Single gender schools: Was racism a factor in the South?

The AJC has a good story today on the trend in single-gender public schools.

I attended a single-gender Catholic high school and enjoyed it, but wouldn’t argue strongly for the practice as I didn’t see any academic benefits. In the Northeast, it was very common for Catholic schools to become single gender at the high school level. There were co-ed parish schools through eighth grade, and then girls and boys went in different directions, only to meet up at school dances on weekends.

This piece attributes the rise of single gender schools in the South to an effort to prevent black boys from attending classes with white girls in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional to establish separate public schools for black and white students.

The story states:

But Galen Sherwin, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, said its history in public schools is much darker and has roots in the South, where it was broadly instituted in an effort to evade the desegregation requirements of Brown v. Board of Education to try “to prevent black boys from being in the same room as white girls.”

“In the wake of Brown, many schools in the south integrated racially but segregated on the basis of sex,” Sherwin said.

Here is an excerpt of the AJC story.

In 2002, only about a dozen schools were separating the sexes, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, an advocacy group. Now, an estimated 500 public schools across the country offer some all-boy and all-girl classrooms.

Proponents argue the separation allows for a tailored instruction and cuts down on gender-driven distractions among boys and girls, such as flirting. But critics decry the movement as promoting harmful gender stereotypes and depriving kids of equal educational opportunities. The ACLU claims many schools offer the classes in a way that conflicts with the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, a federal law banning sex discrimination in education. Researchers also have weighed in.

Diane F. Halpern, a former president of the American Psychological Association, co-authored a review of studies last fall in the journal Science that found research doesn’t support the benefits of single-sex education. Additionally, there are lots of problems whenever you segregate people into groups, Halpern said.

“Stereotyping increases so we really do have lots of data that says it’s just not supported,” she said.

However, proponents have put out their own studies, showing the benefits of separating students. Middleton Heights Elementary cited the research when it first piloted single-sex classes in a few grades. The goal was to address the struggles boys were having in reading.

The idea proved so popular that single-sex classes have expanded throughout the school. Parents can opt out, a choice required by law, if they want their kids in a traditional coed classroom.

In the single-sex classes, teachers use microphones that allow them to electronically adjust the tone of their voice to match the level that research suggests is best for boys. When preparing for a test, the boys may go for a run, or engage in some other activity, while the girls are more likely to do calming exercises, such as yoga.

Both sides agree the idea is not new and has a long history in private schools.

Nancy Levit, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, addressed this issue at a meeting of the Association of American Law Schools: “Think about it, in terms of race,” she said. “What would people say if the state paid for an all-white school or an all-black school? As long as there was a racial element nobody would have a problem seeing a constitutional difficulty.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

44 comments Add your comment

Entitlement Society

July 9th, 2012
1:26 pm

Once again, we see the ACLU drumming up something where there is nothing. The AJC article states “the ACLU launched a national campaign, Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes.” I fail to see how single sex education teaches sterotypes. I am a product of single sex education. It’s not as if the girls were stuck in cooking and sewing classes all day while the boys’ school studied hunting and engine building. A single sex education setting gives students the environment they need to flourish and succeed without worrying about what the boys/girls are thinking about what you just said. It is a confidence builder for girls that enables them to develop leadership skills that serve them well in college and the real world. It helps boys focus on academics and not fooling around trying to get the attention of the cute girls. Why does everything have to be a race issue? Ugh.

seen it all

July 9th, 2012
1:27 pm

I read the AJC article. What does gender have to do with race? Personally I don’t see the big deal with co-ed schooling. I prefer it much more than segregated schooling. I have taught in co-ed and single gender schools and the students perform better in the co-ed schools. There are also socialization issues to consider as well. I teach in the middle east. The schools here are gender segregated. The students who attend segregated schools for all 12 years of their educational career tend to be maladjusted socially when they finally leave school. You learn how to interact with other people, especially members of the opposite sex, while in school. Socialization is an important part of school. Until you leave the U.S. and experience life elsewhere, you don’t really get to see things in perspective. People here complain about public schools. You just don’t know how good you have it.


July 9th, 2012
1:35 pm

As long as it is parental choice to put the kids in single-gender classrooms, the ACLU should MYOB.

Am not really aware of white parents wanting only their daughters kept apart from black boys. I have read no history of education that supports that proffered “fact.” I certainly think the rise of “academies” and other private schools can be largely attributed to racism–white parents did not want their sons OR daughters to go to school with black kids.

