ACLU takes on single sex classrooms. Is this a worthwhile fight?

The ACLU is going after two school districts for single-sex classrooms.

Having gone to a single-sex Catholic high school, I see a few benefits to all girl or all boy classes, although most research shows no compelling academic rationale.

As the National Association for Single Sex Public Education notes, the United States Department of Education published regulations governing single-sex education in public schools in 2006. The association has a good primer on legal issues, including updates from two court decisions.

According to the association:

The new regulations allow coeducational public schools (elementary and secondary schools) to offer single-sex classrooms, provided that the schools:

1) provide a rationale for offering a single-gender class in that subject. A variety of rationales are acceptable, e.g. if very few girls have taken computer science in the past, the school could offer a girls-only computer science class;
2) provide a coeducational class in the same subject at a geographically accessible location. That location may be at the same school, but the school or school district may also elect to offer the coeducational alternative at a different school which is geographically accessible. The term “geographically accessible” is not explicitly defined in the regulations.
3) conduct a review every two years to determine whether single-sex classes are still necessary to remedy whatever inequity prompted the school to offer the single-sex class in the first place.

Here is the ACLU statement on why it believes districts in Alabama and Idaho are violating federal law:

The American Civil Liberties Union filed complaints with the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights today against two school districts in Alabama and Idaho running unlawful single-sex education programs.

Through information obtained through the ACLU “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” campaign, the programs appear to violate federal law by forcing students into a single-sex environment with little or no alternative options, rely on harmful gender stereotypes and deprive students of equal educational opportunities merely because of their sex.

“We understand that teachers and parents want to provide the best education for their children. But coeducation was never the problem with failing schools, and single-sex programs are not the answer,” said Christina Brandt-Young, attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “These programs are poorly designed and based on pseudoscience and stereotypes that do nothing to enhance learning, and only reinforce discredited ideas about how boys and girls behave.”

The complaints were filed in conjunction with the ACLU of Idaho and the ACLU of Alabama.

The programs in Middleton Heights Elementary in Middleton, Idaho, and Huffman Middle School in Birmingham, Ala., are based on the theories of Dr. Leonard Sax and other proponents of single-sex education, whose discredited theories on the supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains are rooted in archaic stereotypes.

In Middleton, the single-sex program has been in place since 2006, and draws on stereotypes that men are active and independent while women are passive and dependent. The school plans the boys’ day to include exercise and movement, while the girls are provided with a “quieter environment.”

Boys are seated shoulder-to-shoulder while girls are seated face-to-face on the theory that girls are more cooperative while boys are more competitive and should not be forced to make eye contact.

The program calls for “large amounts of explanation for assignments” for girls and “limited teacher explanation” for boys. Boys are permitted to play and exercise while girls must maintain a “quiet environment.”

The school put out a call for “male role models” for the boys out of concern that too many female teachers contributed to a perceived difficulty in teaching boys. No such request was made for female role models.

Although the school maintains its single-sex programs are voluntary, it provides no written information to parents about how to exercise their option to put their students in a single-sex or coeducational class. Internal polling of parents in 2012 found 48.6 percent believed they did not have a choice about the classroom type.

“The pervasive and unfounded idea that boys and girls learn so differently that every detail down to the temperature and the light in the classroom should be dictated by sex is ridiculous,” said Monica Hopkins, executive director of the ACLU of Idaho. “These programs have not made a bit of difference academically to the students of Middleton, but have supported archaic ideas of what is considered ‘normal’ for boys and girls.”

The single-sex program at Huffman Middle School has been in place since 2010. In violation of federal law, no comparable coeducational alternative is offered. Students who wish to be in coeducational classes must transfer to another school. Huffman students are separated by sex for all classes, even during lunch.

Instructions for teaching boys call for stressing “heroic” behavior that shows what it means to “be a man.” The school relied on a book that teaches that boys are better than girls in math because their bodies receive daily surges of testosterone, while girls have similar skills only “a few days per month” when they experience “increased estrogen during the menstrual cycle.”

