me to attend an all-boys’ high school, and my desire for learning returned. The single-sex environment provided an atmosphere with less distractions and a healthy academic competition that I don’t think I could have found had I stayed on the co-ed track. I fear what I would have become (or not become) on that track.

After college, I had the opportunity to teach at an all-girls’ high school, and witnessed my students experience the same academic benefits of a single-sex environment that I experienced. In fact, that school was ranked second in Washington state for academics (Bill Gates’ alma mater was ranked #1).

Will every student thrive in a single-sex classroom environment? I don’t think there’s a need to claim that. As you can see from the Twin Cities schools that have tried it, it’s had mixed success.

But are there a lot of students like me whose learning was impeded by social distractions within the classroom? Certainly. When the hormones are raging, and insecurities are high, a single-sex classroom may simply be the best option for those children who have not yet reached a state of stoic discipline.

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