October 25, 2006

Encouraging experimentation with single-sex public schools.

The federal government is changing the rules about permitting single-sex education:
Two years in the making, the new rules, announced Tuesday by the Education Department, will allow districts to create single-sex schools and classes as long as enrollment is voluntary. School districts that go that route must also make coeducational schools and classes of “substantially equal” quality available for members of the excluded sex....

While the move was sought by some conservatives and urban educators, and had backing from both sides of the political aisle, a number of civil rights and women’s rights groups condemned the change.

“It really is a serious green light from the Department of Education to re-instituting official discrimination in schools around the country,” said Marcia Greenberger, a co-president of the National Women’s Law Center....

To open schools exclusively for boys or girls, a district has until now had to show a “compelling reason,” for example, that it was acting to remedy past discrimination....

Although the research is mixed, some studies suggest low-income children in urban schools learn better when separated from the opposite sex. Concerns about boys’ performance in secondary education has also driven some of the interest same-sex education.
Even if you don't think single-sex education is good, don't you still want to allow parents to choose if for their kids, at least for a while as an experiment to produce evidence about whether it's good? Or do you think the new rules violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act?
“Segregation is totally unacceptable in the context of race,” [said Nancy Zirkin, vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, an umbrella organization representing about 200 civil rights groups.] “Why in the world in the context of gender would it be acceptable?”

The American Civil Liberties Union signaled it might consider going to court. “We are certainly in many states looking at schools that are segregating students by sex and considering whether any of them are ripe for a challenge,” said Emily Martin, deputy director of the Women’s Rights Project at the A.C.L.U..


David said...

Choice for the Parents and the children is an admirable pursuit. Of course the ACLU would be against freedom of choice as they, and the current education establishment, prefer process, sensitivity and appeasement instead of dealing with facts, values, and accountability.

Since when isn't choice the American way? Oh Yeah, I forgot about Vassar. It went coed in 1969 as I recall!

Ann Althouse said...

David: It looks to me as though the ACLU is not being all that aggressive here.

Eric said...

Gender receives "intermediate" scrutiny (it's not THAT simple, but for beginning this discussion...). The law is unconstitutional unless it is "substantially related" to an "important" government interest. I think the government interest (increasing the educational experience of urban youths, etc) is something that would be held to be "important." Whether it is "substantially related" is another story and the government will have to have some handy data if this is challenged. But the most interesting thing here is, like most of these cases, whether there is a different interest than the given one; whether the government is using the urban educational reason as a ruse.

My question - what could be the Bushies' REAL reason for this policy change?

David said...


Maybe the ACLU listened to Chief Justice John Roberts speech Middlebury, Vermont.

If I were them, I would consider the Robert's court a formidable opponent!

Was your pairing of these two articles accidental or provocative?

bearing said...

Parents absolutely should be able to choose to send their children to single-sex public schools or to single-sex classrooms in public schools, provided that there are enough of them in a district or area to support that choice.

Racial differences are, essentially, imaginary. Gender differences are not. If enough parents want education tailored for boys and tailored for girls, they should be able to choose it.

Michael said...

“Why in the world in the context of gender would it be acceptable?”

Well why don't we just have unisex bathrooms? I am sure everyone would love them.

Ernie Fazio said...

As a product of a private religious same sex school, I have to admit that the experience was academically positive. My high school years were a palpable improvement over the highly charged environments of my grammar school. I observed a second argument in favor of same sex education when I studied Girls, Inc of Oakland, California. They had promoted same sex science and math courses, and had found that young women in such classes achieved higher performance than comparable groups in regular classes. My wife earned her master's degree in education with her comparison of differential use of a computer lab by eighth grade boys and girls. She found distinct differences by gender of the use of a lunch time open lab over a year. She concluded that segrating computer classes by gender would promote higher achievement by both girls and boys.
As a graduate of the unisex, no difference movement, whose parenting sought to eliminate stereotypical play as much as possible, I had to conclude that there are indeed differences between the genders. The reality that my daughters rejected the large red fire truck that every boy ran to when entering their room, or would always prefer a tea party to any confrontation with weaponry just sealed the deal.

Ernie Fazio said...