Although Birmingham City Schools’ studied academic achievement at Huffman and concluded “[t]here is no definitive proof that the percentage of students scoring proficient [sic] is significantly impacted by students being taught in same gender classroom settings,” the single-sex program at Huffman continues.

“Every individual child learns differently, and no child should be forced to conform to one theory of how he or she should learn,” said Olivia Turner, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. “Assuming that boys and girls learn according to their hormones is just an old-fashioned stereotype.”

The ACLU is asking the OCR to investigate the programs and bring them into compliance with the law. To address the problem more broadly, the ACLU wants OCR to provide guidance to all school districts and make clear that the 2006 Title IX regulations do not authorize schools to adopt programs based on gender stereotypes; instead, schools must provide specific justifications for every single-sex class offered.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

33 comments Add your comment

AlreadySheared

December 19th, 2012
1:02 pm

“ACLU takes on single sex classrooms. Is this a worthwhile fight?”

No.

Dekalb Parent

December 19th, 2012
1:23 pm

I’m sure they’ll be after our school soon (Ivy Prep). Heaven forbid we have a year without some entity trying to shut us down!

Single sex classrooms - a nightmare for non-gender normative children

December 19th, 2012
1:25 pm

Spare a thought for the non gender-normative children out there….what kind of hell are we consigning them too?

When I was in the fourth grade, one of my friends named Kathy decided that she would rather be called Joe. Joe mostly hung out with the boys, and did boy-type activities. She was into woodcarving in art class (most of the girls did watercolors), preferrred to talk sports, etc. Joe really didn’t socialize with the girls at school very much. [And yes, in case you were wondering - at the end of high school Kathy came out as a lesbian.] If Kathy had been in an all-girl class, she wouldn’t have had any friends.

One of my best friends from junior high school was wickedly funny, spoke with a lisp, and had all girl friends. He asked me to the junior prom and I turned him down, something I still feel bad about (we stayed in touch over the years, and he married a wonderful woman). He was the school gossip, non-athletic, and would have been beaten up and regularly humiliated if he had had to enroll in an all-boys class.

If we’re trying to cut down on bullying in schools – not just physical violence, because girls can be vicious bullies – then I strongly recommend that people consider the implications of pretending that all little boys and all little girls fit into neat gender sterotypes and then forcing children into those roles.

Honestly, if I had to choose being in an all-girls or an all-boys classroom, I would choose the all boys situation. The viciousness, meanness, and sheer emotional cruelty that some girls are capable of is not to be underestimated (and I say that as a feminist). I’d rather just hang out with the boys and occasionally get punched in the face.

indigo

December 19th, 2012
1:41 pm

I remember, years ago, a boy around 12 or 13 somehow managed to slip out of the Soviet Union and come to America. He went to live with a relative here.

The ACLU went to court and tried, for years, to force the Courts to send him BACK to the USSR, even though he wanted to stay here.

Thankfully, the case dragged on until he was 18 and was no longer legally a minor.

Since that time, I have had nothing but contempt for the ACLU.

Looking for the truth

December 19th, 2012
1:45 pm

While it is proven that girls and boys learn differently, single gender classrooms may be an answer in a limited number of situations. Blanket assumptions about either gender are wrong, no matter what the issue.

This is one area where parents need to be consulted and involved in any decision about single gender classrooms. That being said, if parents are OK with it, the ACLU should keep their noses out of it.

What's Best for Kids???

December 19th, 2012
1:48 pm

Not worth the fight. Ridiculous fight.
Please let kids learn the way they learn best, and that means same sex classrooms.

ByteMe

December 19th, 2012
2:31 pm

If the schools are breaking the law, then I’m all for anyone standing up to them. Is this not “government over-reach” to force kids into bad learning environments based on pseudo-science claptrap?

