On Tuesday night, Mobile County agreed to a settlement with the ACLU ending sex segregation in its public schools. That morning, the Mobile Press Register ran an editorial suggesting that the county’s public school system’s desperate need to improve is reason enough to test sex segregation on our children. But these programs are not only discriminatory, they are an empty promise for failing schools.
There is no consistent evidence that segregating students by sex improves learning, yet school districts across the country are experimenting with sex-segregated programs — too often based on questionable 'brain science' theories that urge teachers to treat boys and girls radically differently.
In segregated classes at Hankins Middle School, teachers were told to create competitive, high energy classrooms for boys but cooperative, quiet classrooms for girls. Teachers were informed that boys should be taught "heroic behavior" and girls, "good character," and that male hormone levels relate to success at "traditional male tasks," but that when stress levels rise in a girl's brain, "other things shut down." A story in the Press Register reported that a language arts exercise involved asking girls to use as many descriptive words as possible to describe their dream wedding cake, while the boys were asked to brainstorm action verbs used in sports.
These classrooms were not equal and weren’t constructively responding to differences between boys and girls; they were creating and enforcing gender stereotypes. We hope that now Mobile County will focus on efforts that we know can improve all students' education, like more teacher training and parental involvement.