Single-Sex Education – An Overview

Sending your child to a single-sex school is one of several options you have when it comes to private schools.

When you think of single-sex education as a choice or an option when you are thinking about sending your child to private school, the subject becomes a little easier to understand in the 21st century. Historically private schools have offered single-sex education for decades. Indeed many of our older K-12 schools were founded with the purpose of educating boys or girls separately. That’s the way things were done back in the 18th and 19th centuries. Colleges and universities were also set up as single-sex institutions. For example, Harvard University was an all-male university until 1977 when its sister college, Radcliffe, merged with it.

Characteristics of single-sex schools

How do we define a single-sex school? By definition, a single-sex school is a school which educates boys or girls exclusively. As a general rule classes will not be co-educational. On occasion, neighboring boys and girls schools which have an established relationship will host co-educational classes.

What grades do single-sex schools offer? Typically single-sex schools are high schools offering grades 9 through 12 and a Post Graduate year where available. A handful of single-sex schools offer the middle school grades 6 through 9. Even fewer schools offer PK-12. You will also notice that middle school grades go up to grade 9 and high school begins with grade 9 as well. Actually, grade 10 is probably the most common entry point for private high schools. That’s one reason for the overlap of the grades.

In the following video the students of Marlborough School, Los Angeles, describe why they like their school so much and show us some of the activities.

There are several different kinds of single-sex schools. Single-sex schools come in residential or boarding as well as day school versions. There are single-sex religious schools, single-sex military schools, single-sex special needs schools and so on. That is a characteristic of private schools in general. So, if you need a very specific kind of school for your child. chances are that you will be able to find that school, possibly even several, in the private school genre.

Where are single-sex schools located? Just about everywhere in the United States. When you search for schools on Private School Review, filter your search using the Show by gender option as shown in the screenshots below. This will produce a list of single-sex schools within the area you are searching.

The advantages of single-sex education

The proponents and opponents of single-sex education have firmly-held views. I think it is fair to say that there is a limited amount of research into the advantages and disadvantages of single-sex education.That’s why I concluded long ago that single-sex education needs to be thought of as a choice. It is not better than coeducation in my opinion. Nor is it worse. It is simply an option for us parents to keep in mind as we go through the process of choosing the best private school for our child. At the end of this article I list the primary sources for you to read in depth.

Having said that, in my long career as a choir trainer in the Episcopal Church from 1969 to 1997 I had in-depth experience working with boys and girls choirs. Hindsight reminds me that the boys were just as good musically as the girls and vice-versa. But then I expected nothing less. Those young people were rubbing shoulders with Bach, Mozart, Handel, Faure, Allegri and many other great composers. Great music deserved their best efforts. And their best efforts are what both boys and girls delivered.

Were there differences in the way they approached singing? Yes indeed. For starters, it was not considered very masculine for a boy to sing. Period. The fix for that? I arranged for a couple of fine English choirs to give concerts in our local parish. Suddenly the persuaders (parents) were showing up with sons in tow at audition time. Why? Because we parents tend to want our children involved with worthwhile, character-building activities. A choir or orchestra performing at a high standard often fits that bill.

How does my experience tie in with single-sex private schools? The approach is the same. Show young men and young women how to do things well and become people they never thought they could be. We teachers have that uncanny ability to observe a child and almost instantly visualize him or her five, ten, fifteen years down the road. We light the fire. We keep fanning those flames of learning and exploration until suddenly there’s that defining moment when she decides “I want to be Secretary of State” or he says “I want to be like Yo-Yo Ma”. Then we show them how to make those dreams come true.

Discover single-sex schools for yourself.

Don’t take my word or somebody else’s word for it. Explore single-sex school websites. Visit the schools. Listen to the admissions staff say that their school creates the right environment for a boy or girl to be all that he or she can be. That is admirable. And as you explore the option of sending your child to a single-sex school, when you find a school which meets your requirements and truly is the best fit for your child, don’t give it another thought. Go for it.

The squeals of excitement in this video about Accepted Students Night at Montrose School, Medford, Massachusetts give you an idea of the adventure your daughter will embark on when she attends a great girls’ school like Montrose.

Remember: the only thing which really matters in choosing a private school is to find the school where your child will be happy. The last thing you want is a miserable child who hates her school. Single-sex or coeducational.

Most boys and girls schools have long-established relationships with other single-sex and co-educational schools in their area. That means that students from your child’s single-sex school will have sports and social events in conjunction with the other schools. Not to worry about supervision. Your child and all the other children will be properly supervised on those occasions. Your child’s safety is always of paramount importance for the school.

The research

As I mentioned earlier the research and data on single-sex schools is fairly limited. (I have included some resources at the end of this article so that you can review what is available.) Do boys or girls get better test scores in a single sex setting? Some say yes. Some say no. I suggest that you look at data such as matriculation results. That’s a fancy way of saying “Where did their graduates go?” If they went to colleges and universities which you would like your child to attend, then there’s your answer.

