General Education

Are Single-Sex Schools Better Than Co-Ed Schools?

Are Single-Sex Schools Better Than Co-Ed Schools?
The biggest issue in the single-sex versus co-ed schools debate is the possibility of attraction and distraction in the classroom. Image from Unsplash
Carolyn Heneghan profile
Carolyn Heneghan September 24, 2014

How does learning in a single-sex classroom differ from the co-ed school experience? Noodle offers insights into pros and cons of each environment.

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There has been some debate as to whether single-sex schools provide a better education than their co-ed counterparts, or vice versa.

Each option has its own pros and cons, and researchers have conducted several studies, such as Harvard’s Women and Men in the Classroom: Inequality and Its Remedies, that remain inconclusive as to whether either is superior. The decision ultimately resides with the student’s and parents’ preferences.

As an alum of both an all-girls Catholic high school and co-ed private but non-religious university, I have experienced both sides of the argument, as well as the transition between the two. Here are some aspects of female single-sex versus co-ed education that might offer some clues to help you make this decision.

Attractions and Distractions

The biggest issue in the single-sex versus co-ed schools debate is the possibility of attraction and distraction in the classroom. Many people say that if the other sex is in the classroom, the other will do nothing but ogle classmates of the other sex and not pay any attention to the teacher. Other distractions include the injection of the other sex’s breed of humor, or whether or not particular students talk more often and longer than others.

The validity of this argument is questionable, especially as a blanket statement. Sure, there is some truth to it. But what about people attracted to the same sex? Or those not interested in dating anyone? Or those who are open to dating, but not easily distracted in the classroom (which was my personal experience)? For these students and myself, the co-ed classroom may be no worse at all.

Comfort in the Classroom

Aside from the other sex being a distraction, a drawback about a co-ed setting is that students are sometimes intimidated by the other sex and may be less comfortable participating in class discussions and activities. Fear of embarrassment or feelings of inadequacy may accompany the co-ed classroom experience.

However, many students may find that they thrive in the co-ed environment, being able to relate to the other sex and play off of their thoughts and ideas. At my co-ed college, I was suddenly exposed to the thoughts and feelings of guys while in an academic, as opposed to social, setting for the first time. This enriched my experience in classroom discussions and in the organizations I was involved on campus. Hearing the perspective of more than just Catholic females was refreshing, so I found this to be a benefit of co-ed classrooms.

There is conflicting research to support either of these claims. University of Pennsylvania researchers performed a study in South Korea that randomly split up students into single-sex and co-ed schools. The research showed that students of both sexes placed in single-sex classrooms were more likely to attend four-year colleges and receive higher test scores.

However, though proponents of single-sex schools cite an improvement in classroom behaviors, according to research by the American Psychological Association, which analyzed 184 studies on single-sex versus co-ed schools, many of these studies found no difference in participation or aspirations in single-sex classrooms.

Interpersonal Communication

The perspectives of the other sex are lost in discussion in single-sex classroom, but also, the ability to communicate with the other sex may not develop as quickly as it would in a co-ed environment.

Being able to communicate with the other sex, both in and out of the classroom, is crucial for preparing students for the professional world. However, for those in a single-sex environment, social interactions with the other sex outside of school, as I had, offer the chance to develop these communication skills, so single-sex schools may not be a hindrance at all.

One study reported that dividing boys and girls into separate classrooms actually delays the development of interpersonal communication because the separation fosters stereotypes, which may prevent both sexes from understanding each other properly in co-ed classrooms or out in the real world.

Physical Appearance

One stark contrast I noticed between single-sex and co-ed environments was the change in appearance of other girls in the classroom. At my high school, girls would rarely, if ever, put on makeup or fix their hair in any special way. Because we had required uniforms, my classmates didn’t spend time figuring out what to wear either, which was one more distraction we didn’t have to deal with in terms of classroom interactions.

In college, this sudden change in other girls’ appearances was admittedly shocking at first because I was used to seeing girls showing up to school with plain hair styles and little-to-no makeup. For both male and female students in co-ed environments, some may spend more time focusing on their physical appearance to look attractive to other students.

In the end, the student and her parents make the decision about which option would be the best fit for her academic and social preference.