Sunday, February 23, 2014

PF Mar 2014 - Single Gender Classrooms - Con Position

Resolved: Single-gender classrooms would improve the quality of education in American public schools.

For part 1 of this analysis, click here.

Con Position

One of the difficulties in this resolution results from its lack of specificity (no surprise here).  It seems, if Pro can show how several "pilot" programs demonstrate positive results, one may extrapolate those results to a nationwide policy.  So it is left up to the skill of the debaters to convince the judge as too how many positive examples are sufficient to claim the quality of education in American public schools will improve because, in my opinion, based on the wording of the resolution, the entirety of the American public school system must improve. It does not say, some schools, most schools, poor schools, urban schools or provide any other qualifier. It is American  schools. (Never mind the fact that Canadians, Mexicans, Brazilians, in fact most people in the western hemisphere are 'Americans', we interpret American as meaning "of the United Sates" because we are arrogant and careless with our language at times.)  This begs the question, if Con can demonstrate failure of some programs to produce positive results, as measured against coeducational programs, can Con extrapolate those conclusions to the entirety of the U.S. public school system? My answer is why not? Indeed, I think Con could gain from asking the judge to afford equal weight to the projection of Con's claims same-gender classrooms will not improve education across the entirety of the U.S educational system.

Another huge ambiguity centers around the the way "improvement" is measured. It is very common in policy debate topicality arguments to claim that burdens of "substantial" or "increase" or I suppose "improve" are not met by the Affirmative and it all depends on how one defines the terms and measures the outcomes as to whether judges will accept or reject the claims. It is no different in PF except it is not framed as an 'a priori', theory argument.  It is simply a claim, that no measurable or statistically significant improvement is demonstrated by the Pro. From my experience in judging PF debate I find, quite often, the short format of speeches allows little time to explore topics to sufficient depth, so many things which are potentially significant are taken for granted and glossed over. I suppose it is necessary since it would be very risky to spend a great deal time challenging standards for measuring improvement in educational systems when neither competitors nor judges are well versed in the nuances and details and there is no time to explore it in depth.  For this reason, while I think challenges to how improvement is demonstrated are legitimate in this debate, I expect most rounds will end up saying things like, "our side shows a 1% increase in college enrollment while our opponents only show 0.25% increase so we win" and judges will accept it because there is no brightline for "improve" in the round.

Same-Gender Classrooms Have No Advantages

Most of the criticism against same-sex (SS) education arises from a review of the literature and the validity of various studies undertaken.  Without indisputable evidence, Pro can only hope to convince the judge to overlook the shortcomings and leap to the same conclusions as the proponents.

Halpern 2011:
From a policy perspective, implementation of SS schooling should stand on evidence that it produces better educational outcomes than coeducational schooling. But such evidence is lacking. A review commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education itself to compare SS and coeducational outcomes concluded: “As in previous reviews, the results are equivocal.” Large-scale reviews in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as analyses of data from the Programme for International Student Assessment, similarly found little overall difference between SS and mixed-sex academic outcomes.

Halpern cites a major review in Great Britain which goes on to cite the results of several systematic studies and he concludes no significant advantages to same-sex education.

Smithers 2006:
There is thus an emerging consensus both in this country and elsewhere that there are no striking advantages to either single-sex or co-education. While frustrating this is entirely understandable. Schools are complex social organisations. A great variety of factors act and interact within and around them affecting the quality of education (which does not take place exclusively in schools). When attempts have been made to assess the impact of these various factors a strong and remarkably consistent finding is obtained: that by far the most powerful predictor of the examination performance of a school is the ability of the pupils who go there (Salmons et al, 1994; Gorard and Smith, 2004; Smithers and Robinson, 2005).

The Smithers' study which notes some impressive results in certain cases also points out the major short-comings of other researchers such as Spielhofer, et al (2004). Smithers concludes "the influence of mixing or separating the sexes is not of over-riding importance" because key demographic data is often omitted, such as "socio-economic status, ethnic background or the extent of homogeneity in the school types". Regarding a comprehensive overview of studies by the U.S Department of Education, Smithers' follow-up casts doubt on the validity of the early conclusions made by U.S. researchers.

