Oct. 26, 2006 – The US Department of Educationâ€™s change to a law forbidding sex discrimination in federally funded schools has infuriated rights groups, who say the change is a step toward separate but unequal education.
The Department announced yesterday that it is amending education regulations to give public districts the "flexibility" to provide students access to single-sex schools, classes and extracurricular activities. The new regulations will take effect in late November.
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in a press statement yesterday that the Department was making the changes partly because "research shows that some students may learn better in single-sex education environments."
Studies reviewed by the DOE revealed mixed results for single-sex classes. A DOE analysis of previous studies comparing the merits of coeducational and single-sex studies, published in 2005, concluded that the results are ambiguous.
The changes will allow co-ed schools to offer single-sex classes or extracurricular activities if it will achieve "an important governmental or educational objective."
Additionally, the regulations will allow federally funded districts to operate non-vocational single-sex schools if those institutions provide "substantially equal opportunities" for students of the other sex. Those opportunities could take the form of another single-sex school or a co-educational school. In the past, single-sex schools had to come in pairs, one exclusively for pupils of each sex.
The Department said both male and female students must be treated in an "evenhanded manner" under the new rules.
But rights groups fear that separating classes and school activities based on sex could lead to discrimination. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, warned in a press statement of the potential risks of one group of students being "left behind" while another "advances."
"Segregation was wrong in the past, and it's wrong now," Gandy said.
Critics also worry about the implications of single-sex school on gender socialization.
A 2001 study financed by the Ford and Spencer Foundations, which evaluated twelve single-sex schools in California, found that gender stereotyping that occurred in the schools meant "both boys and girls lost out."
"Rather than finding a setting that was emancipatory, we found that teachersâ€™ constructions of gender shaped curriculum, instruction and discipline in ways that often reinforced gender stereotypes," the study said.