Just to show the sad decline in the culture over the past few decades, my first office environment of about thirty people of both genders shared a unisexual bathroom with two urinals and four doored stalls. No one seemed to complain, even when recounting the experience in retrospect years later.

Mortimer Brezny said...

Don't let Bob Corker know about this new rule. He'll spin it into a rule to force black boys and white girls to school together and blame Fancy Ford for it.

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that the two sexes are different, on average, in significant ways, and that those differences are most significant at the high school level, has to be kept in mind here. Boys are not unsocialized girls. Rather, their drives are very different, as are their ways of relating to their peers.

Many kids do just fine in mixed sex schools. But not all of them. I think, at least with girls, that it partly depends on how they relate to the opposite sex. Some girls play helpless around boys, and others just try harder. I would think that the more boy crazy a girl is, the more same sex education would benefit her - if she can handle it.

I think that I would have done better in a male only high school. A good part of my problem there was my feeling that the girls were able to sweet talk esp. the female teachers into better grades, and that many of the female teachers, even back then, were heavily biased against us males. It seemed to matter more how well you got along with the teachers than how well you knew the subject matter.

In other words, it appeared that the class was graded such that the girls, by their very nature, had a significant advantage. And, because of that, I resented those classes to such an extent that I ultimately engaged in a lot of self-defeating behavior that resulted in a GPA far below what my SATs would have predicted.

Looking at my entire family of five boys, I believe that one of my brothers would not have done as well at a same sex high school (he had a 4.0 and was very popular), two or three would probably have done the same, regardless, and I, and maybe one other, would have benefitted from it.

amba said...

Where are these girls who are into tea parties? I never met any. I hate the way the opposite of aggression is painted as passivity and pinky-finger lifting. Boys are thugs, girls are ninnies. Boys get dirty, girls get frilly. Ugh! What stereotypical thinking still! We confuse aggression and activity. If not shamed out of it, little girls run around like crazy and get dirty (as do little girl monkeys, puppies, kittens, etc.), they just don't wrestle as much. And they show more interest in infants. (I have a feeling I've said all this before; it's one of my pet peeves.)

That said, there's evidence that some high school and college kids, at least, of both sexes, do better academically without the distraction of the opposite sex around. Many girls are either intimidated, or coy about their intelligence, in the presence of boys; they won't speak up the way they do among themselves. And many boys act up and show off in front of girls, although that could be positive as well as negative. With hormones running higher than they ever will again, sex -- particularly when it's no longer required to be sublimated -- can really take your mind off learning.

amba said...

P.S. I speak from personal experience.

knox said...

don't you still want to allow parents to choose

Sure, I do.... but if there's one thing that's resisted in the realm of public education, it's choice! There are a lot of "civil rights" groups that routinely fight to keep the sorry status quo in our public schools--even if it means trapping kids in a horrible school. Their biggest fear is any sort of experimentation.

Dave said...

Girls/women have to learn to have the guts to speak up in class. If single-sex education does it, then great.

An anecdote. In college I was in a literature class. The prof asked a question about some dialogue; I responded by saying "It sounds Socratic."

"Socratic?" the prof scoffed. "Hardly. That's rather stupid, no? It's clearly Aristotelian."

Whatever. Like water off a duck's back. Later that evening I'm at a party, I run into a girl who was in the class with me.

"How can you show your face after today? Aren't you embarrassed?" I thought she was kidding; apparently not.

People--men, women, boys, girls--have to grow out of the habit of saving face, else they will mature into timid, meek people. If single sex education inculcates in girls the confidence they need to be well-spoken, articulate, and, most crucially, unconcerned about how others will react to their speech, then great.

Derve said...

Haven't we been through this before?

In 20 years, when a well-qualified girl student wants in at the highly regarded all-male public science and technology high school, even though there is an above average co-ed and all-girls school available to her -- are her individual rights protected against discrimination by gender under the Equal Protection Clause?

Even if they agree to shuttle her in for the advanced classes taught by better faculty at the all-male school, she wants in for the full day. The social respect for achievement and disciplined attitude throughout the day there contribute to the program's success and can't be replicated by dropping in on a class or two.

