[EDEQUITY Equity Now] Thoughts on single sex issue....

From: Linda Shevitz (lshevitz@msde.state.md.us)
Date: Mon May 20 2002 - 16:51:17 EDT

A Title IX issue that is foremost at this time - as mentioned by several
panelists - is the proposal by the U.S. Department of Education to provide
"flexibility" and "expand opportunities" for the creation of single sex
schools and classes. I share the concerns raised by Craig, Barbara, and
Leslie that the "expand opportunities" language is a smokescreen for ways
weaken Title IX. As columnist Ellen Goodman asserted in her recent Op Ed
article (May 18) in the Washington Post, "Back to Separate But Equal," the
government's proposal is, in reality, a revision of federal regulations to
allow funding for "re-segregation." She notes that "coeducation is not the
problem...Education is; and no matter how limber the political stance, you
can't keep moving forward while you are looking backward."

Following are some personal thoughts on the single-sex issue....

*A major concern is the belief I hear expressed that "research
shows" the benefits of single-sex education, and that segregating by sex is
promoted as a panacea for the problems of public education. The type of
research we hear mentioned in our state is an all-male experimental
3rd-grade class in a Baltimore City public school. The class was limited
15 students, was assigned the best teacher in the school, had additional
funds for resources, field trips, etc., and had adult mentors/tutors who
meet regularly on a one-to-one basis with the boys. The fact that the
reading scores improved at the end of the year was attributed to the
all-male class, while no study was conducted to determine if the smaller
class size, expert teacher, or additional resources made the difference in
achievement, or whether a co-ed class with similar resources would have
shown the same improvement in achievement for both boys and girls.

*Another potential problem is the reinforcing of sex-role stereotypes
within single-sex programs. One young man from an all-male private high
school in Maryland reported that he received overt and subtle messages
throughout his school experience that boys were better students and were
more intelligent than girls. He reported that when he entered a co-ed
college he was surprised by "how smart the girls were" in his classes. In
another case, a young woman who transferred to a single-sex high school
found that the math courses offered were not as rigorous as they had been
her co-ed school. She believed that because math was perceived as "hard"
for girls, the instructors in the all-female school watered down the
courses. While these two cases may be isolated ones, the potential for
perpetuating stereotypical expectations is a very real issue in single-sex

*Another troubling aspect of the proposed expansion of single-sex
programs is the assertion that the learning styles of boys and girls are so
different that they are better served being separated. Who is looking at
successful co-educational schools to identify the strategies they use to
address the learning styles of individual students, rather than assuming
that all boy or all girls have the same learning style?

*In addition, we live and interact daily in a co-ed society and a
co-ed world. Public schools should foster climates of mutual social and
intellectual respect between females and males, and not promote the notion
that girls and boys need to be separated from each other in order to avoid
social distractions or gender-based conflicts.

Linda Shevitz, Educational Equity Specialist
Maryland State Department of Education
200 West Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201
410-767-0428; fax - 410-767-0431

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