Why Single-Gender Education?



Hello! My name is Ben Levinson, and I am a member of Ms. Woods’ Gender Studies Class. I am also a tenth grader at Gilman School, an all-boys K-12 school  in Baltimore, Maryland. I’ve been at this school since I was seven years old. Right off the bat I knew, with the intuition that kids just seem to have, that these other boys in my class would not be my fast friends. Why was I not attending a coed school? Fast forward to our introduction to the Catalyst Conference. I knew immediately that this could be my opportunity to discover on a broader scale why I ended up at Gilman. Being at Gilman has prompted me to be ten-times the activist I would have been otherwise. For that reason and many others, I’m grateful to Gilman. However, that is only my very small part of the story. So, I invite you to join me in my discovery in getting to the root of these educational institutions.


What Are the Academic Reasons for a Single-Gender School?


The most consistent criticism of single-sex education is justification based the faux-science that boys’ and girls’ brains are fundamentally different and therefore require different teaching styles. An abundance of research indicates that this is untrue and extremely harmful, as it reinforces stereotypes about “boy stuff” and “girl stuff”. However, one of the greatest advantages of single-sex education is indicated below. In tenth grade at a Connecticut school, boys and girls performed differently in different subjects. Single-sex education allows boys to excel at writing, for example, without feeling “feminine” because there are no female classmates to make that comparison to.  Specifically pertaining to the elementary education of boys, all-boys schools allow teachers to develop close relationships to their students, which allows them to learn relationally.

This is contrary to many stereotypes about boys, specifically that boys are all “independent” and do not like to form relationships. Beyond this, though, the physical accoutrements of a classroom differ very little between a coed and single-sex school. This differences diminish even more in the older grades, although the rationale behind going to single-sex school does not diminish as students get older, according to Dr. Jennifer Galambos, Head of Bryn Mawr Upper School. For girls (at all levels) specifically, single-sex education lifts their voices and ensures they are heard at all levels, particularly after middle school when boys start to really assert themselves in school and girls begin to quiet down and retreat.




Dr. Webster has been an educator since 1979. He has taught elementary children in parochial, public, and independent schools and has been a public and independent school administrator since 1990. He has a B.A. in religion from Princeton University; an M.A. in deafness education from New York University; and a PhD in educational administration from the University of Colorado. He joined the Gilman faculty in 2014.



Are There Social Benefits to Single-Gender Schools?
Originally, I believed that a coed school would be better for students who did not fit squarely inside their gender’s norm of behavior. Boys who like to play with dolls and girls who like to play with trucks would surely be better off in environments where they could identify with another whole group. However, Dr. Webster disagreed with this idea. He stated that a single-sex school allows students to more authentically be who they are without the pressure of aligning themselves with the other gender.


However, a boy I talked to who attended Gilman’s lower school believes he would have been better off at a coed school. He was and is rather effeminate and thinks that having girls to make friends with would have made his life much easier. This comes back to one of Dr. Webster’s main points, which is that much of what makes a child comes from outside influences, and schools do not exist in vacuums. Dr. Galambos, of the Bryn Mawr School, highlighted the importance of interacting with other genders at all age levels to ensure social literacy. Specifically, Dr. Galambos stressed the importance of providing interaction opportunities with students of other genders beyond things like dances, which are often forced and uncomfortable for many students.




Dr. Galambos received her doctorate in education from Teachers College, Columbia University; her master’s degree in education with a concentration in private school leadership from Loyola University, in Maryland; and her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Franklin and Marshall College. Dr. Galambos is in her ninth year at The Bryn Mawr School, a K–12 all-girls school in Baltimore, where she is the Assistant Head of School and Upper School Director. Before that, Jennifer was its Middle School Director. Previously, she was the Middle School principal at the Bullis School, in Maryland, along with several other posts.


Ms. Verna Mayo is the Middle School Head at the Roland Park Country School. She received her Bachelor of Arts from West Chester University, and her Masters in Education from Johns Hopkins University.  This is her 8th year as Middle School Head but her 20th year at RPCS having served in the role of Director of Diversity and Lower School language arts teacher for 12  years. Upon moving to Baltimore 28 years ago, Ms. Mayo taught in the Lower School at Gilman for 6 years as a language arts and writing teacher and moved on to the Admissions Office at Park School for two years.  Ms. Mayo is originally from Philadelphia.


What is the Opposition to Single-Gender Schools?
The ACLU holds an official stance against the gendered segregation of public education. This goes hand in hand with the official stance of the scientific community, which is that there is no conclusive research on the brains (in terms of academic capabilities) young boys and girls. They are academic equals and are entitled to the exact same academic opportunities. There are several public school systems in the United States which do segregate in this way, which the ACLU condemns.


What Do I Think?
The truth is, it is extremely difficult to make judgements on the academic quality of single-gender schools in the United States, as they are private for the most part which contributes another factor to their educational power. The other problem with judging the value of single-gender schools is the fact that all topics related to gender, as we know, are complicated and influenced by outside sources. However, I learned many valuable things from this project as well as gained a sense of fulfillment and context into my education. First of all, it is abundantly clear that the separation of boys and girls in their education based on their academic capabilities is pseudoscience, and entirely invalid. Boys and girls are academic equals in every way, and as a matter of fact share more educational qualities than they do not share.


However, the benefits of single-gender education in terms of empowerment and validation are abundant: girls can benefit greatly from a single-gender education, an environment in which they can be allowed to thrive and their talents can be nurtured. While I’m sure similar benefits exist for boys, they are less apparent. The core of the issue is that each child is unique, and will get different things out coed or single-gender education. 


What Do You Think?

There is, in reality, relatively little to do about single-gender schools. The best thing I can ask you take away from this page is to reflect on your experience at your school, single-gender or not. Think about your own experience at your school and consider whether or not you’ve experienced treatment based on faux-science. If you have, challenge it! Talk to a trusted teacher or administrator and try to equalize your environment. Use the resources cited to empower your argument, and let me know how it goes! On the Padlet below, write observations about gendered stereotypes or discrimination in your school and tell me about your efforts to challenge them!


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*It is important to note that everyone interviewed and every academic and popular source sited underlined the fact that these ideas of gender and education are stereotypes based on observations at best and do not apply to everyone who has ever lived. They are, however, based in real-life interactions and I therefore have not discredited them as being antiquated or unfair.*


  • Kirner, Marianne, Ph.D, Kim Mearman, and Joseph H. Johnson, Ph.D. Single-Sex Education: The Connecticut Context. Publication. State Education Resource Center, 2013. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
  • Haag, Pamela. Single-Sex Education: What Does The Research Say? Rep. Campaign, IL: ERIC, 2000. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED444758. ERIC: Educational Resource Information Center. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
  • “Single-Sex Education.” American Civil Liberties Union. American Civil Liberties Union, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.
  • “Pros and Cons of Single-Sex Education.” Niche Blog. Niche, 15 Dec. 2016. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.
  • Eliot, Lise. “Single-Sex Education and the Brain.”Sex Roles 69.7-8 (2013): 363-81. Springer Science and Business Media. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.
  • “Dr. Webster Interview.” Personal interview. 24 Mar. 2017.
  • “Dr. Galambos.” Personal interview. 6 Apr. 2017.
  • “Ms. Mayo.” Personal interview. 11 Apr. 2017.
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