AAUW: single-sex schools

Linda Purrington (lpurring@earthlink.net)
Thu, 12 Mar 1998 08:29:57 -0800

Forwarded by Linda Purrington <lpurring@earthlink.net>

Girls-only classes no silver bullet, group says

=A9 1998 The New York Times

A 1992 report by a college women's group asserted that public schools
shortchange girls. It led to increased interest in girls' schools and
experiments with girls-only math and science classes.

But now, the American Association of University Women says single-sex
education is not a good solution to the problems of gender inequity.

In a new report, ``Separated by Sex: A Critical Look at Single-Sex
Education for Girls,'' to be released today, the AAUW found no overall
evidence that single-sex education was better for girls than

In the last few years, scattered public schools in New York,
Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire, Illinois and California have created
single-sex classes or all-girls' schools, like the 2-year-old Young
Women's Leadership Academy in Harlem.

The impetus for most of these efforts came from the national
soul-searching caused by the AAUW's original report, which described
routine discrimination against girls by teachers, textbooks and male
students. Girls and boys begin school with equal skills, the report
said, but by high school girls fell behind, particularly in math and

But the new study found a paradox in the research on girls'
experience in single-sex math and science classes: Although many girls
apparently prefer such classes, and report greater confidence and better
about those traditionally male subjects, they do not emerge with
measurably better skills.

``Our 1992 report was a wake-up call about the problems girls faced in
public schools, and the need for more equitable conditions,'' said
Janice Weinman, executive director of the AAUW, of Washington, D.C.
``What this report says is that single-sex education is not the silver

While there has been a flurry of debate about single-sex
experiments, there has been little discussion of the educational

``A lot of things pushed people toward single-sex alternatives;
Some people were looking for easy solutions, for ways to address the
issues we raised in the 1992 report,'' Weinman said.

She added: ``We went in with an open mind, and what the research
shows is that boys and girls both thrive when the elements of good
education are there, elements like smaller classes, focused academic
curriculum and gender-fair instruction.''

Where research cited in the report did find evidence of positive
effects from single-sex settings, it tended to be in single-sex schools,
not just single-sex classes within coeducational schools. But in many
cases the differences dwindled or disappeared when researchers took into
account the family income and educational levels of the girls in
single-sex schools.

In many of the studies where students at girls' schools seemed to
perform better, the differences could be explained away by such factors
as their parents' greater income and educational achievements or such
measures as how much homework the school required and how selective it
was. In some conflicting studies involving Catholic girls' schools,
there was no apparent explanation for why students did better.

The report also cited research showing that disadvantaged girls did
better in girls' schools, but some researchers attribute those benefits
to a self-selection process in which more academically minded students
choose girls' schools.

The AAUW report is not based on new research, but on a review of dozens
of studies on single-sex education. The bulk of the research is from
Catholic schools, independent schools or foreign schools.

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