Schools Just for Girls

First Lady Laura Bush, a former schoolteacher, has been an advocate for education and reading. She helped support the USAID in receiving a 20 percent increase in funds for education worldwide last year. First Lady Bush also supported the approval of a $300,000 grant program to provide students in Afghanistan with school uniforms. Other leaders in our country have also been major advocates of education. On January 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Under this Act there is a provision, sponsored by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (Texas), which authorizes local education agencies to use local innovative education funds provided by the federal government to establish programs to provide same-gender schools and classrooms. The purpose of this provision is to support school districts efforts to improve children’s access to quality education and to provide parents with various methods to educate their children.1 Research on this issue is very divided as to whether single-gender schools and classrooms are beneficial to children or not. Some argue that separating students by gender does not ensure quality education, while others argue that student performances have greatly improved in single-gender schools.

The Women’s Leadership School in East Harlem, New York, the only one of its kind in the city, is an all girls’ school with mostly black and Hispanic students. The school teaches grades 7 through12 and has 365 students. About 67 percent of the students live in families whose income falls below the poverty line. So far the school has had two graduating classes, and all the graduating students went on to four-year colleges, except for one who joined the Air Force and another who joined the Navy.2 This school has been a model of success in single gender schooling. Some studies have found that girls who attend single-gender schools are more prone to adopt leadership roles, to become engaged in math and science, and to show improvements in self-esteem. Other advantages of single-gender schools are that they provide a more comfortable space for girls to learn and also provide ways to better manage classroom behavior by reducing distractions and adolescent peer pressures.3

Although some research shows that single-gender schools have positive outcomes, other studies have argued that research regarding single-gender schools have been inconclusive. Public schools in 15 states experimented with single-gender education. California was the first state to experiment with single-gender public education by opening single-gender academies for both boys and girls in six districts. After three years of operation, five of the six districts closed their single-gender academies. A major study conducted on single-gender schools in California found that educators ensured that equal resources were offered to boys and girls, but were less concerned about gender bias. The study also found that traditional gender stereotypes were often reinforced in the single-gender schools and that for most administrators, single-gender schooling was a vehicle for meeting at-risk students’ needs and not an end in itself.4

Maggie Ford, president of the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation (AAUW), stated, "What research shows is that separating by sex is not the solution to gender inequity in education. When elements of a good education are present, girls and boys succeed." A research done by AAUW, Separted by Sex: A Critical Look at Single-Sex Education for Girls, found that there have been positive results of single-gender schooling, such as, a heightened regard by girls for math and science; an increase in girls risk-taking; and an increased sense of confidence. However, the study asks whether these positive outcomes for girls are a result of single-gender programs or factors that promote good education such as small classes and schools, intensive academic curriculum and a controlled and disciplined environment. 5

Title IX under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, generally prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance. This provision does exempt from its coverage the admissions practices of non-vocational elementary and secondary schools. In conjunction with this, the regulations do not prohibit states from adopting single-gender admissions policies. As research shows, specific guidelines need to be put in place for single-gender schools. Unfortunately, these guidelines do not exist as of now. U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige has stated that the issue of single-gender education "is a complex and sensitive issue that requires a considerable amount of consultation." There is a proposal to amend or clarify the Title IX regulations. Secretary Paige has invited state and local administrators, parents, teachers, community leaders, paraprofessionals, members of local boards of education, charter school operations, public chartering agencies, civil rights groups and educational organizations to provide him with suggestions about whether, as well as under what circumstances, single-gender classes should be permitted under the Title IX regulations. After receiving feedback from the public, the U.S. Department of Education will determine what types of specific regulations and guidelines will be included in Title IX.6

The research that is available does show that girls have benefited from single-gender classroom situations. Unfortunately, it is not known whether they have benefited because of being in a single-gender school or because of other factors that contribute to successful education, such as, more available resources, stricter curriculums and smaller class sizes.

Action:

C Learn more about single-gender schools by contacting your local Department of Education. You may also contact Jeanette J. Lim at the Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Room 5036, Mary E. Switzer Building, Washington, DC 20202-1100. You may also contact her by telephone at (202) 205-8635 or 1-800-421-3481.

C Write to the U.S. Department of Education and ask them to provide guidelines that ensure gender equity. You may address all comments about the U.S. Department of Education’s intent to regulate Title XI of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 by writing to Gerald A. Reynolds, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Room 5000, Mary E. Switzer Building, Washington, DC 20202-1100. You may also send an e-mail message to ocr@ed.gov . For all comments submitted by letter and e-mail please include the term "Single-sex Notice of Intent Comments."

 


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