Single-Sex Public Schools OK: Education Department

Published January 1, 2007

The U.S. Department of Education has given school districts nationwide the power to create single-sex public schools and classes. The ruling took effect November 24, the first federal rule to address gender in the classroom since Title IX banned sex discrimination in learning institutions more than three decades ago.

It’s a policy Heritage Foundation education analyst Dan Lips said should be embraced.

“The Department of Education’s decision to allow public schools to provide voluntary same-sex schools or classes should be welcomed by parents,” said Lips. “The new rules will give families more options to find a quality learning environment for their children.”

Increasing Choice

The voluntary aspect of the ruling is key, agreed Neal McCluskey, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Education Freedom.

“If public school districts required it, that would be different, as it would not tailor to the needs of the child,” McCluskey explained. “People with wealth have been choosing single-sex schools because they had the choice, but the poor couldn’t. Now poorer people can make that choice as well, so I don’t see it as a step backwards.

“The original point of laws like Title IX was to prevent discrimination against women, minorities, and the poor,” McCluskey noted. “But where that sort of legislation went wrong is that it took away free will.”

The National Association for Single Sex Public Education, an advocacy group based in Maryland, reported a June 2005 study by Cambridge University researchers found single-sex classes boosted boys’ performance in English and foreign languages, while girls improved in science and math.

Closing Gaps

Lips said the better performance reported in the Cambridge University study doesn’t necessarily mean the sexes learn differently, but reflects an apparent “learning gap” between American boys and girls.

“Girls are far outpacing boys in the classroom,” Lips explained. “They have higher graduation rates. The percentage of women enrolled in college is significantly higher than for men. I think we all need to recognize that something needs to change to improve learning opportunities for America’s boys.”

Although educators and the general public may be reluctant to acknowledge differences between boys and girls, McCluskey said it is important to recognize reality without going overboard.

“I think that we would be crazy to say there is no difference between boys and girls in terms of education,” McCluskey said. “You will find they have different interests and do things differently. Individual children should be able to go to schools that fit their learning styles best.

“But the difference between boys and girls is not the reason to support the new ruling,” McCluskey noted. “The reason to back it is because there is now another choice that allows children to learn in an environment that best suits their needs.”

Dropping Out

Supporters of single-sex education say dropout rates could decline if those kinds of classes and schools increase. If students are more comfortable in school, advocates say, they’ll stay in and graduate.

“I think that single-sex schools could lower dropout rates,” said McCluskey. “But I think it could do so to the extent that it’s an additional choice. Basically, kids that will do better in single-sex schools will stay in school longer because they are doing better. I can be sure that dropout rates would not increase as a result of same-sex schooling options.”

Critics worry that single-sex classes and schools do not adequately reflect the real world. Because most colleges and workplaces include people of both sexes, these critics say single-sex education may not prepare students for what they will encounter in most environments.

McCluskey disagreed.

“I have not seen any studies or data that say that kids who go to single-sex schools have problems socializing,” McCluskey said. “School is not really like society in general–it’s very artificial to force children to go to a school with kids from their area and that are exactly their age for 13 years. The real world consists of people working with others of all ages and different geographical areas.

“Socialization in schools is unrealistic in general,” McCluskey said. “And saying this will affect them in the workplace is silly.”

Because individual school districts have the choice to convert part or all of their curricula to single-sex programs, they will bear any cost burden associated with it. Many school districts are seeking parental input to decide the issue, McCluskey said.

Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Chicago.

For more information …

“Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance; Final Rule,” U.S. Department of Education, Federal Register, October 25, 2006,

Title IX,