Kirabo Jackson Finds Single-Sex Schooling Boosts School Outcomes, Lowers Crime

Kirabo Jackson Finds Single-Sex Schooling Boosts School Outcomes, Lowers Crime

Kirabo JacksonIs single-gender schooling a no-cost way to improve academic achievement and discourage criminal activity? SESP associate professor Kirabo Jackson's latest study finds positive evidence of single-sex education improving these outcomes for teens—and how that happens.

Jackson discovered an ideal situation for studying the question in Trinidad and Tobago, where in 2010 a pilot program converted 20 low-performing secondary schools from coed to single-sex. Because of the way the teachers and students were assigned, Jackson was able to study students attending the same schools under both coed and single-sex conditions. That way he could isolate and examine the singular effect of single-gender schooling.

Looking at student outcomes, Jackson found that in single-gender schools both boys and girls scored higher in academic subjects on national exams. They also were more likely to complete secondary school, and the boys had fewer arrests.

When he dug deeper to identify the reasons behind these outcomes, he found several factors. One “direct effect” involves peer interactions, such as students faring better when exposed to same-gender peers. This direct effect held true for girls but wasn’t documented for boys.

Teacher behavior such as focusing instruction to one group had an indirect impact. Jackson found “efficiency gains to being in a single-sex classroom that allows teachers to give students more individualized instruction and exhibit greater warmth.”

“Three years after being assigned to a single-sex secondary school, both boys and girls have higher scores on standardized tests. Five years later, they are more likely to take and pass advanced courses. In the long run, both boys and girls are more likely to have completed secondary school and to have earned the credential required to continue to tertiary education. Importantly, boys are also less likely to have been arrested,” Jackson states in his report for the National Bureau of Economic Research. “Taken as a whole, the results suggest that being in the single-sex cohorts improved test scores and also improved longer-run non test score outcomes such as advanced course taking, high school completion and engaging in criminal activity." 

It is significant that the benefits of single-sex instruction occur with no financial cost. Consequently, the study shows the cost-effectiveness of taking advantage of “leveraging peer effects (both direct and indirect) to improve students outcomes,” comments Jackson. “The evidence demonstrates that single-sex education can be an effective low-cost way to improve students outcomes.”

An associate professor in the Human Development and Social Policy Program at SESP, Jackson is a labor economist who studies education and social policy issues. He is also a faculty fellow at Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 8/3/16