Is Single-Gender Education Better for Students

Author: Army and Navy Academy
Published: Friday 31st March 2017 - Updated: Thursday 22nd March 2018
Summary: What has long been considered old-fashioned and antithetical to gender equity is experiencing a revival, given the growing numbers of single-gender schools.


Single-gender schools have existed for centuries, but it's only been recently that scientific research has shown why such schools are often a better option for educating young people. What has long been considered "old-fashioned" and antithetical to gender equity is experiencing a revival, given the growing numbers of single-gender schools.

One such institution is the Army and Navy Academy, located in Carlsbad, Calif. The college preparatory school has educated middle- and high-school age boys since its founding 106 years ago.

"The academy's founders knew intuitively that boys do better in a single-gender environment," said retired Army Maj. Gen. Art Bartell, the academy's president. "Until recently, we haven't known why boys learn differently than girls."

Author and social philosopher Michael Gurian operates an Arizona-based institute that trains educators, counselors, parents, and child advocacy agencies, including the academy, on teaching practices that help each gender learn best.

Bartell said Gurian's research has identified several traits of how boys and girls learn differently.

The cerebral cortex of a human brain houses memory, attentiveness, language and other learning attributes. A boy's cerebral cortex is dedicated to spatial functioning while that part of a girl's brain is typically focused on verbal ability. With this knowledge, educators can design instruction to target each gender's learning characteristics.

Boys need to move around to stay alert and focused. They often prefer standing during lessons and other learning activities. Girls find it easier to sit still.

A single-gender learning environment reduces distractions resulting from boys and girls paying more attention to their gender counterparts than their own personal skills.

Boys and girls need different approaches in managing classroom behavior. Bartell said his academy places great emphasis on physical activity to help boys stimulate their brains and manage behaviors.

A gender-tailored curriculum was tested in a Florida public school where a group of fourth-graders was divided into two classrooms -- one co-educational, the other all boys. The same number of students in each class covered the same curriculum. At the end of the study, the boys in the single-gender environment performed dramatically higher in standardized tests than the boys in the co-ed class -- 86 percent to 37 percent.

"Understanding how boys learn differently from girls in our nation's schools is critical," Bartell said. "Single-gender education has worked at the Army and Navy Academy for well over a century; there's no reason it can't elsewhere."


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