The numbers are not in favor of single sex education. According to the 2007-08 Private School Universe Survey, 96% of private schools are coeducational. Only 1.8% of girls and 2.2% of boys are educated in single sex schools. These are tiny numbers when compared to the number of elementary and high school students being educated in private coeducational schools.
In colonial times boys and girls were educated separately. But by the mid 19th century financing for education was becoming a public expense and girls and boys began to share classes. They still sat in separate sections. Coeducation has only been the norm in the U.S. since about 1882.
The numbers of single sex private schools began to decrease in the 1960s and 1970s as social change, particularly with respect to women's rights and equality, took hold. Coeducation was somehow considered more fashionable, more progressive, the way to go. The federal government made single sex public schools illegal in its Title IX legislation.
Then the pendulum began to swing back the other way in the late 1990s as parents began to consider once again the benefits of single sex education.The Research
Girls Learn Differently points to data and research which suggest that girls' and boys' brains actually process information differently. If you believe that theory, then you will readily understand the philosophy of most single sex schools is rooted in that thesis. Women Graduates of Single-Sex and Coeducational High Schools: Differences in their Characteristics and the Transition to College is the most recent scholarly study on the advantages of educating girls in a single sex setting.
What the studies and all the writings don't deal with is that boys in a boys' school and girls in a girls' school probably stand a better chance of succeeding simply because they are in a learning environment where they receive lots of personal attention. Individual attention in every aspect of a young person's life allows her to develop confidence and equips him with decision making skills. It's the instant feedback, if you will, which is more important than the single sex environment.
Single sex education statistically is bucking the trend. With 96% of private schools solidly coeducational it is hard to point to any statistical reason why single sex schools can claim to be popular.
So you have to look at the intangible, some would even insist, unquantifiable benefits of single sex education to see what the advantages are. The research data in the U.S. is very limited. So basically every parent comes back to dealing with how his or her child learns best. Is she happiest in a single sex environment? Is he one of these totally self-confident children who will learn no matter where he happens to be? These are issues which you need to discuss thoroughly with your family as you decide which private school is appropriate for your child.
Assess your unique personal situation dispassionately. Boys' and girls' schools do a fine job of serving their clientele according to the limited studies available. Perhaps that learning environment is suitable for your child. It's one of many options worth exploring as you develop a list of schools to explore and inspect in depth.
The benefits of single sex education are largely what you make them to be. If your child learns to achieve his goals and is unafraid to be competitive, if she knows that she can be whatever she wants to be, and you can attribute some of those feelings and achievements to the learning environment she was in in high school, that is good. Unfortunately the benefits of single sex education are hard to determine simply because the numbers are so small. Only 4% of students attend single sex schools.
The biggest disadvantage appears to be socialization or lack of it. Socialization can be a major distraction for many teenagers. These attitudes are not helped by the incessant pounding by the media of all kinds of socially acceptable behavior, hot music, 'cool' clothing and so on. That's probably why there are not more single sex schools. It's just not 'cool'. Paradoxically the lack of social distractions is also one of the main advantages to single sex education.