Success with Single Gender Classrooms in Public Schools

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Today, more than ever, teachers, administrators, and politicians are looking for new ways to make the graduates of today and tomorrow competitive in a global economy. According to the latest research, the United States is falling behind other countries in high school and middle school achievement in Math and Science (Simkins, 2010). Increases in state, district, campus, and teacher accountability have drawn even more focus than before. Is our public education system "broken"? Can teachers capture the attention of the 21st century student and foster an intellectual curiosity?

Nature of the Problem

The adolescent brain develops at difference rates for each gender. Female brain development during early adolescence is on average four years ahead of male brain development (Lenroot et al., 2007). The problem for teachers is how to teach to when the brain development differences are so great. One proposed way of solving this problem is to expand single gender classroom offerings. This classroom organizational style is prevalent in the private school system but more of a rarity in the public school setting.

Background and Significance of the Problem

Single gender classroom education is not a new concept. It has been employed primarily in the private school setting since the early formation of education in America. The first public school in America was a Boston all boys' school founded in 1635 (Boston 2010). Boys from various backgrounds attended Boston Latin School until 1972 when girls were also accepted (Boston, 2010). There has been resistance from the general community implementing single gender classrooms into the public school setting. With increased global competition and higher accountability standards, numerous public school systems are beginning to test and study the effects of the single gender classroom. Testing the effectiveness of single gender classrooms is not as simple as putting boys in one classroom girls in the other and sitting back to see what happens. According to Dr. Leonard Sax of the NASSPE, "some public schools which have implemented single-gender classrooms, without the correct training and preparation, have experienced bad outcomes (Sax, 2005)."

Research Questions and Objective

The purpose of this study is to identify any existing correlation between single gender classrooms and student achievement. The objective of this study is to determine if students in a single gender classroom setting outperform similar students in a coed classroom. Many different research studies will be citied in this process.

Research on single gender classrooms in the public school settings is relatively a new find in America. Other countries have been using single gender classrooms for many years, but until 2004 it was not an option for American public school students. Brain research studies on adolescents show the gender differences at the neurological level. These research studies examined the differences between the male and female brain, how fast they develop, and what the brains needs are at different stages of development. The other area I researched was how single gender classrooms are implemented and what benefits or detriments are being observed.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Brain Research

In 2007 the largest adolescent brain research study of its kind was conducted. In this study, 387 subjects ages 3-27 had 829 MRI brain scans. The study tracked the development of gray and white brain matter in all regions of the brain. The study also tracked the size of the male and female brain in its development stages. Previous research had shown an 8% larger brain by volume in males than in females (Lenroot et al., 2007).

Subjects chosen for the study were participants in an ongoing research project with the Child Psychiatry Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health which began in 1989 (Lenroot et al., 2007). Controls were used to make sure all of the subjects were healthy and did not have any brain development issues. Some of the characteristics screened out in the study included physiological problems, low birth weight, and a history of family mental illness. Families with multiple children were interviewed and only one of the families' children would be chosen at random (Lenroot et al., 2007). Social Economic status was used using the Hollingshead scale and a behavior checklist was used to identify hyperactivity disorders. Any subject with a known medical or developmental condition that could affect brain development was not included in the study.

Multiple MRI brain scans were administered to the 387 subjects (Lenroot et al., 2007). Regression models were used to determine total brain volume, grey matter volume, white matter volume, and lateral ventricles (Lenroot et al., 2007). Values were compared both with and without adjustment of brain volume differences between males and females.

The results of the research showed that peak grey matter development occurred earlier in females than males. Total brain volume was 10% larger in males than females (Lenroot et al., 2007). Total brain volume peaked for females at age 10.5 and for males peaked at age 14.5. Male brains showed a higher rate of change throughout childhood and early teens, while both female and male brains showed to be at the same development level in their late teens and early twenties (Lenroot et al., 2007). The findings also show that females have a proportionately higher amount of grey matter in the frontal lobe than males. Previous studies have used larger adult height for males as a reason for larger brains (Lenroot et al., 2007). This study did not support that assumption. From 10 years to 13.5 years of age females have a larger height than males (Lenroot et al., 2007). If males have a larger brain because of a larger adult height, why is the male brain larger during adolescence even though females have a larger height during this period? There was a relationship with peak time of grey brain matter and the onset of puberty (Lenroot et al., 2007). Girls, on average, enter into puberty earlier than boys and also have earlier grey matter development.

One of the conclusions I made from the study were that the size of a person's brain is not as important as where a person's brain is in the developmental cycle. This increased insight into the adolescent brain development cycle could provide more information to educators on how to deliver instruction in the most effective way possible.