In the small Southern city where I grew up, there was a black elementary, and a black junior and high school, and there were white schools. Until 1966, there was no mixing that I am aware of. In 1966, our high school got its first black student–daughter of a teacher in a neighboring county. While some were not happy about her arrival, she quickly fit in and was well-liked. There was another black student the next year, with the same results. In 1969, they shut down the black high school and divided its students among the 2 white high schools. I think they did the same for the elementary. At the high school, the students seemed to be fairly well-accepted. Everyone was pretty careful–after all, these black kids had their school shut down on the senior year! There were friendships, tentative at first, but nothing out of the ordinary in drama. My mother (a teacher there) told me the fights started a few years later. I would really like to see the citations on the “fact” Ms. Sherwin cites.

Would I support single-sex classes? Yes. I come from a long line of single-sex college graduates, and both my daughters are, also. As long as they are offered, and not required, I think parents could make the best choice for their children.

(I have to chuckle over this. For my older daughter, a single-sex college made sense. She was a leader, and got a lot of leadership opportunities she might not have gotten at a co-ed college. For my younger daughter, it made sense also as she was interested in areas that women usually did not choose for majors. However, I cannot help but think that it ended up protecting some of the young men from the steam-roller who is my younger daughter!)


July 9th, 2012
1:40 pm

BTW, there was a Catholic school in the town, but no one that I am aware of talked about sending their child THERE to get away from deseggregation, at least back then! The school pulled kids of Catholic families in the community–a rather small school for sure!

H. West

July 9th, 2012
1:49 pm

What happened to freedom of association in this country? Is it not a fundamental right of every human being to associate with whom they please? I can understand requiring PUBLIC schools to be open to all genders, etc…but why can the government force private institutions to admit everyone? What’s next…forcing home schooled students to admit whoever the government deems necessary into their private homes to be educated? If I want to send my daughter to a single-sex school to be free of the distraction of the opposite sex, how is that infringing on someone’s civil liberties??? This madness HAS to stop!

The road to serfdom

July 9th, 2012
2:41 pm

It’s always about “racism” in the liberal mass media, isn’t it?

Sandy Springs Parent

July 9th, 2012
3:22 pm

I really don’t understand how the historically Black colleges have been allowed to continue to exist and to be state funded. I find this raciest. I also find BET and the HISPANIC TV stations raciest. We would be so called out if we had White only colleges and White only TV stations.

Maureen Downey

July 9th, 2012
3:32 pm

@Sandy, Considering how few minorities can be found in prime time TV shows, I would say that we pretty much have all white channels. Blacks and Latinos represent 3 percent of the characters in prime time TV.

Reference: (Mastro & Greenberg 2000).

bootney farnsworth

July 9th, 2012
4:00 pm

no. God, what a stupid claim.

shows the inborn ignorance and bias of the stupid person who made the stupid claim

Cliff Claven

July 9th, 2012
4:32 pm

The best choice I made, in regards to education, was attending a single sex high school.

Hillbilly D

July 9th, 2012
4:41 pm

Well reading this resulted in a couple of minutes of my life wasted.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

July 9th, 2012
4:54 pm

The GA ACLU should investigate teaching and learning conditions in underperforming GAPubEd schools the majority of which serve poor and minority kids. “Equal educational opportunity” presumes an chance to teach and learn in a setting conducive to both. Might poor teaching and learning conditions cause academic underpeformance? You reckon?


July 9th, 2012
6:39 pm

Sandy Springs Parent–the HBCUs admit white and Latino students as well. Not too many apply. I’m guessing your child didn’t. In fact, most women’s colleges also admit men in limited numbers. Agnes Scott, Wesleyan, the Seven Sisters. Times, they have changed.

I think one of the last schools to change was the Citadel, which fought admitting women for quite some time. Perhaps some of the service academies were slow also–not sure.

Don H.

July 9th, 2012
8:03 pm

@Maureen: Few TV watchers will believe that blacks (with or without Latinos) make up “less than 3 percent of characters” in prime time—whatever your liberal group claims.

And then there’s the fact that criminals in prime time are almost NEVER black. Most of us can, in fact, probably remember exactly where we were the last time a black was portrayed negatively on prime time television.

If any demographic has a case for willful defamation by TV producers … it surely is the white male!


