Single-sex schools: separate but equal?
A new study debunks the benefits of segregation by sex in the classroom, and says the practice does more harm than good. Should it be illegal?

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  • Single-sex schools: separate but equal?

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  • A new study debunks the benefits of segregation by sex in the classroom

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  • Single-sex schooling is not for everyone. But it can help some students to become more focused and well-rounded

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Single-sex programs in the public schools are legal. The 1972 Title IX equity law explicitly protects single-sex academies, and Title IX regulations permit single-sex programs in coed schools that are voluntary and provided equally. Moreover, the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act endorses innovative single-sex classes and academies. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who introduced the provision with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, explained: "We know that single-sex schools and classes can help young people, boys and girls, improve their achievement."

Critics of single-sex education cannot reasonably claim that it is illegal--but they can and do argue that it should be. For them, girls and boys schools are like racial segregation. But race and sex are different, as the Supreme Court has emphasized and as most everyone recognizes. Mandatory racial separatism demeans human beings and forecloses life prospects. Single-sex education is freely chosen and has helped millions of pupils flourish intellectually and socially. Boys and girls, taken as groups, have much in common but also have different interests, propensities and needs. No sensible person thinks of the Camp Fire Girls or Boy Scouts as gender apartheid.

"Single-sex schooling is not for everyone, but it is legal and cannot be compared to racial segregation." --Christina Hoff SommersSingle-sex schooling is not for everyone. But it can help some students to become more focused and well-rounded. Girls cannot leave it to boys to dissect the frog, and boys cannot leave it to girls to edit the school newspaper. When a 2007 British study compared life outcomes for thousands of middle-aged graduates of single-sex and coed schools, it found that "gender stereotypes" were "exacerbated" in coed schools and "moderated" in single-sex schools. In single-sex schools, males were more likely to focus on language and literature, and females on math and science. And for girls, "single-sex schooling was linked to higher wages."

The research on single-sex education is far from conclusive. But the option has produced many heartening successes in the public system--especially in poorer districts where parents lack the resources to send their children to private single-sex schools. American education today needs more options, not fewer.

Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at AEI.

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