Govt. endorses more single-sex schools

by Sarah Betts | 5/23/02 5:00am

In a controversial move, the U.S. Department of Education announced May 8 that it intends to propose amendments to Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on gender in educational programs that receive federal funds, to allow for the establishment of single-sex public elementary and secondary schools.

The proposed legislation, which comes as a part of President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act of January 2002, would aim to "support efforts of school districts to improve educational outcomes for children" and "provide public school parents with a diverse array of educational options," according to an entry in the Federal Register.

Some claim the move could result in institutionalized discrimination, however.

Dartmouth public policy professor Robert Binswanger called the recommendation "a bad policy."

"It goes against the Civil Rights Act," Binswanger said. "It is not an appropriate activity for the Department of Education."

He also believes the policy could set a dangerous precedent of segregation not only by gender but by other qualifiers.

"I think it opens the door for people who want all-white schools," Binswanger said. "If you are going to single out groups, it can't be limited to just gender."

The Department declared itself "mindful of congressional concerns" at the time of Title IX creation, that some schools discriminated against girls and women, but said in the Register that this was no longer applicable.

"Rather than being motivated by outdated notions regarding the limitations or limited goals of members of one sex," the Register entry reads, "some of these efforts aim to provide new and better ways to help all students learn and meet high standards."

Single-sex public schools and classrooms can be a viable option, Lauren Kennedy '02 said. Kennedy recently wrote a thesis dealing with issues of public single-sex education.

"It presents the opportunity to focus on particular issues," Kennedy said. "It gives the students a safe space where they can concentrate on their work."

As a part of her project, Kennedy visited a girl's public academy in New York, which she said offered "unbelievable opportunities." Currently, there are only 11 public single sex schools nationwide, according to The New York Times.

Care should be taken, however, to ensure that equal opportunities exist for each sex, Kennedy said. She cited a California district that created identical single-sex public schools to justify the feasibility of truly equal sex-segregated schools.

"Provided that it is done in an equitable manner, it is an option that should be provided," Kennedy said.

Binswanger, however, said that while he supports educational choice, single-sex schools should not be viewed as new alternatives.

"There aren't very many single-sex schools, but they do exist -- as exceptions, not as models for the future."

The use of single-sex classrooms within otherwise coeducational schools is also of questionable benefit, he said. He cited the example of sex-education classes, which were once taught in single gender environments but are now commonly integrated. In these classes, it was often found that co-ed classes offered more opportunity for discussion and understanding, he said.

Kennedy acknowledged that it is not always clear whether single-sex schools do well because of the same gender learning environment or other factors.

"If you have a really good co-ed school, they do just as good a job," Kennedy said, adding that single-sex schools and classes should never be mandatory.

"Any single-sex options should be just that, options," Kennedy said. "The idea is to give people more choices, not take them away."