Smithers 2006:
Remarkably, none of the three main groups identified above, themselves, still claim a general positive effect for single-sex education. Lee (1998) wrote, “I do not think the research on single-sex schooling (my own and others) should be interpreted as favoring the separation of boys and girls for their education.” She seems to have been led to this conclusion by heavy criticisms from Marsh (1989) and her own failure to reproduce her results. Marsh (1989) pointed out that Lee and Bryk had not sufficiently taken into account pre-enrolment differences and had applied a weak test of statistical significance. When he re-analysed their data he found only three significant effects by school type out of the original 74, and these on relatively unimportant variables. Lee, herself, attempted to replicate her findings for Catholic schools on independent schools, the other sector in the U.S. where single-sex/co-educational comparisons are possible. But she found, “no consistent pattern of effects for attending either single-sex or co-educational independent schools for either boys or girls in independent schools.” She makes the very interesting point that since there was no clear pattern to the findings she could not publish these results unlike those she had obtained for Catholic schools. It is probable, therefore, she argues that the “published studies represent a biased sample of research on any topic.”

While the literature is mixed, as expected between proponents and opponents of same-sex education, Fred Mael in a study for the U.S. Department of Education notes that despite some apparent successes the overall, long-term effect of SS education is entirely inconclusive.

Mael 2005:
As opposed to concurrent indicators of academic achievement, any positive effects of SS schooling on longer-term indicators of academic achievement are not readily apparent. No differences were found for postsecondary test scores, college graduation rates, or graduate school attendance rates. However, all the findings in this domain came from a pair of studies, indicating the lack of high-quality research on these important criteria. Although some studies favor single-sex education in the case of postsecondary test scores, there is a dearth of recent studies using controls. There has been a similar lack of research on other potential criteria in this domain, such as college grade point average, meritorious scholarships or funding attained, postgraduate licensure test scores, and any career achievement that could ostensibly be tied to quality of schooling.

The Differences in Brains

The proponents seek justification for SS education in the research of the neurologists who describe physical differences in the brains of males and females and some differences in cognitive abilities.  However, as shown in the sources, there is no evidence these physiological difference equate to differences in how students learn.

An extensive review conducted by the U.S. Department of Education (Mael, Alonso, Gibson, Rogers, & Smith, 2005) found that the majority of studies comparing single-sex with coeducational schooling reported either no difference or mixed results, and other reviews reported a host of negative consequences associated with single-sex education, including increased sex role stereotyping, which may harm both boys and girls (Halpern et al., 2011; Karpiak, Buchanan, Hosey, & Smith, 2007). As reviewed below, there are some cognitive areas that show average sex differences, but the data from the research literature on intelligence and cognitive skills do not indicate that different learning environments for females and males would be advisable.

Halpern 2011:
“Brain researchers have proven that boys learn differently than girls,” said a teacher in a SS public-school classroom. This statement reflects misinformation about neurobehavioral science. Neuroscientists have found few sex differences in children’s brains beyond the larger volume of boys’ brains and the earlier completion of girls’ brain growth, neither of which is known to relate to learning. In adults, certain sex differences have been reported (e.g., in brain activation patterns, auditory thresholds, memory performance), but none are substantial enough to justify different educational methods. Moreover, sex differences in adult brains cannot be assumed to be mirrored in children. Sex differences in adults’ neural structure or function may result from a lifetime of sex differentiated experiences rather than “hardwiring”

The observed differences between males and female brain development as seen in studies which show females are better toward language based learning while males to spatial visualization are eliminated by taking different approaches to how students are taught in a coeducational environment.

Sex differences favoring males in mental rotation, which is the ability to imagine what an object would look like if it were rotated, can be found in infants as young as three months of age (Quinn & Liben, 2008). Although this very early difference suggests a strong biological basis for the large sex differences in mental rotation, there is also strong evidence for a large sociocultural/learning contribution. For example, when female and male college students were trained with computer games that required use of spatial visualization, this intervention reduced the gap between male and female performance, though it was not completely eliminated (Feng, Spence, & Pratt, 2007). Likewise, when male and female college students were primed with positive stereotypes (“I’m a student from a selective college”) before taking an object rotation task, the gender gap in performance was nearly eliminated. When gender was primed before the test, the gender gap widened (Mc-Glone & Aronson, 2006).

ACLU 2012:
There is no evidence that brain differences translate into a need for different instructional approaches for boys and girls.13 A recent review of the literature by a multidisciplinary team of academics and experts concluded single-sex education programs are “often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.”14 In fact, the behavioral, psychological, and cognitive differences among the individual members of any group of girls or any group of boys are much greater, and more relevant from an instructional standpoint, than the differences between boys and girls as groups.

