Separating the sexes: a new direction for public education?
Bush administration's plan coincides with rising popularity of such schools.
(Page 2 of 2)
Studies have shown that teachers tend to call on boys more often than girls, and that girls, in turn, often fall silent in classrooms filled with eager boys. But at Girls High, there is no such intimidation, they say.Skip to next paragraph
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Dr. Sax, director of NASSPE, says that Monique and her classmates are more comfortable in a same-sex environment due to biological differences between boys and girls that should not be ignored.
Research indicates that girls learn best in a friendly environment, says Sax. At the Young Women's Leadership School in New York, an East Harlem public school founded in 1996 that last year sent 100 percent of its students to college, everyone - from the principal to the person who cleans the restroom - is on a first-name basis.
"Girls watch the teacher and then they do what the teacher does," he says.
Not so in a boys' setting, which Sax says requires a different approach altogether and works best when boys are addressed formally. Boys as young as the second grade thrive when a teacher demands: Mr. Jefferson, what's your answer? "If you teach them as men, they're more likely to behave as men," says Sax.
Not everyone agrees with this assessment. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), believes that children may have distinct learning styles - one may learn by hearing, another by seeing, and a third by doing - but she takes exception at the notion that these differences break down strictly along gender lines. Gender is "not a monolith when it comes to learning style or ability," says Ms. Gandy.
She worries that without the collegial relationships boys and girls form in school, they will not develop into men and women who understand and respect one another.
The American Civil Liberties Union shares NOW's concern that the proposed changes to Title IX lack adequate safeguards and could lead down a "slippery slope" to sex discrimination.
Both groups argue that without better research on same-sex public education, Title IX should be left alone.
Even single-sex education advocates agree that the lack of conclusive research is a problem.
Ms. Salomone, the law professor, acknowledges that "We need some empirical support." But she adds that because these programs have been outside the legal bounds for 30 years, there has never been a field for conducting research. She says lower standards of evidence should be accepted, at least for the time being.
Cornelius Riordan, a professor of sociology at Providence College in Rhode Island, was recently commissioned by the Department of Education to examine research on single-sex education in both the public and private sectors in the US and other English-speaking countries, with a particular eye to how it may benefit at-risk students.
Studies that he conducted on Catholic schools in the '70s and '80s showed that African-American students made gains in same-sex schools. In particular, he says that the single-sex setting offers them a sense of power and control they may otherwise lack.
David Sadker, an education professor at American University in Washington, has found that single-sex education has positive effects on girls, as he documented in "Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls," the 1995 book he wrote with his wife.
But this does not make him a supporter of the Department of Education's proposal to change Title IX.
It is "a perverse anniversary of the Brown decision," Mr. Sadker says. "Here, 50 years after Brown, we're actually codifying segregation." He adds, "The problem is fixing the coed classroom, not escaping from it."
Students at Girls High don't suggest that single-sex education is the answer for everyone. But what she does know, says Monique, is that she's very glad Girls High exists for girls like her "who want to get a good education."