Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Single-Sex Education Leaves Title IX Behind?

Stateline.org is reporting that we can soon expect the Department of Education to implement proposed revisions to the Title IX regulations that would allow schools to experiment more liberally with single-sex classrooms. Currently, the regulations implementing Title IX's requirement of gender inclusive classrooms allow only phys ed and sex ed classes to exclude students on the basis on sex. But the 2001 statute known as No Child Left Behind permits schools to use their federal funding to experiment with single-sex classrooms in other contexts, so the Department of Education points out that regulatory change is a therefore in order.

Proponets of single-sex education argue that schools should have the freedom to experiment with curricular techniques in order to find new ways of maximizing school's overall effectiveness. But experimenting with single-sex classrooms, however, risks that schools will rely on stereotypes about how all girls learn and how all boys learn to determine how classes should being taught. If a teacher believes that "girls learn better sitting" and "boys learn better moving," (as proposed by the National Association for Single Sex Public Education) that teacher might structure classes so that girls learn while sitting and boys learn while moving. Too bad for the girl who likes to move and the boy who likes to sit and think things through. (Doesn't everybody know someone like this?)

If single-sex classrooms become a regulatory exception to Title IX, schools are going to have to carefully filter the trendy rhetoric and "popular science" about the victimhood of boys. Stateline's article links to a comprehensive report by nonpartisan policy think-tank Education Sector. Titled "The Evidence Suggests Otherwise: The Truth About Boys and Girls," this report suggests that people are confusing girls' improvement with boys' failure. In reality, boys' academic performance has, in absolute terms, been improving in most areas and holding steady in others. Even measuring boys' improvement in relative terms, the report finds no radical or recent decline in boys’ performance as compared to girls'. And the report dispells any sort of tendency to genderalize, stating, "Nor is there a clear overall trend—boys score higher in some areas, girls in others."

In light of this reality, it behooves schools in the new regulatory regime to experiment cautiously. The Feminist Majority Foundation's Education Equity Director, Sue Klein, offers specific suggestions on how to reduce some of the risks of experimenting with sex-segretated classrooms:
  • Provide notice and opportunity to comment.
  • Conclude that past gender discrimination remains.
  • Explain how the single-gender activity is intended to eliminate specific past gender discrimination.
  • Ensure that the single-gender activity is the exception, not the rule and is not used for administrative convenience such as discipline.
  • Evaluate to determine when the under-performance ends, so the single-gender treatment ends.

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