Boys Benefit From Co-Ed
Than Girls, According To
A New Study
As an alumna of all-girl schools, I can tell you that the idea that girls in single-gender learning institutions are focused, charming little angels who never behave badly is laughably silly. (I’d like to formally apologize to all my teachers.) But single-gender education versus co-ed schooling has attracted a lot of attention, with parents wondering if it’s better to have boys and girls in school together, or with their own gender. A new study from scientists at Utrecht University, published in the journal School Effectiveness & School Education, has shed new light on the argument — and their discoveries indicate that boys benefit educationally from having girls around. But does the practice of going co-ed help girls, too? The evidence on that side is a lot less clear.
The Utrecht study looked at 281,095 students from 10,425 co-ed schools who’d answered a 2009 survey called PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment), a global education study held by the OECD, or Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development, one of the biggest global economic organizations on the planet. The PISA asks 15-year-olds around the world in 33 of the OECD’s member countries various questions about their academic performance, study environment, families and other questions. So this is a pretty global look at the state of co-education and how it affects learning, and the results show that, for boys at least, it’s a good idea to have more girls around.
In schools with more than 60 percent girls, boys saw better reading scores if they were at a school with that ratio. The Utrecht scientists were controlling for a bunch of variables, from school resources to race to the education of parents and teachers, and the results were only really explained by one thing: more girls. Boys were far worse at reading if they were in a school with under 60 percent girls.
“Boys particularly seemed to be positively affected by a high proportion of female students in a school,” the scientists wrote — and added that this isn’t actually a new discovery. A 2004 study found that having girls around shifted the study cultures of schools, encouraging better habits in boys. “Girls possibly set a more successful learning climate in the schools and classrooms, to which boys were more susceptible,” the Utrecht study suggests. But do boys inspire better habits in girls?
The Utrecht data says that there actually doesn’t seem to be much advantage for girls to be around boys in terms of academic performance. And that’s backed up by other evidence. A study done in the UK in 2016 found that 16-year-old girls in same-sex state schools (what we in the U.S. call public schools, as opposed to private ones that require fees) did better in important high school exams than those at co-ed schools. And the effects remained the same once you took things like socioeconomic status or whether or not a school was selective. And a study in 2017 that looked at the final few years of Korean high schools as they shifted from single-gender to mixed gender found that the results weren’t good for girls. As their classes shifted from 100 percent girls to about 50 percent girls, the performance of the Korean female high school students decreased, while the performance of the boys didn’t really shift at all.