Gender Differences

There are many differences that make males and females unique. In research studies males have been found to be more assertive and less anxious than females (Feingold, 1994). Males were also found to have higher self-esteem than females. From the late 1950's to the early 1990's gender differences have remained relatively consistent even across other countries and nations (Feingold, 1994). In McCrae's 1992 personality research females scored noticeable higher than males in the area of trust and nurturance. Girls tend to have higher standards in the classroom, and evaluate their own performance more critically. Girls also tend to outperform boys in school in all subjects and in all age groups. (Fiengold, 1994). Girls have been found to be more concerned than boys with pleasing adults and tend to interpret failures as having disappointed adults. Boys have an overall disconcern with pleasing adults and are less affected by failures (Feingold, 1994). Girls take feedback from their abilities and relate it to the general view of them. Boys look at feedback based only on the event or activity the feedback was based on (Pomerantz, Alterman, & Saxon, 2002). Boys tend to have unrealistic estimates of their academic performance (Ferrara, 2005). A large part of successfully teaching boys is to help them understand their true performance levels and how to help the boys increase their own personal performance in the classroom.

The differences in how children learn are most pronounced in early adolescence and less pronounced by the end of high school (Sax, 2010). Some people think that gender differences are largest in regions where traditional gender roles are encouraged. Research shows that gender differences in learning were most pronounced in European and American cultures, where traditional cultural gender roles are minimized (Costa, 2001). Research shows that the two genders learn differently: Boys develop math skills first; for girls, it's reading. Boys need loud environments, while girls need softer ones. Boys follow simple, step-by-step directions best, while girls can multitask. (Hobbs, 2005). More males than females tend to prefer competitive learning, while females tend to prefer cooperative learning (Ferrara 2005). Brain research has also supported findings that an average male is already developmentally two years behind females in reading and writing when he enters the first days of school. By grade four, girls score higher nationally on reading tests than do males (Ferrara, 2005).

It starts at birth

One of the major differences in boys and girls is their hearing. Professor Jane performed a sound study on 350 newborn babies. Cassidy at Lousiana State Univerisity. She found that girls' hearing is substantially more sensitive than boys' and the difference in hearing only widens as children get older (Cassidy, 2001). Gender differences in hearing could indictate a benefit from using different teaching strategies in the classroom. Colin Elliot demonstrated that eleven year old girls are distracted by noise levels about 10 times softer than noise levels that boys find distracting (Sax, 2005). This research paints a picture of how a highly effective single gender classroom could look.

Vision Differences

The retina is the part of the eye that converts light into a brain signal (Sax 2005). There are two different layers of the retina. One layer contains the rods and cones. The rods respond to black and white, cones respond to color. The rods and cones send information to the M Cells and F Cells in the second layer of the eye. Microscopic analysis of the eye has found major differences between the eyes of males and females. Research has found that the male retina has a larger amount of M Cells which reconginze motion, while females have a larger amount of P Cells which recognized texture and bright colors (Salyer, 2001).

Risky Behaviors

Research shows that boys are must more likely to take a risk. If students have plenty of experiences exploring new situations, facing fears and mastering them, then they can face new challenges and conquer them as well (Sax, 2005). Researchers at Boston University investigated why there are twice as many male drowing victims than females. A nationwide survey was given that had over 3000 respondants. During late adolsence the male to female unintentional drowing rate is 10:1. Information from the nationwide survey showed males were much more likey to engage in risky swimming behaviors and use alchol during swimming activities. 93% of males said they were excellent swimmer in comparison to only 74% of females. Interestingly out of those excellent swimmer respondants only 53% of males had taken formal swimming lessons compared to 62% of females. The researchers concluded that men consistenly overestimated their swimming abilities (Howland 1996).


Psychologist Janet Lever spent one year watching girls and boys interact at an elementary playground. She observed that boys fight about twenty times more than girls. On follow up interviews with the fighting students Janet discoved that the boys involved in a fight were more likey to stay friends and play with each other after the fighting. Ms. Lever observed that girls rarely fought at the playground but when they did it was a verbal fight not physical. After fighting girls were less likey to be friends (Sax, 2005).

Gender differences are not the same across the board. Females have made major advances in math and science achievement in the last ten years. In some school districts certain males are slow learners in math and science and others are slow learners in reading and language arts (Sax, 2005). Schools are experimenting with single-sex classrooms, hoping that male only classrooms will allow males to improve end of year testing scores in reading and writing in the same way that females have improved over the years in math and science (Sax, 2005).

For several decades, researchers have argued over the type, basis, and degree of gender difference in learning. Dr. Sax with the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education suggested that females are driven to be successful and males tend to lack direction (Sax 2005).

Dr. Sax is a current leader in gender research. He declared that the gender gap in terms of subject interest has increased in the past three decades. Males are less likely to study subjects such as foreign languages, history, and music than they were three decades ago. The percentage of females studying subjects such as physics and computer science has dropped 50%. Dr. Sax believes that three decades of gender blindness has intensified gender stereotyping (Sax 2005). Sax also concluded that public schools are in danger of losing, at least in terms of academic success, a whole generation of males. "The public school system is somehow failing our young males and to a lesser extent our young females" (Sax, 2005).