Observe a class or two if you can. Preferably in person but a video of a class might be helpful as well. A single sex school may be right for your child. But you will never know until you explore this special private school option.

About Boys’ Schools: In Their Words

The pendulum has swung once more. This time it has swung in favor of the advantages of single-sex education. New research quantifies what many of us have known anecdotally, namely that single-sex education works. Here are a dozen or so boys’ schools’ public thoughts about themselves and their missions.

From Avon Old Farms, Avon, Connecticut

“As a boys’ boarding school, our programs are designed specifically to help young men focus on their development at a time in life when distractions abound. Although numerous opportunities exist for our students to interact with girls from Miss Porter’s, Ethel Walker’s and other nearby schools, boys are free to live and learn in our structured, supportive environment. In an all-boys context, our students embrace scholastic challenges and compete in the athletic arena while feeling safe exploring the arts, experimenting with poetry, expressing school spirit, and just being themselves.”

Avon Old Farms offers grades 9-12 as well as a Postgraduate year. The school serves approximately 500 young men.

From Marquette University High School, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

“MUHS has evolved with each passing decade to meet the changing needs of the young men in our community and like our 17th Century namesake, Father Jacques Marquette, students, faculty and staff members share a passion for exploring uncharted territory, whether it’s in a textbook or their own hearts.”

Marquette University High Schools offers grades 9-12. The school serves approximately 1050 young men.

From Bellarmine College Preparatory, San Jose, California

“Bellarmine knows boys.
We see how they negotiate their way through the different stages of development and use that insight in engaging them, counseling them, mentoring them and teaching them.

We teach boys the way they learn best, using specific strategies that motivate young men to learn and modifying standard approaches to align with their unique needs.

We encourage them to be competitive – and with the understanding that we are all learning – to discuss, to question, and to challenge.

We give them the freedom to take risks, try new things and make mistakes. We offer them a safe place to build concentration, confidence, and character.”

Bellarmine College Preparatory offers grades 9-12. The school serves approximately 1600 young men.

From Collegiate School, New York, New York
“The center of what we do, daily, is the classroom. From Kindergarten to 12th grade, the curiosity, energy, and passion of our boys radiate throughout the school. We expect our students to take their academic responsibilities seriously but to possess sufficient humility so that they can laugh and not take themselves too seriously. We expect those very same classrooms to be defined by respectfulness and civility. In fact, we aim to be a community that strives for its students to seek academic and personal excellence. Those goals are of great importance to the faculty: they are fundamental.”

From Woodberry Forest School, Woodberry Forest, Virginia

“When you first visit Woodberry, you may be surprised to find books, jackets, and scooters left around campus while their owners take care of other business. When the boys return, their items will still be there. That is because of our legendary honor system, which prohibits lying, cheating, and stealing. The honor system is not an empty pledge at Woodberry. It is a way of life and a means for educating students about what it means to be honorable men.

At Woodberry, we also make time for fun. Boys build forts on the banks of the Rapidan River, which borders our 1,200-acre campus. They scale our climbing tower, compose music, act in plays, take advantage of our beautiful, well-equipped arts center, or use athletic facilities which rival those found at many small colleges. Every weekend they can choose from a number of athletic, cultural, and social activities occurring on or off campus. There is always plenty to do.”

From Fenn School, Concord, Massachusetts

“Fenn teaches the whole boy. Our independent boys’ school provides a rigorous academic curriculum and attention to each boy’s social, physical, and ethical development. Because teachers also serve as advisors, coaches, and mentors, teaching takes place everywhere on campus.

Recent research shows that boys in grades 4 through 9 learn best in an environment dedicated to their development. Boys’ schools provide a learning environment that encourages self-expression and full participation in all activities. The Fenn primary, middle, and upper school curricula meet boys’ needs to be inspired by heroes, compete, be problem-solvers, be physical and tactile, and develop clear behavioral standards.”

From Nightingale-Bamford School, New York, New York

“Founded by two bold, visionary entrepreneurs in the same year that women won the right to vote, the Nightingale-Bamford School has helped generations of girls to become strong, independent, confident women. We offer a rigorous, college-preparatory education from Kindergarten through grade 12 in a caring and attentive school community.”

“Over the 90 years since our school was founded, we have graduated almost 3,000 alumnae, expanded our building four times, and adopted new disciplines and means of teaching. But throughout it all, we’ve retained the same guiding principles that Miss Nightingale and Miss Bamford instilled in those first students: truth, friendship, and loyalty.”

The Nightingale-Bamford School offers grades K-12. The school serves approximately 570 young ladies.

From Columbus School for Girls, Columbus, Ohio

“We thought you might like to learn a little about the principles which sustain the education at Columbus School for Girls. We hope our students leave this school believing that their lives and the lives of others matter. We want them to be courageous and good, as well as scholarly and analytical. We believe education accomplishes this purpose when students are taught to enjoy challenge and risk, to respect the thoughts and feelings of others, and to embrace the joys of an active mind and a healthy body.”