The girl wants in. Not content with the other seeminly lesser programs at the other schools. Will her very female presence then derail the success of the program, or can the same programs and disciplines work when genders are mixed?

Will future courts follow the VMI precedent, or interpret this girls' situation differently so we see a different outcome?

Fitz said...

I Thought for sure some one else would bring it up before I had a chance. Yet , no one did and I get to be the first.

Just this term…..

“The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether public schools can consider skin color in student assignments, reopening the contentious issue of affirmative action in a major case that will turn on the votes of President Bush's new justices.

The announcement puts a contentious social issue on the national landscape in an election year, and could mark a new chapter for a court that famously banned racial segregation in public schools in Brown v. Board of Education.

At its heart, the court will consider whether school leaders can promote racial diversity without violating the Constitution's guarantee against discrimination.”

It always struck me as absurd the contortions one must perform to both support racial preferences (the heart of the 16th amendment proscriptions & Brown v Board) and Maintain Gender “neutrality” as an Iron principle (something tacked on to the 64 civil rights act & only worth Intermediate scrutiny- requiring an ERA that never passed)

These so called “Civil Rights” groups need to either proffer a single standard when it comes to race, or drop their manic (read –feminist) standards when it comes to gender.

Seven Machos said...

I love the way cutting-edge feminists who went to Wellesley and Smith (or have friends, or buddies in the Senate, who went there) condemn single-sex education as sexist.


Dave said...


Well, of course. That's why they're poor. Noblesse oblige, et al.

Surely you can't be so brazen as to think that the poor can think for themselves? This is what we have government for.

John Lynch said...

I'm confused. What is the ACLU agenda? Is it that we're all to be a single homogenous androgynous mass? Un-entitled to any differentiation? Un-entitled to uniqueness? All of us comporting ourselves to some utopian ideal?

Is this ideal: no religion; no gender; no race; no richness in spirit, intellect, or wealth? Is this the purported utopia?

Or is the ideal not an ideal at all, merely an argument AGAINST anything that might speak of differentiation?

HaloJonesFan said...

Actually, I'd be more interested in single-child classrooms than in single-sex classrooms.

When you're putting thirty monkeys in the same cage it doesn't matter whether it's all boy monkeys, all girl monkeys, or half of each.

Seven Machos said...

HaloJones -- Your analogy with monkeys is faulty. That's manifestly not what the evidence shows about humans. Human kids seem to learn better in single-sex environments, so why shouldn't that be an option for poor people who can't afford to ritzy private schools?

Nobody cares about monkeys.

Revenant said...

I'm strongly in favor of freedom of choice.

For example, I'd like the choice to not have to pay for the education of these peoples' kids.

Simon said...

Eric said...
"Gender receives "intermediate" scrutiny (it's not THAT simple, but for beginning this discussion...). The law is unconstitutional unless it is 'substantially related' to an 'important' government interest."

I thought that gender where it relates to educational institutions was now subject to "skeptical scrutiny", requiring a showing of an "exceedingly persuasive justification," United States v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996)? I don't see how this is distinguishable from that case? Enrollment in VMI was "voluntary", that wasn't (or at least, so said the Supreme Court) the point.

Of course, if the government is perhaps setting the framework for the court to reconsider U.S. v. Virginia, then I wholeheartedly agree. However, while two of Ginsburg's majority are no longer on the Court, and Justice Thomas would presumably not be required to recuse himself this time, that still leaves a presumptive 5-4 majority for Ginsburg. But she might have to work harder this time to retain Kennedy, on whom the decision to overrule U.S. v. Virginia would now turn, and Kennedy might be willing to turn the court's scrutiny down a little.

Seven Machos said...

Revenant -- I used to be all for not financing the education of poor kids, making sure they can eat, and giving them a basic set of opportunities to stop being poor.

Then, I considered India. It's exactly that kind of thought process (enshrined in Randian libertarianism or Hindu doctrine or in any other philosophical hokum) that leads to a permanent class of people who will be deemed perpetually inferior by society.

I'm a libertarian, too, but not a heartless one.

Roger Sweeny said...

Seven machos said it but it's worth repeating. There are already same-sex schools and everyone seems to accept them. I don't know of any attempts by the ACLU or any other group to get rid of them.