Gender Roles and Stereotypes

Some kinds of sexual discrimination are necessary to comply with the overwhelming norms of U.S. society. For example, we segregate locker rooms and restrooms and no one questions the rationale for doing so. However, it is appropriate that males and females interact in other situations and even compete.  The concerns which arise from social and competitive segregation of the sexes are discussed.

Halpern 2011:
Research has demonstrated that, when environments label individuals and segregate along some characteristic (e.g., gender, eye color, or randomly assigned t-shirt groups), children infer that the groups differ in important ways and develop increased intergroup biases. Such effects have been shown explicitly for gender even within coeducational classes, and it is likely that these effects would be even more powerful when sex is used to divide children into entirely separate classrooms or schools rather than merely into separate lines to go to lunch.

Mael 2005:
Sex-role stereotyping refers to the endorsement of traditional attitudes toward the roles that men and women should take in the workplace. In general, stereotyping of this nature refers to the notion that women can take only certain roles in the workplace, whereas men can take broader, more powerful roles in the workplace. Two studies examined the likelihood that others will invoke stereotypes based on sex roles. One study (50 percent) reported results in favor of SS schooling and the other (50 percent) reported results in favor of coeducation. Both studies examined SS and CE differences in sex-role stereotyping for girls with one study (50 percent) finding in favor of coeducation and the other (50 percent) finding in favor of SS schooling. In the case of boys, one study examined differences between SS and CE and yielded a null result. All participants were high school students.

Halpern 2011:
The strongest argument against SS education is that it reduces boys’ and girls’ opportunities to work together in a supervised, purposeful environment. When teachers make children’s sex salient, students choose to spend less time interacting with other-sex peers. Even in coeducational schools, boys and girls spend considerable time with same-sex peers, which exaggerates sex-typed behaviors and attitudes. Boys who spend more time with other boys become increasingly aggressive, and certain boys experience greater risk for behavior problems because they spend more time with boys. Similarly, girls who spend more time with other girls become more sex-typed. Institutionalizing gender-segregated classrooms limits children’s opportunities to develop a broader range of behaviors and attitudes. Positive and cooperative interaction with members of other groups is an effective method for improving intergroup relationships.

On Stereotypes and Segregation

For those so inclined, it is possible to build a contention around the legal status of gender-based education. The Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution forbids segregation and there is a case to be made the trend to SS education is illegal.  Even logically, if any justification is given by the Pro which claims SS education helps reduce misunderstanding or sexual discrimination, who in their right minds would dare argue that racial discrimination and stereotyping can be reduced by segregating students on the basis of race?

ACLU 2012:
The widespread legal violations uncovered by our investigation underscore the need for greater public accountability and oversight by state authorities, and for more enforcement efforts at the federal level. Specifically, the Department of Education should act swiftly to rescind the 2006 regulations that have led to a widespread misunderstanding of the requirements for implementation of single-sex education in public schools, to reinstate the prior regulations, and to provide immediate and much-needed guidance making clear that programs based on sex-stereotyped instruction violate Title IX and the Constitution. Instead of spending resources, time, and effort to separate students in our public schools on the basis of their sex, we need to focus on evidence-based interventions. Research has shown that effective schools, especially for low-income students of color, consistently share strong, positive relationships between teachers and students; high expectations for students; a personalized learning environment with mentors, counseling, and other supports; high teacher quality; high parental involvement; and strong but not necessarily authoritarian leaders.49 We should focus on what we know works, rather than depriving our children of the opportunity to learn with and from a diverse group of students.

Along the lines of discrimination and stereotyping consider the definition of gender used in the resolution.  Can students rightly be divided into two groups based upon their chromosomes alone?  Gender identification can be an extremely tricky business and categorizing children in such ways threaten to confuse and isolate other students whose gender identification may be ambiguous or decidedly counter to the traditional and stereotypical divisions expected by this resolution.


The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling
Originally publish in the American Journal of Science Vol. 333
Diane F. Halpern, et al; 23 Sept 2011

Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson; 2006
Centre for Education and Employment Research, University of Buckingham

Intelligence, New Findings and Theoretical Developments
Richard E. Nisbett University of Michigan, et al; 2012

Patterson, M. M., & Pahlke, E. (2011). Student Characteristics Associated With Girls’ Success in a Single-Sex School. Sex Roles, 65, 737-750. Publisher’s official version:
Open Access version:

Single-Sex Versus Coeducational Schooling: A Systematic Review
DOC # 2005-01
Fred Mael, et al; 2005

Preliminary Findings of ACLU, “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” Campaign
PREPARED FOR U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights
AUGUST 20, 2012

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