But let the courts decide if the schools are breaking the law. The schools aren’t too poor to defend themselves if they have enough money to try these discredited “alternative learning environments”.

Ed Johnson

December 19th, 2012
2:38 pm

“ACLU takes on single sex classrooms. Is this a worthwhile fight?”

Yes.

williebkind

December 19th, 2012
2:41 pm

This is what I have been talking about. Take government of the education system and you take liberal groups like the ACLU out of education. Make education voluntary!

Ed Johnson

December 19th, 2012
3:02 pm

“Said Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall: [Single-gender] is a strategy designed to really turn around what is a failing environment for lots and lots of young people. Hall and others in Atlanta say they like the results they’ve seen the past three years at Martin Luther King, where more than 400 sixth and seventh-grade students are divided by gender.”

http://www.singlesexschools.org/ap_june06.htm

Ed Johnson

December 19th, 2012
3:14 pm

“Through information obtained through the ACLU “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” campaign, the programs appear to violate federal law by forcing students into a single-sex environment with little or no alternative options, rely on harmful gender stereotypes and deprive students of equal educational opportunities merely because of their sex.”

Now, let’s substitute a few words…

Through information obtained through the ACLU “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” campaign, the programs appear to violate federal law by forcing students into a single-[race] environment with little or no alternative options, rely on harmful [racial] stereotypes and deprive students of equal educational opportunities merely because of their [race].

A certain segment of people has shown they will work to no end to reject the latter yet will embrace without question the former. Why?

mystery poster

December 19th, 2012
3:18 pm

@Ed, you read my thought.
I was going to be a bit more sarcastic, though:

We all know how well separate but equal turned out.

catlady

December 19th, 2012
3:24 pm

I think it should be a choice. I would love for my granddaughter to be in an all-girl elementary school. Her mom and aunt (my daughters) graduated from women’s colleges, as did MY mom and 4 aunts. All strong women with a lot of gumption!

Tony

December 19th, 2012
3:58 pm

Typically, for a lawsuit there must be an individual that has been harmed. Who has been harmed by either being forced into a single-gender classroom or by being barred from one?

RCB

December 19th, 2012
5:23 pm

Unless a student is forced to be in these schools, I don’t see a problem. A different choice in education is what everybody has been crying for. Just because you don’t like the choice for your child doesn’t mean it’s not a valid educational experience for others.

Dr. Monica Henson

December 19th, 2012
5:38 pm

I taught middle grades for three years, and if anything could have driven me out of education, it would have been seventh-grade girls. I think every middle school in the United States should be segregated by gender.

Hillbilly D

December 19th, 2012
5:53 pm

In my opinion, this is a solution in search of a problem. Aren’t there plenty of more important things to fret about?

Atlanta Mom

December 19th, 2012
5:58 pm

Tony,
I can tell you, my daughter would have been harmed if she had been placed in an all girl class. I had to explain to more than one teacher, when they complained about her, “think boy”. She was active, ADD, smart as a whip and cute as a button. And, as long as you forgot she was a girl, most of her behaviors were perfectly acceptable.

Private Citizen

December 19th, 2012
6:00 pm

I had two thoughts reading this, well, more than two thoughts.
1. same sex classrooms, sounds great! Favor.
2. Sure am glad I have not sent any money to the ACLU.
3. tomboy girl, effeminate boy? they’ll make friends. why do friends have to be gender specific?
4. If you have a total-choice voucher system, people could attend where they wanted. talk about supporting differing learning styles!
5. basically it comes down to what works. I can think of about 1000 things the ACLU could be doing besides this.

Private Citizen

December 19th, 2012
6:03 pm

If there is a single gender school environment and it doesn’t work for someone, there should be an accommodation per their request. Ideally the same gender school would have academic performance of the type that people would value. But that’s another matter. Is real performance undermined?

Ed Johnson

December 19th, 2012
6:07 pm

“I taught middle grades for three years, and if anything could have driven me out of education, it would have been seventh-grade girls. I think every middle school in the United States should be segregated by gender.”