Barrow County Georgia

All across the country public schools are trying out single gender classrooms. In Barrow County, Georgia, a single-gender classroom program is being extended after a successful test program (Blackburn, 2009). Students in two pilot math classes at Winder-Barrow Middle School outperformed their co-ed peers on state tests. Eighth-graders in single gender classes increased their math scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, while students in mixed-gender classes lost ground on the test (Blackburn, 2009). In the first semester of single-gender classes, math grades improved, discipline referrals dropped and parents started to request that their children be included in a single-gender class. (Melancon 2008). Al Darby, Assistant Principal at Winder-Barrow Middle School, is not convinced single gender classrooms are the magic cure for all subjects, but believes that they do give advantages to student in Math and Science subject areas (Melancon, 2008). Michael Lofton, a single gender classroom teacher at the middle school says, "With this, you can use all of your class time to teach in the ways that are the most effective for your class." (Melancon, 2008).

Volusia County, Florida

Woodward Elementary School rolled out single-sex classes for kindergarten, second, and fourth grade classes. The experiment with single-gender classes is showing that students who study with only girls or only boys outperform their co-ed peers. Scores from single gender classes on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test showed remarkable results (Hobbs, 2005). Only about half of Woodward's fourth-graders in mixed-gender classes last year scored at grade level or higher. But 91 percent of the all-boys class scored at grade level or higher, as did 83 percent of the all-girls class. In reading, slightly more than 70 percent of fourth-graders in traditional classes read at grade level, while a little more than 80 percent of those in the single-sex classes read at grade level (Hobbs, 2005).

Benefits and Detriments

Kathy Piechura-Couture has been documenting the performance of a Florida school that now offers single gender classes. The Stetson University education professor said her research shows that separating boys and girls can be beneficial, although it's not a magic bullet (Gelpi, 2008). Dr. Piechura-Couture stressed the need to train teachers on how to work successfully with gender-separate classes. (Gelpi, 2008). Some of the downfalls to single gender classrooms are that boys and girls do not get to spend as much time socializing with each other and some children do not conform to traditional gender roles (Gelpi, 2008).


The research supports that single gender classrooms have a positive impact on standardized test scores. The broad differences in males and females at the biological level offer major challenges for classroom teachers. Starting birth males and females have different; sense perception levels, brain development, activity interests, color preference, communication styles, and thought processing. Single gender classrooms can be a viable option for public school districts much like they were until the twenityth century. Many schools across the country are implementing test programs and experiencing positive results. As many sources in this paper have indicated, it is important for teachers to get the right kind of training for a single gender program to be successful.

Chapter 3: Methodology


The participants in the study will be two seventh grade regular math classes of single gender students and two mixed gender seventh grade math classes. Before the school year begins parents will have the opportunity to attend an informational meeting on the pros and cons of single gender instruction in the public school setting. All new seventh grade students' parents will get the opportunity to enroll their regular math student into the single gender math class. Enrollment will be limited to one all boy 25 member class and one all girl 25 member class. Selection will be on first come first serve basis.


This research will be an experimental design. Students will be taught the same curriculum by the same instructor in all four math classes (two mixed gender, two single gender). The teacher teaching the single gender classes will read one book before the start of the school year, "Why gender matters" by Leonard Sax, and be given training materials on teaching to single gender classes. One of the threats to this study is that more motivated students and parents might be interested in the single gender classes. Registration might be skewed to higher achieving students for single gender classes. These students could be more accelerated in their math development before they even enter the single gender classroom. If more advanced students signed up for the single gender classes this could skew those results to show single gender classes have higher test scores at the end of the year. One of the ways we are planning to address this threat is to not only measure class progress by scores on district given benchmark tests and end of year testing but also looking a growth rate/score increases from the previous year. These growth rates show the progress students have made from the previous year. Comparing learning grow rates from the previous year can show the impact of the classroom on a skewed classroom student mix. Although benchmark tests and end of year TAKS test are meant to be given in a secure way, there are allegations in many school districts each year of inconsistencies, incident reports, and cheating. At this time the researcher does not have a system to prevent this.


