Pressure to improve academic performance in public schools is reviving the debate over single-sex education. According to the Education Department, there are about 750 public schools with at least one single-sex class and 850 entirely single-sex public schools. Catholic schools, the last holdout, are slowly becoming co-ed (“Xaverian High School in Brooklyn to open doors to female students,” New York Daily News, Mar. 7).
The situation in public schools has led the American Civil Liberties Union to file complaints against four Florida school districts for violating federal civil rights law, which requires that public schools segregating by sex must offer “substantially equal” benefits for the opposite sex. Although research shows insignificant academic benefits from segregating by gender, if parents believe that their children learn better in single-sex classes, who is being harmed? I made this point before (“Single-Sex Schools Are Sexy Once Again,” Education Week, Apr. 27, 2011).
Segregation by sex is not tantamount to segregation by race. The latter was intended to ensure inequality; the former is intended to promote equality. I say that because some boys and some girls learn more when they are with their own gender. It’s not stereotyping to acknowledge that reality. The key is to ask what is best for each student. If school districts can demonstrate that single-sex classes result in improved outcomes, I think they will prevail in any lawsuit. For example, the Ginn Academy in Cleveland is the first and only public high school in Ohio just for boys. It posts an 88 percent graduation rate, compared with 64 percent for high schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (“No Child Left Behind Law Faces Its Own Reckoning,” The New York Times, Mar. 20).
Catholic schools for the most part have provided students with a solid education by segregating the sexes. Unless financial reasons are involved, I see no reason why they would want to make their schools co-ed. However, they may want to make greater efforts to enroll more Hispanic students (“Feliz Día de San Patricio,” The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 17).
In the final analysis, parents choose to send their children to single-sex schools because they feel that such an environment is most conducive to learning. What’s wrong with that?
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.