Single gender classes have become more common since districts in California started doing this a few years back. The issue has staunch supporters on one side, as well as detractors on the other who believe it is a bad idea. Some early research supports the idea of single gender instruction, finding that both boys and girls do better. Other research has proven inconclusive (meaning that no statistically significant improvements were shown by either group). I know of no research that showed a decrease in student achievement due to separating the boys from the girls. Research in this area tends to be spotty and likely to be inconclusive – not because single gender classes aren’t a good idea – but because it’s really hard to gather data that teases out the influence of single gender instruction specifically.
It seems to me that single gender classes make the most sense in middle school (grades 6 – 8). This is the age where students become ultra-aware of and equally obsessed with how they are perceived by the opposite sex. That perception causes a big distraction in classroom learning, as any middle school teacher would attest. This factor is virtually non-existant in elementary school and, though its influence continues into high school, high school students generally have a more defined self-identity and the influence of opposite-sex perceptions seems to me to be at least slightly assuage by then. There are still significant social distractions, but the distraction of extreme self-consciousness is less controlling by high school.
Additionally, middle school boys and middle school girls are distinctly different beasts. Their maturity level, attention spans, learning styles and interests are markedly different. By separating the genders in their core subjects (math, language arts, social studies, science), classroom instruction can be designed to better suit their different needs, all to the betterment of their respective learning.
The argument most often presented against single gender classes is that separating the boys from the girls in school is not the way the “real world” operates. I would retort that nothing about middle school mimics the “real world”. Even if genders were separated in the core subjects, kids will always have opportunities to mingle with the opposite sex. There are opportunities in the other subjects (art, music, PE, etc.) as well as opportunities after school, at home and on facebook.
But if just for a few years it makes sense to acknowledge and support their differences and separate them so that they might learn more and learn better, why not do it?
As always, I’d love to hear your comments. dven.