ANNAPOLIS – Proposed changes to federal guidelines earlier this year have done little to encourage Maryland schools to develop single-sex learning environments.
Eight months after Congress proposed changes to the 1972 law to loosen strictures on single-sex education and to increase educational choices for public school parents, the number of schools operating single-sex classrooms in Maryland has actually declined.
As many as 11 public schools in the state reported having single-sex classrooms in the past decade, national statistics show, but only four schools still have such classrooms today.
The process is slow going because schools are still “experimenting,” said Bill Reinhard, the state’s education department spokesman. “Eight months in education is like a day.”
Some educators see single-sex schools and classrooms as a way to close achievement gaps between girls and boys. Boys struggle more than girls in reading and writing, while fewer females choose math and science fields, according to researchers.
Dr. Leonard Sax, an expert on sex-segregated schools, said, “90 percent of students who took the (advanced placement) computer science exam last year were boys.” Sax is executive director for the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, a Maryland-based national advocacy group.
Like Maryland schools, institutions nationwide are just starting to address gender discrepancies.
Of 91,000 public schools nationwide, 149 have single-sex classrooms, according to the association, which compiled its own list of single-sex schools and classrooms because the federal government does not.
The lack of tracking at the federal level is not the only problem the idea has with the U.S. Department of Education, said Sax. The department “is our biggest stumbling block,” he said.
The department’s Office of Civil Rights has shown little interest in single-sex education situations, despite the planned changes to the 30-year-old law banning single-sex classrooms and the mandate in the federal No Child Left Behind Act for single-sex classroom funding.
It’s been without a permanent leader for more than a year, and it’s failed to set up standards that local education agencies can use to assess these classrooms, Sax said. In addition, the office has failed to outline objectives for such classrooms to meet, he said.
With no objectives and minimal research proving the benefits of single-sex education, it is difficult for educators to defend separating girls and boys.
Individual school administrators face pressure from their local school boards asking how such classrooms can benefit the majority.
“When you have a whole system with problems you need to come up with cookie-cutter solutions,” said Kris Crouthamel, an intervention teacher at Beechfield Elementary School in Baltimore, which rescinded its single-sex classrooms after girls in an all-female class outperformed boys in an all-male class.
Opponents say research on the subject is unfinished and that modifying the law is presumptuous, in that loopholes could send schools back to an era of “separate but equal” discrimination.
“This administration acknowledges that the research on single-sex education is incomplete,” said Marcia D. Greenberger, National Women’s Law Center co-president. “It is taking a reckless ‘act first, check your facts later’ approach to equal opportunity and to the education of America’s young women and girls.”
Under the proposed regulations, schools must only offer “substantially equal” benefits to these classrooms.
“Before 1975, boys got an overwhelming share of the resources and the best library facilities,” said Sax. “It is understandable civil rights organizations are concerned.”
But advocates argue that research overwhelmingly supports the value of single-sex learning environments.
“Some feel we are doing this in deference to girls, but they don’t understand the research,” said Pete Storm, principal at Twin Ridge Elementary, who started two all-boy classrooms this year.
Single-sex education serves not only academic, but social purposes as well, supporters said.
“Single-sex schools are more like the real world,” said Sax, who visited more than 70 schools and found that girls at coed schools based their self-esteem primarily on appearance while those at single-sex institutions did not. “Coed schools inevitably reinforce gender stereotypes.” – 30 – CNS-11-12-04