I will wager there are teachers out there that can say without any malice or hatred intended: “I taught middle grades for three years, and if anything could have driven me out of education, it would have been seventh-grade [“Black” boys]. I think every middle school in the United States should be segregated by [race].”

Pride and Joy

December 19th, 2012
6:38 pm

You are darn right this is worth fighting for!

NorthAtlantaParent

December 19th, 2012
11:31 pm

I hate single gender classroom. My children are going through it right now. It’s OK for my son and like hell for my daughter. The main reason is that some girls are way more out of control when they don’t have to behave themselves without boys around to impress. Our kids are in a private school. yall probably wondering why i could spend so much money for this sort of crap. Well, there are some good things about private school education, but gender-based classroom is definitely not one of them.

Pride and Joy

December 20th, 2012
6:01 am

I am surprised that a private school can force kids into single-gender classroom, even though it is a private school. Private schools cannot force kids into into single-race classrooms, so why do we allow single-gender?
Because in this day and age, it is STILL OK to discriminate against women, that’s why.

bootney farnsworth

December 20th, 2012
8:47 am

pity the ACLU can’t be bothered to take up the cause of teachers in Georgia.
but that won’t get press coverage

bootney farnsworth

December 20th, 2012
8:50 am

how about the ACLU taking up the cause of men wanting to attend Agnes Scott? complete with dorm rooms and coed showers.

if it’s all that big an issue, then run with it full steam

Etta

December 20th, 2012
8:57 am

I’m a double women’s college graduate (undergrad and master’s) and the daughter and granddaughter of women’s college graduates. While I firmly believe that we all benefited greatly from our educations, the fact remains that we all CHOSE to attend women’s colleges — and therein lies the difference.

I support single-sex classrooms/schools as beneficial for some students and believe they should be an option, just like a fine arts or technology focused school should be an option and would be beneficial for some students. A one-size-fits-all approach to education does not respect children’s individual needs nor educate them to their fullest potentials.

Offering single-sex schools as a choice? Great. Mandating them as the only option for students whose families lack the resources to access school alternatives? Not okay.

GAMom

December 20th, 2012
9:20 am

@Pride and Joy.

I don’t get what you’re saying at all. Private schools are PRIVATE! They can do what they want and design their schools the way that they want to. That’s why they are PRIVATE and you have to CHOOSE to send your children there and PAY TUITION for it. If a parent doesn’t like it, they should find another PRIVATE school to attend. By virtue of it being a choice school (i.e., PRIVATE), there is no such thing as being “forced” into anything. You CHOOSE private schools.

Carlos

December 20th, 2012
11:05 am

We already have single sex education in most public schools. To be sure, there are boys in the classroom, but the environment is designed for girls.

Private Citizen

December 20th, 2012
9:31 pm

Carlos, I am going to go buy a trophy for you that says “A#1.” I’d read your comments before and your view is STELLAR.

Private Citizen

December 20th, 2012
9:33 pm

ACLU reminds me of the ever-popular Jon Stewart. In other words, there are a lot topics they won’t touch.

Kentucky

December 24th, 2012
7:07 am

“…theories of Dr. Leonard Sax and other proponents of single-sex education, whose discredited theories on the supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains are rooted in archaic stereotypes”

Ms. Downey. Is this your statement? If so, who has discredited this view? What are the archaic stereotypes? What evidence do you offer other than this broad unsupported statement. Have you read Boys Adrift or Why Gender Matters? If so, did you examine the source studies footnoted in each of these books? Furthermore, do you have sufficient credentials to make such a comprehensive statement.

Please understand that this issue is not as easy as your statement would lead one to believe. There are revenue streams on both sides which are impacted thus guaranteeing bias. Please don’t add to that bias without clearly stating your own.

SEE

December 24th, 2012
7:44 am

Well said, Carlos.