There is little evidence to support the fact that single-sex classrooms and schools offer educational or social benefits, a new study found.
The study was the largest and most thorough effort to examine the issue to date, Janet Hyde, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said.
"We looked at 184 studies, representing the testing of 1.6 million students in grades K-12 from 21 nations, for outcomes related to science and mathematics performance, educational attitudes and aspirations, self-concept and gender stereotyping," Hyde said.
"From these, we selected 57 studies that corrected for factors like parental education and economics, which are known to benefit children's school performance," she said.
The study used an analytical technique called meta-analysis, which draws conclusions from multiple studies of an issue. "We are trying to shed some light by putting together studies that applied different methods to different populations," says Hyde. "If you do this right, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts."
"The claim that boys do better verbally in single-sex schooling, because they get squelched in a coed setting, did not hold up. And the claim has been made that girls will develop a better self-concept, but again there is no evidence for that," Hyde said.
Data was scarce regarding one disputed area: possible benefits for minority boys, Hyde said.
"There has been some thinking that this would help ethnic minority boys, but we did not find enough studies covering that topic. We urgently need high-quality study of these programs that make careful comparisons with coed schooling, comparing students with equal resources, to see if the single-sex configuration really makes a difference," she said.
On a practical level, Hyde added that single-sex schooling is "terrifically difficult and expensive. If you have a single-sex 8th grade math class for girls, you need another for boys, and a third that's coed. Public schools have better places to put their money."
The study is published in the online Psychological Bulletin.