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The New York Times
October 25, 2006
Federal Rules Back Single-Sex Public Education
By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24— The Bush administration is giving public school districts broad new latitude to expand the number of single-sex classes, and even schools, in what is widely considered the most significant policy change on the issue since a landmark federal law barring sex discrimination in education more than 30 years ago.
Two years in the making, the new rules, announced Tuesday by the Education Department, will allow districts to create single-sex schools and classes as long as enrollment is voluntary. School districts that go that route must also make coeducational schools and classes of “substantially equal” quality available for members of the excluded sex.
The federal action is likely to accelerate efforts by public school systems to experiment with single-sex education, particularly among charter schools. Across the nation, the number of public schools exclusively for boys or girls has risen from 3 in 1995 to 241 today, said Leonard Sax, executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. That is a tiny fraction of the approximately 93,000 public schools across the country.
“You’re going to see a proliferation of these,” said Paul Vallas, chief of schools in Philadelphia, where there are four single-sex schools and plans to open two more. “There’s a lot of support for this type of school model in Philadelphia.”
Until now, Mr. Vallas said, there had been a threat of legal challenge that had delayed, for example, a boys charter school from opening in Philadelphia this September. New York City has nine single-sex public schools, most of which opened in the past four years.
While the move was sought by some conservatives and urban educators, and had backing from both sides of the political aisle, a number of civil rights and women’s rights groups condemned the change.
“It really is a serious green light from the Department of Education to re-instituting official discrimination in schools around the country,” said Marcia Greenberger, a co-president of the National Women’s Law Center.
Under Title IX, the 1972 law that banned sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funds, single-sex classes and extracurricular activities are largely limited to physical education classes that include contact sports and to sex education.
To open schools exclusively for boys or girls, a district has until now had to show a “compelling reason,” for example, that it was acting to remedy past discrimination.
But a new attitude began to take hold with the passage of the No Child Left Behind law in 2002 when women senators from both parties came out in support of same-sex education and asked the Education Department to draft guidelines to permit their growth.
The new rules, first proposed by the Education Department in 2004, are designed to bring Title IX into conformity with a section of the No Child Left Behind law that called on the department to promote single-sex schools.
The interest in separating boys from girls in the classroom is part of a movement to allow more experimentation in public schools.
Although the research is mixed, some studies suggest low-income children in urban schools learn better when separated from the opposite sex. Concerns about boys’ performance in secondary education has also driven some of the interest same-sex education.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings described the changes as part of a greater effort to expand educational options in the public sector. “Every child should receive a high quality education in America, and every school district deserves the tools to provide it,” Ms. Spellings said.
She said that research supported offering single-sex education, and that the changes would not water down the protections of Title IX.
But Stephanie Monroe, who heads the Education Department’s office of civil rights, acknowledged the equivocal nature of the department’s own research on the issue.
“Educational research, though it’s ongoing and shows some mixed results, does suggest that single-sex education can provide some benefits to some students, under certain circumstances,” she said.
Although the changes announced Tuesday will not officially take effect until Nov. 24, school districts, including in New York City, had anticipated the new rules and some opened single-sex schools on the presumption of today’s changes.
Kelly Devers, a spokeswoman for the New York City schools, said the system’s lawyers planned to examine the rules to see how they expanded options for principals. Until now, public school districts that offered a school to one sex generally had to provide a comparable school for students of the other sex. The new rules, however, say districts can simply offer such students the option to attend comparable coeducational schools.
Critics argue that the changes contradicted the intent of Title IX and would not withstand a legal challenge — a point Education Department officials disputed.
Nancy Zirkin, vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, an umbrella organization representing about 200 civil rights groups, said the new regulations “violate both Title IX and the equal protection clause of the Constitution.”
“Segregation is totally unacceptable in the context of race,” she said. “Why in the world in the context of gender would it be acceptable?”
The American Civil Liberties Union signaled it might consider going to court. “We are certainly in many states looking at schools that are segregating students by sex and considering whether any of them are ripe for a challenge,” said Emily Martin, deputy director of the Women’s Rights Project at the A.C.L.U..
Tom Carroll, chairman and founder of the Brighter Choice Charter School for Boys and the Brighter Choice Charter School for Girls in Albany, said the new regulations gave greater legal protections to single-sex schools that had, until now, operated under the threat of lawsuits by such groups. “The A.C.L.U. now has a dramatically steeper hill to climb to upset the apple cart on single-sex schools,” Mr. Carroll said.
He said his schools’ research showed boys were stronger in math and girls were stronger in literacy. But in recently released test scores, he said, his schools did better than any other public schools in Albany. “Paradoxically, by educating them separately,” he said, “we were able to do much to reverse the gender gaps that typically leave girls behind in math and boys behind in literacy.”
Correction: Oct. 26, 2006
A front-page article yesterday about changes in federal rules that give public school districts new latitude to expand the number of single-sex schools referred incorrectly in some copies to an organization whose director spoke about the expansion of such schools in recent years. It is the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, not the National Association for Single Sex Schools.
Single-sex school restrictions ease
Updated 10/25/2006 11:26 AM ET
By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
School districts across the nation this fall will have unprecedented freedom to open up all-girls' or all-boys' schools and classes under sweeping new regulations announced on Tuesday by U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.
The shift is the biggest in 31 years and for the first time allows schools to separate students by gender if they believe it helps — a standard that is under debate in the existing research.
Participation in such programs would be voluntary, but schools choosing to separate a class for one sex wouldn't have to provide an equivalent class for the other sex. They'd simply have to offer a "substantially equal" coed class in the same subject.
The rules, which take effect Nov. 24, also clarify rules on creating entire single-sex public schools.
Since the current rules went into effect in 1975, single-sex classes have been allowed only on a limited basis, such as in charter schools, sex education courses or gym classes involving contact sports. The Bush administration, supported by both Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Democratic New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, has favored loosening the rules.
About 240 public schools offer same-sex coursework, up from just three in 1995, says Leonard Sax of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. He thinks about 1 in 10 of the nation's 90,000 public schools could decide to become single-sex.
Critics, such as the American Association of University Women and the American Civil Liberties Union, call the changes troublesome.
Emily Martin of the ACLU Women's Rights Project said the new regulations "represent a through-the-looking-glass interpretation" of the federal Title IX law, which prohibits excluding students from school programs on the basis of sex. She noted that schools could now "separate girls and boys for virtually any reason they can dream up — including outdated and dangerous gender stereotypes."
Spellings said research shows that "some students may learn better" in single-sex environments, but other administration officials on Tuesday admitted that the best research offers only tepid support. A 2005 analysis of current research, cited on the department's website, noted that "any positive effects" of single-sex schooling on long-term academic achievement "are not readily apparent."
The analysis found no differences on college test scores, graduation rates or graduate school attendance and bemoaned "the lack of high-quality research on these important criteria." And it found no research on how single-sex schooling affects critical factors such as teen pregnancy rates, differential treatment by teachers, parental satisfaction and school bullying.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Stephanie Monroe, who heads the department's civil rights office, minimized the research, saying that as a parent she'd want all options available to her child.
"The department believes that this is an option that should be made available," she said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Posted 10/24/2006 8:28 PM ET
Updated 10/25/2006 11:26 AM ET
Secretary Spellings Announces More Choices in Single Sex Education Amended Regulations Give Communities
More Flexibility to Offer Single Sex Schools and Classes