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Heroes, Villains, and Single Sex Schools?

By: Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEOPosted on October 18, 2007 Issues: Education & Title IX

by Fatima Goss Graves, Senior Counsel
National Women’s Law Center

A blogger at Education and the Environment recently considered what the 2008 election could mean for single sex schools. A very important question (if you ask me), but I have to quibble with both the post’s framing of the issue and its characterization of the National Women’s Law Center’s position on single sex schools.

Setting up a “heroes” v. “villains” juxtaposition –- and I have to admit I’m not quite sure who is supposed to be the hero and who is supposed to be the villain –- the post noted that Senators Hillary Clinton, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Barbara Mikulski all support single sex schools and then stated that women’s organizations like the American Association for University Women and The National Women’s Law Center oppose single sex schools. Really? That’s news to me as an education and employment attorney at the Center. Although I can’t speak definitively for AAUW or for the members this post mentions, I can say that the blog overstates the Center’s position on single sex schools.

The Supreme Court has held that schools may offer single sex education to compensate for gender-based barriers in education. We are not opponents of such programs; in fact, we recognize that single sex education in these circumstances can be beneficial and lawful. The Center does, however, oppose the creation and expansion of single sex education when it violates the good ole’ U.S. Constitution and Title IX. A not so small detail -– given that last year, the Department of Education invited school districts to throw these laws out and create separate programs based on stereotypes and assumptions.

Unfortunately some schools have leapt at the chance to try out their possibly well-meaning but untested beliefs about the interest and abilities of boys and girls and have created some very troubling programs.  I don’t know about you, but when I hear that educators are using the single sex format to develop lessons plans focusing on make up for girls and action novels for boys, I’m reminded that we still have a long way to go.

The only question –- does that make me a hero or a villain? Maybe it just makes me an advocate for equality -– a place I’m quite comfortable to be.