Seattle Girls' School

News and happenings in education from the Head of School, Rafael del Castillo

Sunday, September 25, 2011

New Study Suggests that Same-Sex Schools Result in "Collateral Damage"

A recent study rejects any academic advantage of same-sex schools and suggests that same-sex schools result in "collateral damage" in perpetuating gender stereotypes. Never one to shy away from a data-driven approach, I offer the following questions that should be considered as this study is validated - or not - through further peer review and other studies that seek to replicate it.

- Does the study consider all data - quantitative and qualitative - that, I believe strongly supports a same-sex learning experience at some point between ages 10-20? This is especially supported for girls. I would urge readers to review the data provided through the National Coalition of Girls Schools -
as well as the research of Dr. JoAnn Deak -

- Prof. Liben's statement that "neuroscientists have found very little difference between male and female brains, and none of them are connected to education" gives me pause. It runs counter to my own experience of 25 years in co-ed and single-sex environments; and the notion that differences in our brains, gender aside, has nothing to do with education is reflective of "20th century thinking" in my opinion.

- Prof. Liben's point that the majority of single-sex schools are private and exclusive runs counter to the learning community at Seattle Girls' School where our school profile is as diverse as area public schools. I hope that the study also focused on the implicit minority of those schools that achieve the same results indicated in the NCGS data.

- I am hopeful that the study plans to extend itself beyond pre-school to middle school and beyond where the source of gender stereotyping "collateral damage" shifts from schools and home to a very powerful culture and media that most recently featured a T-shirt that read, "I'm too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me."

- The final quote in the article states that, “The bottom line is that there is not good scientific evidence for the academic advantages of single-sex schooling. But there is strong evidence for negative consequences of segregating by sex — the collateral damage of segregating by sex.” No scientific study has a bottom line. We need to know what Dr. Liben means by "good" scientific evidence, and we need to assess the "strength" of the evidence for negative consequences. I need to know the answer to these questions as the conclusions of this study run counter to 25 years in a real-life laboratory working with boys and girls in grades PK-12. I welcome a visit by Dr. Liben to our school to engage in a rich conversation. Naturally, if there were strong evidence for such negative consequences, our school would be very interested in understanding it and mitigating it.

Link to Globe and Mail Article


  1. It seems to me that everything (especially during adolescence) is "related to education." Media, family, culture, academics, brain differences, you name it. This is interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Rafael. I am disappointed that Dr. Liben doesn't provide references for his claims. I would certainly love to know how education can be better -- let's go! We have a nearly 9% unemployment rate in our country where finding education is challenging and often very expensive. Only 71% of age-eligible kids graduate from high school. In Norway, education is very affordable and 96% of adolescents (age 10-19) are in school. They have an unemployment rate of 3%. Connected? I don't know. But it's worth considering. (education stats provided by UNICEF)

    Our kids need every advantage we can give them and our research into finding the best ways to teach them must be stellar. Thanks again for sharing. Thought provoking article.