Single-Sex Classes in Public Secondary Schools: Maximizing the Value of a Public Education for the Nation's Students
Johnson, Ashley Elizabeth, Vanderbilt Law Review
Throughout the United States, school districts are struggling to educate their students in the face of drug problems, violence, and deteriorated home situations that permeate the lives of large numbers of today's teenagers.1 Many parents likewise face a daunting battle in helping their children attain an education that will enable those children to move beyond what their parents achieved financially.2 Additionally, recent economic downturns mean states have even less money to spend on education, forcing the quality of education in some already inadequate schools to fall further.3 Meanwhile, studies show that American children have fallen behind many of their foreign counterparts in academic evaluations.
In light of these issues, many parents and schools are exploring alternative methods of educating students. Perhaps the best-known initiative is the school voucher movement in Cleveland, which the Supreme Court recently upheld.4 Charter schools, too, are becoming more popular with parents dissatisfied with their children's public school educations.5 Additionally, parents are becoming more likely to teach their children at home.6 Legislators and others interested in traditional public schools cite smaller class sizes and higher teacher salaries as ways of promoting achievement.7
One recently revived possibility for improving secondary education is the creation of single-sex classes and schools.8 Proponents argue that single-sex education decreases classroom discrimination, improves educational experiences for both boys and girls, and gives parents more choices from which to select the system of education that works best for their children.9 Proponents also believe that separating students by sex could increase the options available to poor and minority children, whose parents may not otherwise be able to afford the single-sex education traditionally offered only in private schools.10
Opponents contend that single-sex education presents the same legal issue as did Brown v. Board of Education: state-endorsed segregation of students.11 Segregation by gender, in opponents' eyes, threatens to erase the gains women have made over the past century.12 Opponents fear that men who have attended a single-sex school, and thereby have lacked contact with talented women, will be unable to recognize such women as equals. Likewise, girls in a singlesex environment and girls dealing with boys from a single-sex environment may find themselves limited to stereotypical gender roles.13
Before states and school districts can begin to address the social desirability of single-sex education, the legality and constitutional legitimacy of such programs must be resolved. Current Title IX regulations place limits on the ability of schools to restrict student access to classes on the basis of sex.14 Any state-sponsored sex discrimination also raises Equal Protection questions under the Fourteenth Amendment.15 While single-sex schools are permissible under the current regulations interpreting Title IX, school districts nervous about expensive lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the schools often avoid them.16
While the constitutionality of single-sex programs has been addressed by multiple commentators, several important issues have been neglected. Single-sex schools have received the bulk of the scholarly attention. Single-sex classes are either lumped under the heading of single-sex education or not addressed at all.17 This Note details the strengths of single-sex classes. It then goes a step beyond establishing that single-sex programs in secondary schools can be constitutional to recommending steps that local governments and districts should take to comply with the mandates established by the Supreme Court in Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan and United States v. Virginia.
The remainder of this Note will proceed as follows. Part II describes the legislative and regulatory position of single-sex education. …