Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Effects of Single-Sex and Coeducational Secondary Schooling on Children's Academic Achievement

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Effects of Single-Sex and Coeducational Secondary Schooling on Children's Academic Achievement

Article excerpt

Using prospective data from an 18-year longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 657 New Zealand children, this paper examines the effects of single-sex and coeducational secondary schooling on children's academic achievement. This analysis showed a pervasive tendency for children attending single-sex schools to have greater success in the School Certificate examinations, higher Burt reading scores, greater school retention, less likelihood of leaving school without qualifications, and less exposure to unemployment than children attending coeducational schools. However, a substantial amount of this association was explained by pre-entry differences in children's academic, behavioural, social, and family functioning. None the less, even after control for selection processes, children attending single-sex schools tended to perform better than their coeducated peers across a number of educational outcomes. Possible explanations for these differences are considered, including school gender composition, school climate and traditions, and possible inadequate control for selection and confounding factors.

Introduction

Over the past three decades, there has been ongoing debate about the advantages of coeducational and single-sex education for children's socio-emotional and educational development. The origins of this debate lie with the early British findings reported by Dale (1969, 1971, 1974) which suggested that coeducational schools were better placed to meet the social and educational needs of young people (1974). Until this time, there had been a strong tradition of single-sex schooling at the secondary level, with coeducational schools being less common (Cocklin, 1982). However, in response to Dale's findings and increasing social concerns about the importance of cross gender socialisation, there was a movement within most western countries away from single-sex secondary education towards a commitment to coeducational schooling for both boys and girls.

In response to changing patterns of school organisation and strong criticisms of the evidential basis upon which Dale based many of his assertions (Cocklin, 1982; Lee & Bryk, 1986; Marsh, 1989; Schneider, Courts, & Starr, 1988), there has been renewed interest in the extent to which single-sex and coeducational schools affect children's academic development. Several studies are now available which compare the educational achievement of children attending single-sex and coeducational secondary schools. In general, the results of these studies are inconsistent, with some studies providing support for the benefits of coeducation (Marsh, 1989; Marsh, Smith, Marsh, & Owens, 1988), others supporting single-sex education (Astin, 1977; Lee & Bryk, 1986; Riordan, 1985), and yet others finding no achievement differences between children attending single-sex and coeducational schools (Miller & Dale, 1974; Rutter, Maughan, Mortimore, & Outson, 1979). This issue has been further complicated by claims that school type may have a differential effect on girls' and boys' achievement, with boys tending to perform better in a coeducational school environment and gifts tending to fare better in a single-sex school environment (Finn, 1980).

A central issue in this area concerns the extent to which reported associations between school type and subsequent attainment reflect a direct cause and effect association, or arise from the spurious effects of selection factors associated with school choice (Irving, 1976; Lee & Bryk, 1986; Marsh, 1989). In particular, it is likely that school choice represents; a selective process, with children attending single-sex, and often privately funded schools, tending to be brighter, more motivated, and to be more likely to come from higher socio-economic backgrounds prior to secondary school ,entry. A key issue in this debate has therefore focused on the development of research methods that make it possible to estimate differences between single-sex and coeducational schooling after consideration of selective processes influencing school choice (Irving, 1976; Lee & Bryk, 1986; Marsh, 1989). …

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