Single-Sex Education; Increasing Options for Students

Article excerpt


The cheer of Christmas may wear off fast for some folks in Washington. The city is talking about closing nearly two dozen public schools, and for many parents it will be tough to see their neighborhood school shuttered. But the closings, spurred by declining enrollments and mandates of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, also present a unique opportunity. Fresh ideas will fill old buildings. One approach making a comeback in public schools around the country is single-sex education. It deserves to be an option in some of the new District schools.

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty and public schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee propose to close currently under-enrolled and chronically failing schools in the District, adding new programs and new schools in their stead. Explaining the decision, the mayor and chancellor said that they sought to "overhaul the city's poor performing public schools by delivering new, innovative programs." Included in the closure proposal are plans to introduce Montessori education in at least two schools, a "gifted education" program in another and increased art and music programs in several more.

The closures are driven in part by NCLB, which requires public schools to make major changes after five years of failure to achieve adequate academic progress. Mrs. Rhee has suggested that the failing schools could be turned over to an outside education management firm, which would run the schools as public charters. Charter schools, freed from a one-size-fits-all model and much of the city's notorious school bureaucracy, have more flexibility to utilize the "new, innovative programs" which are essential for reform. Thanks to NCLB, one of those programs could be single-sex education.

Educating boys and girls in separate schools, or in separate classes in the same school, has a long tradition in American education, and is an option widely available in public schools in other countries, including England and Australia. But Title IX, the 37-word amendment to the American Higher Education Act of 1965 which so controversially affected schools' athletic teams, sounded the death knell for single-sex public education; by 1995 only three public schools nationwide offered such options.

However last fall, supported by the 2001 NCLB law, the U.S. Department of Education approved changes to federal Title IX regulations. The changes give public schools, especially charter schools, the flexibility to implement an all-boys and all-girls strategy. …