My daughter went to one (Smith College) and there's another just up the road that our next president may come from (Wellesley College).

amy said...

Personally, I wouldn't mind my tax dollars going to public education if I had any faith in the system. They waste such an ungodly amount of money on 'administration' and can't seem to even teach our children the basics of American History that it really makes me resentful of all the money I'm spending (unwillingly) on it.

Revenant said...

I'm a libertarian, too, but not a heartless one.

Or a thoughtful one, apparently. I didn't say I wasn't interested in funding public education -- I said I'd like the choice not to.

I'm quite willing to pay for other people's education, provided it (a) is my choice and (b) I get to decide how, when, and how much I contribute.

Your support for mandatory, government-controlled funding of public education through coercive taxation doesn't make you a libertarian who cares. It makes you a non-libertarian on the issue of education.

Unknown said...

It is absolutely a proven fact that black people "learn better" in all-black schools.

Why, just look at Grambling State University - where blacks graduate at a stunningly higher rate than do black graduates at mixed-race schools like Louisiana State University.

So, if this is true ... why not allow black parents to choose to send their children to an all-black high school, or junior high school, or elementary school.

They would get a better education that way - and it would be voluntary.

What's wrong with that? Everybody wins, and nobody is forced to go to an all-black school. Black parents, if they wished their children to get a worse education, could still be allowed to enroll their children in mixed-race schools, instead of all-black schools.

And then if that is a good thing, then why not give white parents the same choices? Why not give white parents the choice to send their children to an all-white school?

Have I made my point yet?

Jeremy said...

You effectively can segregate your kids by moving out into the hills or to the coast or the subsuburbs or wherever there aren't many black kids. I'd be surprised if that's not exactly what some people do.

Derve said...

Why not experiment by structuring the separate schools into techniques shown to appeal to "boy learning" or "girl learning", yet allow parents and children to make the final determination of where the child enrolls?

ie/ A class structured with competitive, more active learning; periods of physical rewards; immediate no cuddling discipline, etc. vs./ A class that is made up of less outwardly competitive students who are enouraged more than disciplined into success. (Those with more knowledge of same-sex teaching programs and techniques could expand greater on the teaching differences.)

Give parents a true choice in letting them select in which type of environment their child would perform best, instead of excluding through gender stereotypes. If a child is not improving their academic performance at one type of school or is holding the class back, only then would they be excluded.

Unknown said...


Yes, yes yes ... because girls employ "girl-learning" and boys employ "boy-learning."

I think that's just about what Larry Summers said at Harvard ... that men and women are different in the way that they learn things.

Didn't work out too well for him.

On the other hand, it's been proven time and again in many societies that girls learn better when they have their faces and bodies covered with cloth, so that the boys aren't distracted by their youthful good looks.

Why don't we experiment with Burqas ... totally voluntary mind you! Nobody would be forced to send their girls to an all-Burqa school.

Parents, if they wished their daughters to go to non-Burqa schools and get a worse education, would still have that right.

A billion Muslims can't be wrong.

Can they?

Synova said...

I dislike the notion of "girl learning" and "boy learning", mostly because (less the physical stuff) I tend to learn and test like a boy and being in a "girl learning" school is a horrible thought. I also dislike the idea because of an offhand conversation I once had with another lady while our kids were at gymnastics class. Some boys who'd never met before were clustered around playing Pokemon on a Game Boy. The woman looked at them and sniffed and said that *that* was why boys had such an unfair advantage in business, they didn't actually *communicate* or have to relate in any real way to each other, they just jump right into this superficial discussion, and that girls didn't communicate like that. It must have escaped her notice (she tended to be myopic) that one of the boys was mine until I replied (a bit chilly, I'm sure) "Well, maybe girls should learn how."

Because different people have different natural strengths does not mean that they shouldn't learn to work with their weaknesses. They *particularly* shouldn't be limited to what someone else feels is their "natural" way of learning or "natural" way of communicating. Plus there is enough over-lap between genders that "girl learning" would be hell for quite a few girls and "boy learning" would be oppressive and horrible for quite a number of boys.

