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Do single-sex schools teach kids stereotypes?

Sex segregation reinforces outdated gender roles, some say.

By Kristin Wong May 23, 2013 4:02PM

Earlier this year, Maine faced a bill that would allow public schools to offer single-gender classrooms. After a local school district tried it for several years, Sen. John Tuttle argued that sex segregation allows kids to learn more effectively. 

Photo: Girls in single-sex school classroom / Elyse Lewin/Getty Images But the opposition complains that sex segregation reinforces negative gender stereotypes and roles. As an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald argues:

"If both boys and girls are told that girls are too shy to raise their hands in a mixed-gender classroom, so they have to be sent to a quieter place where they can learn, they will carry that message through life."

The piece adds that girls are likely to assume all boys are "cartoon images" who need "constant physical action."

"Boys who don't see girls performing alongside them in the classroom will develop ideas about girls' abilities based on what others tell them. They won't grow up seeing girls as individuals and knowing some who fit the stereotype and others who do not."

It's not all speculation; some experts would agree. A 2011 report in the Journal of Science argued the ineffectiveness of single-sex schooling. In “The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling,” experts reported:

“...sex-segregated education is deeply misguided and often justified by weak, cherry-picked or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.”

They added that research in other countries has found little difference between single-sex and coed education.

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Still, other studies would beg to differ.  There was a 2009 report from UCLA's Graduate School of Education, for example. Professors found that graduates of all-girls' schools showed stronger math and computer skills and had higher standardized test scores than coed graduates.

But psychologists and neuroscientists alike argue that any benefit to single-sex education is sorely outweighed by the long-term negative impact of gender segregation.

What do you think? Does single-sex education teach stereotypes? Or does it lead to better learning?

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Photo: Girls in single-sex school classroom / Elyse Lewin/Getty Images

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