Researchers: Coed schools provide societal benefits over single-sex classes

How can educators, families and communities promote and improve coeducation in schools from preschool through higher education?

This is a far-reaching question two new initiatives at Arizona State University are addressing through the American Council for CoEducational Schooling (ACCES) and the Sanford Harmony Program.

ACCES is operated through the university’s School of Social and Family Dynamics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and is made up of scholars and citizens from across the United States who are focused on children, education, families and communities. The Sanford Harmony Program is a research and curriculum initiative also operated through the school, and funded by philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, that is working to understand and enhance relationships among girls and boys.

While teaching in single-sex schools and classrooms has become increasingly popular in recent years, there is little scientific evidence that shows teaching boys and girls in separate public school classrooms is advantageous over teaching in coed classes, said Richard Fabes, professor and director of the School of Social and Family Dynamics and ACCES director of operations.

In fact, there is evidence, according to Fabes, that single-sex classes can be detrimental – for instance, the more time that male and female students spend apart, the more the stereotypes about the sexes are reinforced. Other disadvantages include the costs of training teachers to teach girls and boys differently and the resource demand of staffing both single-sex classes and coed classes at a time when resources are stretched very thin.

The cost of single-sex education is not only a burden on schools, but within society if children fail to learn to work with other-sex individuals, said Carol Lynn Martin, ASU School of Social and Family Dynamics professor and ACCES co-director of school relations.

One study looked at “buddy up” time when boys and girls are paired together to work on projects in classrooms. One boy who said he “didn’t like girls” was surprised to find out his female buddy wasn’t so different from him and they became good friends, Martin explained.  “This boy learned that there are many more similarities between the sexes than differences.”

The team at ASU’s School of Social and Family Dynamics is creating curriculum for preschool age children and fifth-graders on the cusp of adolescence as part of the Sanford Harmony Program. According to Fabes, these are “bookend” periods when preschool age children start to segregate according to sex and when many fifth graders are entering adolescence and becoming interested in the other sex.

“If you want to bring people together and engage in positive contact, school is a good place to do that,” Martin said. The curriculum focuses on building relationships, problem solving and enhancing communication and collaboration.

A primary goal of the Sanford Harmony Program is to produce better relationships between boys and girls in classes, thereby allowing them to communicate, work, collaborate and form friendships. Research shows that children who are able to play with both girls and boys tend to have good social skills, according to ACCES.

Learning how to work on problems and communicate effectively can also address issues like teasing, anxiety and bullying in schools, said Laura Hanish, School of Social and Family Dynamics associate professor and ACCS co-director of school relations. 

“Many bullying programs are not effective. We need alternative approaches to enhancing relationships in classes,” Hanish said.

For additional information about the Sanford Harmony Program is online at