Opening Statement-Ellen Wahl (
April 20, 1998 9:30 AM

Hi everyone. Ellen Wahl here. I'm delighted to join you. Let me say
up front that I'm a generalist - applied researcher, equity advocate,
used to have an opinion on everything but now that I'm older I don't
know anything anymore. And I am not a lawyer. Most of my recent work
in this area has been with Pat Campell of Campbell-Kibler Associates.

First, I appreciated the two-part focus on the legality of single sex
education and its efficacy and desirability in improving outcomes.
I'm particularly concerned that we look at both, separately and in
interaction, and recognize that at times they might be in conflict.
That said, I do think, as Pat Campbell and I wrote in an article for
the New York Law School Journal of Human Rights, our policy decisions
should be evidence-based, driven by what we know from the research.

The recently-released AAUW Educational Foundation report in which Pat
and I participated was focused on that from the outset. What does the
research tell us about single sex schools and single sex classrooms,
especially regarding their effects on girls, the AAUW asked us. Our
position was that the research base is fairly limited. Most of the
school comparisons have by necessity been conducted in parochial
and/or private schools, or done outside the United States, in
countries where single sex schools are a regular part of the public
education system. Careful studies of the effects of single sex
classrooms are even more limited. In both cases, where there are
data, the results are inconsistent and confusing. Rarely have the
studies looked at the content, pedagogy, teacher, resources, and
motivating reasons for the single sex arrangement, all of which would
be reasonable factors to consider in assessing outcomes and efficacy.

Pat and I wondered why, then, if we really know relatively little from
empirical data, there is a rush to single sex settings as a solution
to educational inequities in access and outcome. We posited that
there were at least four questionable assumptions: that girls and
boys are completely different, that boys will be boys and little can
be done to change the educational environment, that gender equity is
about fairness to girls, and that our efforts toward equitable
coeducation have failed, leaving no recourse other than single sex
solutions. We disputed those assumptions, and concluded that the
focus of both research and policy needs to be what constitutes a good
education, "does a good education differ with respect to gender and
equity, and can a good education be considered excellent if it isn't
equitable - if it doesn't reach the vast majority of students - girls
and boys of all colors and abilities?"

Probably more relevant to this discussion is our conclusion from our
NY Law Journal paper, in which the "what we know" question is
juxtaposed with the legal issues. We said,

"In the research and the public discussion causality has too often
been ascribed simply to the gender of the students rather than a host
of interrelated factors. The content, practice, and organization of
an educational setting matter, as do the climate and culture_Too much
of the literature and discussion compares schools providing different
levels of content and pedagogy and concludes that differences are due
to the schools' gender composition_If future studies examine the
substance of the educational process and offerings in relation to
resources and gender composition, and look at single-sex and coed
settings where there is minimal harassment and positive support of
both genders, we can anticipate that we will learn a great deal more
about strategies that serve both girls and boys well." We then said,
however, that within that conclusion was an especially important
caveat, that "in United States education, separate has never been
equal. From the first Public-Free Schools to the Citadel, single-sex
male schools have had more money, more resources and more status than
single-sex female schools. The presence or absence of significant
financial resources has a significant effect on the schooling that is
offered." The dilemma we shared with the AAUW roundtable was that we
had "serious questions about the wisdom of proposing research about a
strategy - single-sex classrooms in public education - that has
questionable legality and questionable evidence of success. Devoting
public dollars to this effort may not be an appropriate use of
taxpayer funds."

Our final call was to not polarize this discussion into a debate,
although the legal questions certainly push toward this adversarial
structure. Nevertheless, my position, and I think I speak for Pat as
well, is that there is a great deal that we don't know about the
efficacy and outcomes for girls and boys in single sex settings, and
that our goal needs to be high quality educational access and outcomes
for both female and male students.

It's not as if I don't know and love single sex settings, at least
under some conditions and in some forms. I spent ten years as program
developer and director for Girls Incorporated, focusing on developing
informal educational programs for girls. The motto we developed during
my tenure was helping girls grow up "strong, smart, and bold." We
looked to case law about remedying inequities, and about compensating
for the effects of past discrimination. These arguments made sense
then and still do, and so did the idea that my real goal was to create
a society, and institutions and environments within it, that was
promoting and supporting of all groups and both genders. In the
meantime, there were a variety of strategies to pursue, some of which
might involve separation along the way toward a truly inclusive
society. But therein lies my own confusion and conflict. I do see a
difference between informal,out-of-school programs, and the public
education system that has a responsibility to each and every child.

I'm looking forward to learning from you all.

Ellen Wahl

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