New research on single sex education nuances previous research

In our book we discuss single sex versus mixed education and conclude that single sex education isn’t really better, although people still often plea for it. Still, new research by Kirabo Johnson adds a possible nuance as the research describes a particular situation where single sex schools did show an advantage:

In 2010, the Ministry of Education in Trinidad and Tobago converted 20 low-performing pilot secondary schools from coed to single-sex. I exploit these conversions to identify the causal effect of single-sex schooling holding other school inputs (such as teacher quality and leadership quality) constant. After also accounting for student selection, both boys and girls in single-sex cohorts at pilot schools score 0.14σ higher in the academic subjects on national exams. There is no robust effect on non-academic subjects. Additionally, treated students are more likely to earn the secondary-school leaving credential, and the all-boys cohorts have fewer arrests. Survey evidence reveals that these single-sex effects reflect both direct gender peer effects due to interactions between classmates, and also indirect effects generated through changes in teacher behavior. Importantly, these benefits are achieved at zero financial cost.

But there is more, another new study published in Education Economics provides some evidence as to how differing approaches to risk, motivation, commitment and discipline between girls and boys can lead to different outcomes when both are given the same extra tuition:

This paper investigates the effects on achievement, study behaviours and attitudes of an intervention providing extra instruction time in language and in mathematics in lower secondary schools in Southern Italy. We use a difference-in-differences strategy and compare two contiguous cohorts of students enrolled in the same class for two consecutive years. We find that an average increase of 25% in instruction time leads to an increase in 0.12 sd in mathematics test score for both females and males, while no effect is found on Italian language test scores. Cross-disciplinary effects seem to suggest that extra-classes in mathematics are beneficial for girls also for language scores. The pattern of results found on attitudes and self-reported study behaviours suggests that girls use the extra instruction time as a complement to regular home study, while boys may use it as a substitute.

The researchers conclude:

If we take a closer look at the gender dimension, however, we can see different mechanisms at play among male and female students. While involvement in the programme seems to have been very effective for females, for boys we find controversial results. Girls receiving extra instruction time in mathematics improve their achievement both in mathematics and in language; on the other hand, boys receiving extra instruction time in mathematics increase their performance in mathematics, but extra instruction time in language worsens their performance in mathematics.

Does this mean that we should plea for single sex education from now on? Not really, it does mean that the meta-analysis sometimes can hide relevant differences and nuances, such as mentioned in these 2 studies. 

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