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Education Equality

Sex Segregation

Read the Fall 2013 Ms. Magazine article “Failing Our Kids: Despite pseudoscience to the contrary, sex segregation in public schools creates problems ---- not solutions.” Former head of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Susan McGee Bailey explains why the increase in deliberately sex segregated classes and public schools -- encouraged by the Bush Department of Education 2006 Title IX regulation changes -- have also increased illegal sex discrimination and sex stereotyping in public K-12 education. Although Title IX and the US Constitution require equal treatment in all aspects and levels of education and the Department of Education, itself, requires evidence of effectiveness for programs it supports, there is no credible evidence that single-sex education is more equitable or effective than comparably resourced coeducation.

playground_segregationHistory: In March, 2004 the US Department of Education proposed changes to the Title IX regulations that would make it significantly easier for schools and school districts to allow single sex classes and single sex schools. On October 25, 2006 the Department of Education issued the final changes to its Title IX regulation without remedying the key objections of most of the 6,000 people who submitted public comments opposing the 2004 proposed changes.

The original 1975 Title IX regulations used by multiple federal agencies permit sex segregated education under very limited circumstances, such as for single-sex schools and classes when they are needed to overcome the effects of gender discrimination or for contact sports or pre-existing single-sex colleges. The October, 2006 Department of Education changes to the Title IX regulation allow K-12 non vocational single sex schools, classes, and extracurricular activities in elementary and secondary schools for a variety of vague purposes such as “the achievement of an important governmental or educational objective”. This 2006 Department of Education Title IX regulation no longer ties the key justification for allowing this sex segregation to overcoming the effects of sex discrimination, the sole purpose of Title IX. 

The 2006 U.S. Department of Education Changes Drastically Weaken Title IX and Should Be Rescinded

These 2006 Title IX regulation changes allow separate facilities or classes as long as the gender that is not given the special class or school receives a "substantially equal" educational opportunity probably in a coeducational setting. "Substantially equal" is not specifically defined in the regulation and there are no instructions on how to learn if the single sex activities contribute to increased sex stereotyping and sex discrimination or if they contribute to achieving any important governmental objectives such as increased academic achievement. Also, the vague evaluation requirements do not provide explicit guidance on how risky single sex experiments must demonstrate that the school’s single sex instruction is any more effective than equitable high quality instruction designed to meet the same needs in mixed sex environments. (See Suggestions for Evaluation Guidelines for Schools Contemplating Using Single-Sex Education.)

The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and many women's rights groups see this weakening of Title IX and related government encouragement of single sex education as an improper use of Title IX. The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education points out that instead of making it clear that Title IX protects against sex discrimination, these rule changes facilitate sex discrimination and should be rescinded.

Increased Sex Segregation Is More Likely to Increase Sex Discrimination and Sex Stereotyping in Public K-12 Education than to Reduce It

After Title IX was passed in 1972, there was a decline in single sex education even in private schools. Instead, the focus was on creating non-sexist coeducational classes and schools. But there was been an increase in intentional sex segregation in K-12 non-vocational public education since 2002, when the Department of Education signaled its intent to be more flexible in allowing the expansion of sex segregated education and its resulting 2006 regulatory changes. The Feminist Majority Foundation multi-year study concluded that there were over 1000 public K-12 US schools with deliberate single-sex academic classes during 2007-10.

Sex segregation in certain programs (such as in contact sports) may be lawful and helpful in decreasing sex discrimination and promoting desired outcomes such as reducing gender gaps in achievement. However, in many cases sex segregated education is based on false assumptions about sex differences in learning and likely to have negative consequences. Those considering sex segregated instruction should be aware of the following:

•  Separate is not equal or fair to all. It is very difficult to provide even "substantial" equality in sex segregated schools, classes, or activities, whether we are talking about facilities, quality of instruction, levels of expectations, treatment of students, or preference for a particular teacher.

•  Sex segregation (allowed under the 2006 regulation changes) is absolute and not totally voluntary. Even advocates of single sex education agree that there is more variation within groups of girls and boys than between them, but they ignore this important truth when excluding everyone of one sex from a class intended for all boys or all girls, even if the excluded girls or boys want to enroll.

•  Many assumptions about benefits of sex segregation are educationally unsound. Many of the post 2006 sex segregated classes and schools are based on inaccurate claims of innate student differences by sex and related myths that male and female students learn differently and should receive dissimilar instruction. Good educational practices can and do meet the needs of both girls and boys in a coeducational setting by addressing individual needs and by consciously striving for gender equity in curriculum and instruction.

• Research results do not generally support the superiority of sex segregation in advancing student learning or in decreasing sex discrimination. It is difficult to conduct fully equitable comparisons of single sex and coeducational programs or schools to learn what is better, as many other factors may influence the results. Although it is possible that both coeducational and single sex classes may help either eliminate or increase sex stereotyping, increased sex stereotyping is likely to be more of a problem in sex segregated classes. Research to date has not done much to control for other explanations of differences, and the patterns of results from various single studies of sex segregated education do not show consistent superiority on any outcome measures. Additionally, few of these studies examined outcome measures related to decreasing sex discrimination or sex stereotyping. (See Handbook for Achieving Gender Equity through Education, 2007, especially Chapters 9 and 31)

•  Costs are higher. The separate operation and facilities for single sex education are more costly than comparable coeducation. It takes more time and money to assure that all facilities and resources are equitable for both girls and boys in segregated and mixed sex options. Also, additional resources are needed for staff training and program evaluation and for responding to public information requests and litigation to defend potentially discriminatory practices.

