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Study finds 'collateral damage' of same-sex schools

Schools that are boys-only or girls-only fail to show any demonstrable educational improvements over co-ed schools - but more importantly, there is evidence to suggest that children at such schools are more likely to accept gender stereotypes.

"Our examination of the existing studies leads us to conclude that there is not scientific evidence for positive effects of single-sex school," Lynn S. Liben, distinguished professor of human development and family studies, and education at Penn State, said in a report published in the journal Science.

Despite the commonly held notion that boys and girls have different brains that require different teaching styles, Prof. Liben points out neuroscientists have found very little difference between male and female brains, and none of them are connected to education.

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But how is that children at sex-segregated schools typically get better exam marks than their peers at co-ed schools? The majority of single-sex schools are private schools, which require admissions testing, and so it is unfair to compare students at such schools to schools for boys and girls.

More worrisome to advocates of sex-segregated schools is their potential impact on the way students view and relate to the opposite sex.

In a study of preschool classes, prof. Liben found that after just two weeks of teachers using gendered language and divisions, such as asking boys and girls to post work on separate bulletin boards or line up by gender, the students played less with children of the opposite sex and showed an increase in gender-stereotype attitudes toward one another and their choice of toys.

"The choice to fight sexism by changing co-educational practices or segregating by gender has parallels to the fight against racism," prof. Liben writes in the paper. "The preponderance of social science data indicated that racially segregated schools promote racial prejudice and inequality."

She added: "The bottom line is that there is not good scientific evidence for the academic advantages of single-sex schooling. But there is strong evidence for negative consequences of segregating by sex — the collateral damage of segregating by sex."

What do you think - would attending a same-sex school influence your kids' gender views?

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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