PASSING love notes in class won't help boys get a passing grade. And girls who fret about what schoolboys may think of their makeup will likely need to take a makeup class at summer school.
Such truisms about mixed-sex classrooms often are seen as just the necessary early-life skirmishes in the battle of the sexes. You can't live with coed classes, you can't live without them. They teach worthwhile social skills and respect for sexual equality, even if all the adolescent angst of putting girls and boys in confined spaces for hours distracts them from learning.
The alternative is single-sex schools. But even they have an up- the-down-staircase quality to them. They can free a boy or girl from many gender distractions, such as clashing ideas about competition and collaboration, and allow them to blossom more easily into adulthood. But they can also reinforce inequality in young minds. And teachers often end up just reinforcing gender stereotypes anyway.
For parents who can afford it, a private single-sex school for a child who needs one often fits the bill. But under federal law, Public schools generally aren't allowed to discriminate by sex, out of concern that educational resources and quality can't really be equalized in separate schools.
A new federal education law, however, has permitted the Education Department to come up with guidelines allowing single-sex schools in certain circumstances. …