July 9th, 2012
9:32 pm

This is ridiculous. The timeline doesn’t even work — it took Southerners 40 years after integration began to figure out they should start single gender schools? We may be slow about some things but not that slow. I don’t know of any single gender K-12 schools in my hometown which was in the thick of stupidly refusing to move forward.

I’d suggest there are several reasons: failure of the middle school model resulting in word-of-mouth stories; changing retention policies which put more overage students with younger students which collided with the younger development of girls; more research and media attention on girl/boy achievement; more reporting and publishing of discipline and achievement data flawed tho it may be; an environment in which more parents actively seek a particular environment for their children.

Historically, some Southerners are guilty of a lot of things re race, but don’t think this is one of them.

Atlanta Mom

July 9th, 2012
10:39 pm

“In 2002, only about a dozen schools were separating the sexes, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education”
I don’t believe it.

Atlanta Mom

July 9th, 2012
11:04 pm

A quick google search will give you:
Preceding the change in federal legislation, Governor Pete Wilson drafted legislation
in 1997 that resulted in the opening of 12 single-gender public academies in
California (6 each for boys and girls) in six districts.
Recently, as part of a plan to provide additional opportunities for students to
choose a “better” school, the Bush administration lessened Title IX restrictions on
single-sex schools (U.S. Department of Education 2004).

Atlanta Mom

July 9th, 2012
11:06 pm

and then there’s
Assessing the scale of single-sex public schooling is problematic,
as some public schools choose to operate single-sex classes or programs covertly (Streitmatter 1999). All-girls math and science classes have been documented in numerous states, including Arizona, Ohio, Minnesota, Colorado, Michigan, and New Jersey. Other examples of single-sex public schools include Afrocentric academies for boys in Detroit, Baltimore, and Milwaukee and the Young Women’s Leadership schools in Harlem and Chicago.

Atlanta Mom

July 9th, 2012
11:11 pm

The above quotes (even if I forgot the ” and ” )
A 2005 study.


July 10th, 2012
5:58 am

“Galen Sherwin, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project…”

That’s all you need to know about this article.

Let’s see, white parents pulling their kids out of public schools to get away from the caustic black culture is racism.

Minorities who create groups such as the Black Student Alliance, Hispanic Student Alliance, etc are merely “celebrating their heritage.”

Go figure.

You really want to know what happens when white people get fed up and move away from a city en masse, look at Detroit….

bootney farnsworth

July 10th, 2012
7:18 am

since I got laid off, I’ve been in a bit of a black mood.

does that make me racist, too?

Entitlement Society

July 10th, 2012
9:22 am

bootney, you crack me up!

Warrior Woman

July 10th, 2012
10:44 am

@Maureen – If you look at current TV offerings, it is obvious that your 12 year old Mastro and Greenburg reference is woefully out of date.


July 10th, 2012
11:04 am

All parties are to blame here. Blacks started this nonsense in the 1990s by suggesting that separate school for not just boys but black boys was beneficial to their advancement.

Can we argue here that racist whites got this idea from black administrators and totally agreed? It is pretty hypocritical to say that when blacks want separate gender school for black boys it has to do with learning, but when whites want it, it has to do with dating. Perhaps the racist whites should go one step further and learn the whole lesson from blacks…have a separate school for white girls only. May be then the ACLU can sue both black and white people for segregation. And one more final question? Why is it always black boys and white girls? Could keeping white boys from Asian girls be also a motivating factor among racis white people who dont want mixed Asian-white grandkids? After all white male-Asian female interracial couples are larger in number across the country than black male-white female couples.

Maureen Downey

July 10th, 2012
11:08 am

@Warrior, Actually, just read a piece recently that there are even fewer minorities now on major network prime time shows. Will try to track it down and post. May have been in the NYT.

GP Mom

July 10th, 2012
6:21 pm

There’s limited evidence as to which is better educationally. There are studies from a few years back that substantiate that middle school girls do better in math & science in a single gender environment (hence: Atlanta Girls School, founded in 2000). More recent studies substantiate that African-American boys do better in single gender classrooms. All other topics, the results are mixed. But I’m shocked by the irresponsibility of the insinuation that a single gender trend in the 1960s driven by racism means anything similar is happening today. I think the increase has more to do with parental concern about lower performance by boys in the classroom and in college. Some theorize this has to do with a classroom culture that doesn’t work well for boys. Single gender classrooms offer the option of incorporating approaches that appeal to boys without taking away from a culture that has supported success among girls.


