Parents in southeast Michigan with sons or daughters nearing middle and high school may be considering that next move. Something to contemplate is a single-gender education at an all-girls school or all-boys school.
There are a handful of single-gender school offerings in the region. And while there has been conflicting research and debate over the years as to whether single-sex or co-ed education is better or worse than the other, those who educate within the local schools notice a lot of positives and clear up some common misconceptions about the education option.
Let’s explore some of the pros and cons of single gender schools.
Single gender classroom pros
A big part of the reason many like the idea of single-gender schools is based on the belief that boys and girls learn differently.
“I think the single biggest one is tailoring instruction to how a particular gender learns best,” says Bill Burkhardt, the former director of admissions at De La Salle Collegiate, an all-male high school in Warren.
He’s also a De La Salle Collegiate alumnus. Burkhardt notes boys tend to thrive in particular circumstances.
“We know that they need to get up and move around more,” he says, and that they tend to need, “more hands-on learning demonstrations.”
Teenage girls, Burkhardt adds, physiologically develop and mature much faster.
In turn, teachers learn how to teach this specific demographic and tailor their classrooms around this, he says.
Anthony Trudel, principal at University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, an all-male school middle and high school in Detroit, echoes that. Trudel, who has been at U of D Jesuit for more than 15 years, also taught at a co-ed school in years prior.
Because boys develop self-control later, he says, and they have a higher physical activity level, there is a “high degree” of structure and rules in the school, which he notices has helped boys to learn well.
Academics aside, there’s an individual self-esteem boost, self-awareness and confidence both Burkhardt and Trudel feel they’ve observed at their respective schools.
“For boys, being in a single gender environment, there is not that pressure to impress,” Burkhardt says.
And, there’s one obvious argument as to why these single-sex environments are beneficial: “I think in high school in particular … a benefit is really because of the hormonal and physiological changes that kids start to go through,” Burkhardt says.
Boys and girls, he notes, are “fundamentally very similar” as kids, but once they hit puberty, there’s more awareness of each other in a particular type of way.
“It comes back to the social pressures,” Burkhardt adds. “They feel comfortable enough to ask a question that they don’t know the answer to.” They’re not so worried about being embarrassed in front of the girls they’re trying to court.
Many similar arguments have been made for all-girls education, including lack of distraction. Advocates like the National Coalition of All Girls Schools say all-female schools actually help females feel empowered and it even argues the perks include “reduced sex stereotyping in curriculum and classroom” and even more opportunity.
Both Burkhardt and Trudel also note there’s a sense of family and belonging at their schools – and friendships that last a lifetime.
De La Salle Collegiate and U of D Jesuit have students from all over the metro area, making it a diverse student body. And in light of that, “(the students) tend to form these closer, cohesive networks that span differences and span diversity,” Trudel says. When interviewed, students have called it a “brotherhood.”
“They begin to rely on each other” through challenges. “They’re very self reliant, they’re very comfortable in their own skin and they understand who they are and how they fit in and relate to the world.”
Disadvantages of single gender schools
While there’s research out there in favor of single-sex education, there’s also research — including findings from the American Psychological Association in 2014 — to say there’s no academic advantage of single-sex ed over co-ed schooling. Some have even explored if boys’ and girls’ brains are actually much different.
But Trudel, who also taught in a co-ed environment before coming to U of D Jesuit, hasn’t yet seen any cons of single gender schools. “I guess if there’s any downside … it’s hard to pinpoint because I have only seen, in my experience, the upsides.”
Oftentimes, one thing students and even parents may express concern about is if their son or daughter will have the opportunity to interact with the opposite sex at all. Will they be ill prepared when they reach a co-ed environment in college and the workplace? Trudel points to this as a common misconception.
“That’s not the experience that our alumni share over the years coming back to us,” he says.
And while at first, some students may not be thrilled about entering a school without classmates of the opposite sex, Trudel finds that as they progress through school, they’re not concerned about it anymore.
“Having been in both environments, I think there’s nothing but an upside to single gender education – especially if you can do it in balance,” Trudel says. U of D Jesuit, he points out, has co-ed formal and informal dances and other co-curricular activities. “So in that sense, during the school day, we’re single gender, but we do integrate other opportunities.”
Burkhardt notes especially with social media and cellphones the concerns of, “will my son be able to socialize with girls?” are not so relevant. While they’re not physically in the classroom together, “now more than ever, girls are only just a click or a Snapchat away.”
Additional considerations on the pros and cons of single gender schools
There are research and proponents on both sides of the argument for or against separating girls and boys in school.
To this, Burkhardt says, “I would say just like other finding that says single gender is a great benefit, there will be a study that says co-ed is a great benefit – and I think it ultimately it comes down to a personal decision for each family and each student. Ultimately, what fit is right for them?”
Both of these schools, along with the other regional single-gender options, are private schools, meaning parents and their students seek it out and make the choice to enroll their sons or daughters.
Trudel also encourages parents to do their research on this schooling option, talk to other parents if possible – and Burkhardt and Trudel encourage families interested in single-gender schooling to visit the schools firsthand and have their sons and daughters spend a day there getting a feel for it.
This post was originally published in 2016 and is updated regularly.