Purpose of Single Gender Classes in a Public Co-Ed Middle School

There is some evidence that girls do better in single sex settings.
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Even when students attend co-educational classes, they might attend some single-sex courses. As schools seek ways to boost test scores and improve the achievement of individual students, they may segregate classes to remove distractions and tailor teaching methods to student needs. In some cases, classes are segregated so that teachers can freely discuss sensitive topics. The research on the benefits of single sex education, however, remains mixed.

1 Removing Distractions

It's no secret that, particularly as students become interested in the opposite sex, co-educational classrooms can become a distraction. In his book "Still Failing at Fairness," David Sadker argues that the pressure to impress boys can cause girls to pretend to be dumb. Boys, by contrast, may engage in aggressive displays with other boys to gain the attention of girls. Segregating some classes by gender can help to remove these distractions and could be particularly helpful in challenging academic subjects.

2 Addressing Sensitive Topics

Topics such as puberty and sex education can be embarrassing for children, and some schools opt to teach these sensitive topics in single-sex classes. Both sexes may feel more comfortable asking questions in a single-gender class, particularly if the teacher is of the same gender. Segregating these classes also helps students avoid the discomfort of being mocked by their peers. Girls, for example, might be uncomfortable if boys make rude comments about menstruation.

3 Tailoring Teacher Style

According to Sadker, girls' math and science test scores tend to drop in middle school, while boys may struggle with verbal skills. Separating boys and girls gives teachers an opportunity to tailor their teaching styles to the needs of individual students, and can remove barriers to learning. "The New York Times" reports that P.S. 140 in New York has segregated some classes according to gender, and that test scores have gone up. The school has attempted to adjust teaching styles to reflect the different needs of girls and boys, but the jury is still out on whether the elevated test scores can be directly attributed to segregated classes.

4 The Research

Research on single-sex education is mixed. A 2013 study published in the "Journal of Educational Psychology" found no change in test scores based upon the gender composition of a class or school. The National Education Association points to research finding that boys tend to monopolize teacher time, interfering with girls' ability to learn. However, the NEA also emphasizes that research is not yet conclusive. In "The Truth About Boys and Girls," psychologist Rosalind Barnett emphasizes that single-sex education classes can actually be harmful to both sexes, who may develop -- and then fulfill -- gender stereotypes.

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.