July 10th, 2012
8:28 pm

I was at a single gender education conference this past year. At the conference, Dr. Leonard Sax, M.D. and Ph.D., spoke about the Diane Halpern article – lots of problems with it. The article basically comes down to using a set of kindergartener students and the failure of their class, taught by an untrained single gender educator, as the leap into “all things single gender lack evidence of success.” All you have to do is look at Ivy Preparatory Academy. Two years ago, the school scored 100% passage on the CRCT, and yes, it is a Title 1 school. This school does it right. It’s easy to see that correctly done, single gender education works. The book by Dr. Sax is called “Why Gender Matters” with companion books for boys and for girls. The one for boys speaks about today’s world of underachieving boys and unmotivated young men.For those of us in education, that last description rings true way too often.


July 10th, 2012
10:20 pm

@Maureen, I guess the folks at BET, the hispanic channels, and all the Cop and prison shows didn’t get the memo about no minorities.


July 11th, 2012
6:43 am

The very best schools would be co-ed ones that have single-sex classes. So the kids can socialize with the opposite sex between classes and at lunch, but having them split during class times (with the same teachers just different sections, so no one can argue discrimination) would be the optimal schooling environment.

southside teacher

July 11th, 2012
10:10 am

@Maureen, on the subject of minorities on tv.
I’ll respectgfully add that in spite of its shortcomings (I don’t watch a steady diet by any means), Spanish-languagenews broadcasting has a high proportion of women in prominent, on-air positions. Compare that with mainstream English-language tv, where women typically have to be supervised by a male co-anchor, and are not readily accepted as ‘authoritative’ sources. Puh-lease!
I do wish, however, that it were a little less of a skin show. My issue.

Pride and Joy

July 11th, 2012
1:34 pm

What a waste of blog space.


July 12th, 2012
6:24 am

Not to be rude, but apparently there is a reading comprehension problem in this country. If you will READ what Maureen said, she said Prime time shows. Which means your major networks: ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, etc, and in their prime slots: 7pm – 10pm. Those are the shows that get the most advertising dollars and have the largest and widest audience. She’s not referring to stations like BET, or Univisión. When it comes to the Prime time shows, there is a dearth of minority actors. Geez, people!


July 12th, 2012
11:19 am

Thank you, James. Bunch of idiots on here.


July 12th, 2012
2:17 pm

Africa for the Africans,Asia for the Asians,white countries for EVERYBODY!

Everybody says there is this RACE problem. Everybody says this RACE problem will be solved when the third world pours into EVERY white country and ONLY into white countries.

The Netherlands and Belgium are just as crowded as Japan or Taiwan, but nobody says Japan or Taiwan will solve this RACE problem by bringing in millions of third worlders and quote assimilating unquote with them.

Everybody says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY white country and ONLY white countries to “assimilate,” i.e., intermarry, with all those non-whites.

What if I said there was this RACE problem and this RACE problem would be solved only if hundreds of millions of non-blacks were brought into EVERY black country and ONLY into black countries?

How long would it take anyone to realize I’m not talking about a RACE problem. I am talking about the final solution to the BLACK problem?

And how long would it take any sane black man to notice this and what kind of psycho black man wouldn’t object to this?

But if I tell that obvious truth about the ongoing program of genocide against my race, the white race, Liberals and respectable conservatives agree I am a naziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.

They say they are anti-racist.What they are is anti-white.

Anti-racist is a codeword for anti-white.

[...] was particularly disheartening to see an editorial credit an Atlanta paper for our [...]


July 14th, 2012
10:41 am

Ivy Preparatory Academy opened two single gender schools in DeKalb last year, one for girls and the other for boys. I have a child of each gender enrolled. I was pleased with the single gender model and the difference it has made for my children. My daughter entered 6th grade at Ivy and it made the first year of middle school an easier transition. The girls don’t spend their time trying to look cute for boys. They actually formed closer bonds and friendships with each other. They are more comfortable stepping up into leadership roles. My daughter participated in the school ambassador program and was able to develop her ability to speak in public by giving tours of the school and speaking at assemblies.

My son attended Kindergarten at Ivy. He is a very active, easily distractible child and the activities and lessons were much more conducive to learning than his co-ed Pre-K class was. I am definitely a believer in this model.

