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Sugar & Spice – We Can Do Better, Right?

By: Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEOPosted on March 5, 2009 Issues: Education & Title IX

by Fatima Goss Graves, Senior Counsel
and Lara S. Kaufmann, Senior Counsel
National Women’s Law Center  

This week NBC’s Today Show profiled a single sex school located in suburban St. Louis. The segment began with a video showing boys engaging in calisthenics and the girls sitting quietly at their desks reading and writing. Boys were permitted to learn anywhere in the classroom – under their desks, in tents, standing on chairs… no similar alternative learning opportunities were provided for girls.  And the reading materials for the two genders were quite different – boys read stories featuring monsters while girls read stories featuring movie stars. Yet when the school administrator was interviewed, she insisted that the school avoided stereotyping in the classroom – huh? 

While we appreciate that the show provided more than one perspective – Latifah Lyles, VP of NOW, definitely provided an important public service by explaining that single sex schools are not a silver bullet for our educational woes. But there was a significant gap in the coverage.  Not once did the show mention that many of the programs in question (even potentially the one profiled in the piece) may not be lawful. This is no small oversight. It is critical that school districts take this into account when taking the plunge into single sex programming

Here’s the thing – we’re not saying we oppose all single sex programs. To the contrary, as we’ve said in the past, there are single sex programs that don’t operate based on stereotypes about the abilities and needs of their students and that may meet the very rigorous standards of the Constitution and Title IX (not to mention the many state laws that apply). But it makes no sense to engage in a debate about the value of single sex schools without even mentioning whether they are permitted under the law.  We’re convinced that the media can do better next time.