•  Evaluations are critically important, but costly. The monitoring and evaluations needed to assure continued parity with equivalent coeducational opportunities and avoidance of increased stereotyping in single sex education “experiments” need to be done carefully and rigorously to meet the Department of Education's own What Works Clearinghouse standards of effectiveness, which are designed for all educational programs and certainly should apply to single sex instruction as well. This is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. See Feminist Majority Foundation suggested evaluation guidelines.

•  The institutions responsible for the single sex education may face lawsuits and Title IX complaints. The ACLU web page “Sex-Segregated Schools: Separate and Unequal” and their campaign “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” document many of their successful and ongoing efforts to usethe Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause, Title IX,  the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, and state laws to end sex discrimination associated with this sex segregation.

In summary, most efforts to provide sex-segregated education are detrimental and waste resources that instead should be used to end sex stereotyping and discrimination in coeducational environments, especially for the most vulnerable students who face multiple types of discrimination related to poverty, race, ethnicity, disabilities, and sexual identity or orientation.

Title IX has been a highly effective and popular law. It has withstood many challenges. The 2006 Department of Education regulation that encourages sex segregation deliberately undermines the intent of Title IX and will continually threaten the advancement of gender equity in U.S. schools until it is rescinded or otherwise invalidated. There is no right to discriminate on the basis of sex using federal financial assistance to education.

Multi-Year FMF Study Confirms that Increased Sex Segregation Increases Sex Discrimination

In connection with Title IX's 40th Anniversary in June 2012, the Feminist Majority Foundation released a multi-year (2007-10) three part study of single-sex education in U.S. K-12 public schools. This study reveals that after the Bush Department of Education weakened previous Title IX restrictions on sex segregated education in K-12 public schools in 2006, over 1,000 public schools sex segregated at least some of their classes. Read the complete Press Release here.

State of Public School Sex Segregation in the United States (2007-2010)
Part I: Patterns of K-12 Single-sex Public Education in the U.S. (PDF)
Part II: Role of States in Addressing Single-sex Public Education (PDF)
Part III: Summary and Recommendations (PDF)

Suggestions for Evaluation Guidelines for Schools Contemplating or Using Single-Sex Education

One of the most common flaws is for U.S. public schools to plan or implement deliberate single-sex classes or schools with inadequate justifications and evidence that doing so will improve outcomes for girls and/or boys and that it will not violate federal Title IX protections prohibiting sex discrimination. The Executive Summary (PDF) outlines three evaluation phases that should be used prior to Title IX coordinators, administrators, school boards, and others approving the initiation or continuation of this sex segregation. Here (PDF) is the full description of the 2013 FMF Evaluation Guidelines. We hope the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice as well as others concerned with full implementation of Title IX will require that they be followed to eliminate the continued unjustified sex discrimination accompanying deliberate sex segregated education.

Additional Information

Rescind Regulations Weakening Title IX Prohibitions Against Sex Discrimination in Education (PDF)

See Title IX Defined Page for the Department of Education's proposed and final Title IX Regulations and Guidelines on single sex education.

The Risks of Sex Segregated Public Education for Girls, Boys, and Everyone by Susan S. Klein

Title IX at 35: Beyond the Headlines, NCWGE, 2008, Chapter on Single Sex Education by Sue Klein, Jan Erickson, & Elizabeth Homer

Title IX at 40: Working to Ensure Gender Equity in Education, NCWGE, 2012, Chapter on Single-Sex Education: Fertile Ground for Discrimination

Handbook for Achieving Gender Equity through Education, 2nd Edition, 2007, especially Chapter 9, Gender Equity in Coeducational and Single Sex Educational Environments, and Chapter 31, Summary and Recommendations for Achieving Gender Equity in and through Education. New York, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Taylor and Francis Group.

FMF's objections to the proposed 2004 changes

Other comments on the proposed changes related to allowing single-sex education from 2001. Available in the archives of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

Learn more about the assumptions behind the push for sex segregated schooling by Patricia B. Campbell & Jo Sanders

How sex segregated schooling threatens Title IX - Turning Back the Clock by Lory Stone

Title IX and single sex education by Sue Klein

Single-sex schools: A good idea gone wrong? By David Sadker & Karen Zittleman

The Myth of the "Boy Crisis" by Caryl Rivers & Rosalind Barnett

The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling by Diane F. Halpern, Lise Eliot, Rebecca S. Bigler, Richard A. Fabes, Laura D. Hanish, Janet Hyde, Lynn S. Liben, Carol Lynn Martin

Sex-segregated Public Schools: Illegal and Unwise by Vivian Berger

American Civil Liberties Union, Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes

Failing Our Kids: Despite pseudoscience to the contrary, sex segregation in public schools creates problems ---- not solutions by Susan McGee Bailey in Ms. Magazine

The Effects of Single-Sex Compared with Coeducational Schooling on Students’ Performance and Attitudes: A Meta-Analysis by Erin Pahlke, Janet Shibley Hyde and Carlie M. Allison in Psychological Bulletin

Helpful Websites

American Council for CoEducational Schooling (ACCES)

ACLU: Tech Kids, Not Stereotypes

Revised 10-10-2014