Liz Homer

July 14th, 2012
6:04 pm

I note that South Carolina has been promoting sex segregation more than any other state.
If you took South Carolina out of the count, the U.S. “growth” would be much less.
Segregation leads to discrimination and I am not comfortable with it, particularly relating
to public institutions. Some people never learn.


July 15th, 2012
8:58 am

So, has it occurred to anyone that by separating boys and girls into separate schools, you are creating A LIVING HELL for the 10% of kids who don’t fit into your neat stereotypes?

What about the 10% of girls who prefer rough-and-tumble play, who don’t mind/aren’t afraid of math, and who enjoy watching action adventure shows instead of My Pretty Princess? What’s going to happen to these kids when you shove them into an environment

My mother used to lecture me all the time about how “unladylike” I was – I played french horn and liked science and climbing trees. These were my sins, according to my mother. I was friends with both boys and girls in school, but if my mother had had the chance she would have shoved me into a single-sex school immediately. To help me become more of a lady of course.

As an adult, I went on to get a Ph.D. and now work as a scientific researcher. If I had been forced to play with coloring books and do yoga instead of playing with blocks and running around outside, I would have lost my mind as a child!

And again, let me repeat: if single-sex public schooling had been available, my mother would have enrolled me in it to “fix” me and make me “more of a lady”.

Do you really think my mother’s the only person who would do that???

All you people talking about single sex education is so great – what happens when the parents of some boy who loves show tunes and playing dress-up enrolls their son in the all-boys school to “help him” be more of a boy? How do you think that’s going to work out?

These schools are going to be a living hell for the significant percentage of kids whose parents will put them into a single-sex school to “fix” them and force these children into conforming to gender stereotypes that go against their true nature.


July 15th, 2012
9:07 am

I just want to say one more thing about my Mom – she loved me, she just didn’t understand me. Sometimes life does that: you give birth to a child and they are nothing like you! She really did (and does) love me and mean well, she just didn’t have the faintest idea of where I was coming from and what my temperament was like.

John John

July 15th, 2012
9:51 am

Most people are simply not very intelligent.

Old School

July 15th, 2012
10:02 am

Our grandson is thriving in the single gender classes at his public charter school. I give much credit to an excellent faculty, fantastic administration, positive parental involvement, and an active volunteer program. The two sexes have plenty of time to interact during PE, music, art, Mandarin Chinese classes and elective activities. The teachers have had specific training in adapting to single gender classes.

Racism doesn’t even factor into the single gender class equation… at least at this charter school. Our grandson was one of only about 5 Caucasians and the other 15 or so were African-American. Family income levels ran the gamut as do those of students in traditional public schools. I doubt if anyone even paid much attention to that anyway.

And Cassie, I went to traditional schools at a time when girls took Home Ec and boys took Shop. Both were required courses. I still managed to take both drafting courses AND Industrial Arts (first girl to do so in the school’s history) and went on to major in Industrial Arts (again the first) in college. I returned to my high school to teach IA and drafting and retired in 2010 after 36 years as an instructor. I’ve always just been me despite being “forced” to learn how to write cursive, cook, sew, iron, host a tea, set a table properly, and color within the lines. I was fortunate enough to know within my own being who I was regardless of those grownups with power deciding what was right and proper. You are probably a stronger person for all your experiences and at the very least, you probably know how you DON’T want to raise children.

By the way, our grandson’s kindergarten classroom had a little kitchen area with aprons and such for pretending. There also stations with various activities for students who finished class/group work early.

John John

July 15th, 2012
10:20 am

I think If I were a reporter I would just add “Is race a factor” after every story. It would sensationalize my story and get more views.
Drew Brees just signed a $100M contract with New Orleans – Is Race a Factor”
Clinton urges democracy in Egypt. Is Race a Factor?
Sylvester Stallone’s son found dead – Is Race a Factor?
Romney attacks Obama on new Bain Ads – Is Race a Factor?

Give me an effin break.

Big dave

July 15th, 2012
10:49 am

I guess you could conclude from what Ms.Downey implies is that the liberal bastion “Hollywood” and the “Media” must be the real Racists here. Nobody ever asked me who or what I wanted to see on TV and that includes local news that daily trots out a majority of bad news (crime) that reflects badly-a majority of the time on minorities.