Our school district gives district-wide benchmark tests for all TAKS tested subject areas. The four benchmark tests adminisitered in 7th grade math are the MAP I (October), MAP II (November), MAP III (January), and MOCK (March) Math tests. These test are in a multiple choice format and range from 25 to 40 questions . Students are given two to three days to complete the exams. The content of the exam mirrors the district circullum. The district circullum mirrors the state content standards. The TAKS test given at the end of the year mirrors the state content standards. The two single gender classes and two mixed gender classes will all be taking the same benchmark and end of year tests. After each test is taken scores will be compared at the class and individual level. Another comparison in the analysis will be growth rate. The school district has developed a formula that predicits the amount of subject level adademic growth a student should have each year. A student is expected to achieve a certain number of growth points each year that they move through school. The points are based on end of year TAKS test results. A student starts at 0 points and moves all the way up to 600 points by the end of 8th grade. The average amount of growth points a student needs to receive is 40 points per year. This system is another tool to use to compare the mixed and single gender classes. If a one of the classes has students that traditionally score higher than students in another class, growth rate will be a measurement to determine the effectiviness of the different instructional methods used in the two classes. If a student failed the end of year exam but had a extremely high growth rate that situation would be looked at as a success. Students would be put in one of four categories based on their end of year TAKS scores. The categories are Passed-No Growth, Failed-No-Growth, Failed-Growth, Passed-Growth. These categories will help level the playing field when conducting class to class comparisons. Teachers cannot control the students they are given to teach. By analyzing growth rates another tool is available to determine the effectivness of this program.


The single gender math class program will be open to all incoming 7th grade students on a first come first serve basis. Letters will be mailed out to all incoming 7th grade parents in June. Parents will have to sign a consent form, fill out a information sheet, and mail all documents to the school. All applications will be processed in the order received. Once 50 complete applications are on file a list of 20 alternate students will be created. If one of the first 50 students included in the program withdrawls from school the first name on the alternate list will be choosen. The procedures for gathering test data are not complicated. On the four district given benchmark tests students get two days to complete the tests. The tests cover the district curriculum for a particular six to eight week period. Students complete the tests and bubble a scantron answer document. Students are responsible for bubbling in the teacher code and class period. Answer keys are double checked by the teacher. One risk area is the computer might incorrectly read the wrong class period or teacher code. A meeting with the head of testing for the school district would need to happen to ensure accurate readings. Another method to ensure the accuracy of the data would be for the students to fill out two scan sheets for each test. One sheet would be sent off to the district administration office for grading and one sheet would be grade by the teacher. All teacher graded scans would be entered into a spreadsheet that would calculate class averages. This spreadsheet could be checked against the district grade data.

Data Analysis

Measures of Central tendency would be used to determine mean, median, and mode scores of both single gender classes and both mixed gender classes. After each benchmark and end of year TAKS test single gender classroom averages would be compared to mixed gender classroom averages. Each class would have commended scores calculated. Also all single gender classroom students and would be compared between the two different types of classrooms. Also percent improvement from the previous year, growth rate, would be analyzed. Some of the research studies in the literature reference section did not see large gains in single gender classes until the second or third year. This test would take at least two school years to determine the true impact. With the data provided from each benchmark test and TAKS test you will find the percent variance for the number of mixed gender classroom students that meet the test standards with the percents of single gender classroom students that meet test standards. To determine the percentage variance, you will use the following formula:

Total single gender test group stdudnets = A

Total single gender test group stidents meeting standards- B

Total mixed gender test group students = D

Total mixed gender test group stdudents meeting standards = E

B/A = X

D/E = Y

X/Y = Z

((new value)/(base value)-1 x 100%

Anticipated Results and Implications

When considering the possible study results of the single gender classroom and its effect on standardized test scores, many factors must be considered. Research suggests that the adolescent brain develops at different rates for boys and girls. Also research has implied that starting at birth girls and boys react differently to certain senses and learn differently. Given these discoveries, the study results should mirror what has previously been shown in research; students in single gender classrooms outperform their peers on standardized tests.

Many single gender classroom test sites saw double digit gains in standardized tests scores (Hobbs, 2005). Based on the findings of these studies it would be logical to hypothesis that students in a single gender classroom would outperform their peers in a mixed gender classroom. I expect the results to show single gender classrooms outperform mixed gender classrooms. If this were the case it would be advantageous for more public school districts to adopt this type of classroom setting.

If results imply single gender classrooms do not perform better on standardized scores more research would need to be done. In one three-year study of single gender classrooms there was very little difference during the first year in single gender versus mixed gender classes (Ferrara, 2005). More time was needed in the study to see the measurable differences. One of the biggest variables in the research is the effect of the teacher. The teacher is a unique and ever changing person that facilitates learning through technical, artistic, and emotional means. Because the teacher has so much influence in the learning of their students it would be difficult to look at only one research study and compare the test results from one single gender classroom teacher to a mixed gender classroom teacher. As more studies and more research are conducted a pattern should develop.

Future research for the most part should continue along the same path it is currently on. One of the biggest unknowns with the single gender classroom is the lack of extensive data from the U.S. It has only been since 2004 that public schools could even offer single gender classroom options (Gelpi, 2008). Future research could look at small groups of students and allow them to alternate between one year of single gender classes and one year of mixed gender classes. Standardized test performance would be measured and compared from single gender to mixed gender years.