Coeducation does not simply mean educating girls and boys in the same classrooms. It denotes a philosophy of schooling, learning, and equality. A coeducational school thinks deliberately and seriously about educating girls and boys together for their studies and their lives; they can learn from each other by sharing their talents and intellect. A coeducational classroom creates a realistic environment that when combined with high expectations, provides an informed education.
- Girls and boys succeed in school when the elements of an informed education are present. Such elements include small classes and schools, equitable teaching practices, and a focused academic curriculum.
- Coeducational day schools offer the best replication of the broader society both in the workplace and in social settings. Students who learn to work with members of the opposite gender clearly prepare for the wide world beyond school.
- In a healthy school environment, neither girls nor boys are compromised by their gender.
- Coeducation sends a strong message to young girls and boys of the fundamental compatibility of difference, equality, and achievement.
- Understanding, respect, and collaboration between and among girls and boys are the best foundation for life in the real world.
- Gender-specific institutions represent a fraction of private schools because students and parents have seen that coeducation serves the greater goals of education in the long run.
- Despite what single-sex schools would like us to believe, girls and boys excel in coeducational settings -- particularly with teachers who are trained to understand and prepare for gender differences in communications, learning styles, and social development, and who encourage all students to participate fully in discussions, hands-on experimentation, and team projects.
- Student-centered schools like WT are able to respond to each child's particular interests, strengths, and weaknesses, recognizing each student as an individual who may develop at rates different from peers across a spectrum of areas. Gender is only one factor that may account for such differences.
- The American Association of University Women Education Foundation (AAUW) states that there is no evidence in general that single-sex education works or is better for girls than coeducation. Read the AAUW Press Release Report Finds Separating by Sex Not the Solution to Gender Inequity in School
What the Research Shows
A 1998 study by Carole Shmurak looked at four schools, two of which were coeducational and two of which were all girls' schools. Her research showed that strong students had similar experiences at both coeducational and all girls' schools. Athletic students felt they received more support and encouragement at the coeducational schools. Girls at the coeducational schools tended to take more science courses and do better in the college admission process. Statistical analysis from her study shows that graduates of coeducational schools were more likely than graduates of all-girls' schools to have careers in law, computers, scientific research, and psychology.
Other benefits of coeducation for both male and female students include:
- learning to be more flexible in their learning style and in their communication style,
- hearing and responding to a diversity of viewpoints,
- getting beyond stereotypes of the opposite sex, and
- learning how to collaborate and compete in the same classroom.
In her research Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender, and the Social Order, sociologist Cynthia Epstein found "many social science studies (of sex based differences) do not support the idea that deep-rooted male and female natures require separate education, or that segregated education can provide members of each sex with the same opportunities and development of skills."
Concerns about gender bias in schools tend to center around math and science courses. In Separate-sex Science Shortchanges Students, a study by Jeffery Weld, he states that separate classes do not compensate for curricular and behavioral deficiencies in the way math and science are taught. Weld's solution to the problem of gender bias is to attack it at the core, "through workshops, conferences, and college courses that emphasize pro-active gender-equity techniques for all teachers."
In her report, The Trouble with Single-sex Schools, Wendy Kaminer revealed research demonstrating that many women who attended all-female institutions disliked competing with men intellectually. The women felt comfortable, "being smart during the week and being pretty on weekends." Further investigations found that all-female institutions embraced and exercised traditional gender roles by allowing "females and males to exist for each other solely as dates, not intellectual peers or equals." Single-sex education shies away from the inequalities of society and overprotects females. Coeducation confronts these inequalities, which allows females to effectively overcome them by learning to deal with the challenges of feeling self-conscious. Coeducational environments encourage females to compete with males, and females perform better when challenged by male and female talents.
Robert Sternberg, professor of psychology and education at Yale University studied self-esteem in young women and found:
- Single-sex classes became so comfortable and convenient that the women lost any ability to compete academically or socially with males.
- The coed environment encourages females to compete with males. Females perform better when challenged by the complete spectrum of male and female talents and intellect.
- The classrooms of youth are the preparation for real-world encounters in later life.
- Single-sex education hides from the inequalities of society and over protects females. Coeducation confronts these inequalities allowing females to effectively battle and overcome them by learning to deal with being self-conscious.
- Males and females can learn from each other by pooling their talents and intellect.
In the article, “Why Coeducation Matters,” on the Independent School magazine blog, Lise Eliot, associate professor of neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University and author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into troublesome Gaps – And What We Can Do About It,states, “As a neuroscientist who has studied gender development, I’ve been troubled to see the growing academic segregation of girls and boys based on claims about 'hardwired' differences in their brains and learning styles. The short-cut phrase, widely repeated by parents and teachers is that 'boys and girls learn differently' and consequently need pedagogical approaches that are tailored by gender. Even more troubling is to hear children themselves parrot this gender-limited mindset. In Tampa, Florida, a pair of new single-sex middle schools, Franklin Boys’ and Ferrell Girls’ Preparatory Academies, actually broadcast home-page videos of boys and girls boasting about their supposedly contrasting strengths in vision, hearing, spatial, and social perception that guide their different educational experiences on the two campuses.
The real data from neuropsychological science paint a very different picture. Decades of research have identified few innate differences between male and female minds, and for most academic and interpersonal abilities, the sexes actually overlap much more than they differ. So whereas single-sex education is often predicated on the notion that females and males have inherently different cognitive and emotional styles, the truth is that sex differences in math ability, spatial skill, assertiveness, and competitiveness are much more a product of gender socialization and segregation than of ‘hardwiring.’”