Giving parents the option of all boy or all girl education, however, seems like a no-brainer. Allowing parents who can not afford that choice to have the option of chosing an all girl or all boy classroom for their child seems a small thing. More choices is better.

Jeremy said...

Slim made a comment that I think really gets to the heart of his (and other's) opposition to single-sex schools. In his hypothetical, he DOESN'T offer a choice between burqaed and non-burqaed schools (if he did, I don't think too many people would object, just nobody would choose the burqas and it'd be moot). He offers a choice between a burqaed school and a non-burqaed but crappy academics school. That's obviously non-choice.

Slim, I think what you're objecting to is not so much single-sex schools per se. You simply don't believe that "seperate but equal" is logistically possible. Is that a fair characterization?

But isn't it true that we seperate students all the time by relevant divisions? Geography, age, interest, past performance are all divisions that split students from one another and result in not-necessarily-equal educations.

Derve said...

"Because girls employ "girl-learning" and boys employ "boy-learning."

But isn't that the argued point behind the push for segregated schools? Mine is a compromise position actually.

If people already have faith in scientific studies that show boys and girls learn and perform in sex-differentiated patterns, why not push to acknowledge some children do not fit into the gendered stereotypes? My concern is with the children left behind in the co-ed schools with a greater number of girls now if the only nearby same-sex program is for boys only (or vice versa).

If you're arguing that boys and girls should be treated as individuals, that gender has no bearing on education, I'm afraid you're about 30 years too late to catch that boat. Where have you been as the notion of gender equality is acceptably chipped away? Or was it ok then when enough girls succeeded? Is it more a class thing than a gender thing?

HaloJonesFan said...

Seven Machos: My point isn't that single-sex does better than co-ed; it's that single-student is better than either.

That is, I'd rather see money spent towards home-schooling (or reducing class size) than towards the Next New Education Theory.

Seven Machos said...

Slim -- Grambling is not all black. Neither are any of the other historically black colleges and universities. Any person of any ethnicity can be admitted to any of them.

Please get your facts right before you start ranting. Thanks for playing, though.

Unknown said...


I think it goes without saying that people who read this blog are educated enough to know about Brown v. Board of Education; they are aware that, while Grambling State University cannot EXCLUDE students on the basis of their race, that it is overwhelmingly a black-only college, having been established as one in 1901.

The question isn't whether Grambling is "all-black," but if that is the question, then yes, for all intents and purposes related to this discussion, Grambling can be thought of as an "all-black" college.

Incidently, I know a little bit about Grambling from my days as a journalist, cutting my teeth in Lincoln Parish. So, I'm pretty sure I'm playing not just a good game, but an informed one as well.

Segregation (in all its forms) WORKS, if your goal is to just ensure that kids "learn better." If all that means is they score better on tests.

It is poor public policy and does little to educate kids on what real life will offer them - and we should all be against it.

My prediction is that soon, our Muslim population will be demanding their own schools, forcing their girl students behind veils and making the exact same argument that others are making when they talk about excluding boys from girls schools: they will "learn better" that way.

We should be careful what we wish for in the name of "learning better," or we'll get it.

Derve said...

We should be careful what we wish for in the name of "learning better," or we'll get it.

Pray for sons.
Straight sons.

Seven Machos said...

The Establishment Clause unequivocably prevents an all-Muslim public school (though it would be relatively easy to skirt any legal issues and have a private one). There is no such clause in the Constitution related to gender.

So, Slim: No, you don't know what you are talking about.

Unknown said...


If there's no such thing as an all-Muslim school, how do you explain the existence of the Toledo, Ohio Islamic Academy?

From its website:

"Toledo Islamic Academy offers school children of all ages an Islamic environment to grow and learn. Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade high schoolers attend class together in a supportive and unadulterated environment."

The "unadulteraded environment" they are talking about means it's a "non-kaffir" school. No infidels like you need apply.

So, you know, maybe you should learn about Google? You appear to be clueless about what's occurring in your own country.

Revenant said...

"The Establishment Clause unequivocably prevents an all-Muslim public school"

If there's no such thing as an all-Muslim school, how do you explain the existence of the Toledo, Ohio Islamic Academy?

That would be the private school in Ohio, founded in 1994?

Hint: pay special attention to the boldfaced words above.