Treating School Kids Differently Based on Sex = Discrimination

It should be a foregone conclusion that treating boys and girls differently in school is sex discrimination. Except in many schools across the country that isn't the case. Hopefully that's about to change.

A guidance document issued Monday by the Department of Education makes clear that single-sex education programs based on sex stereotypes are unlawful, as is the practice of employing different teaching methods for boys and girls. Specifically, the department clarified that the justification for sex separation of students "may ‘not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of' either sex," and emphasized that "likewise, the evidence cited in the justification may not rely on these overly broad generalizations."

This is critical because almost all of the educational programs that the ACLU reviewed as part of its "Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes" campaign, which investigated the use of single-sex classrooms in public schools across the country, relied on precisely such generalizations. Indeed, the presumption that boys and girls are "hard wired" to learn differently was incorporated into every aspect of these programs' structure, from curricula to teaching methods to classroom activities and décor.

If you are wondering what this looks like on the ground, here are some examples of what our investigation found.

In the Hillsborough School District in Florida, all kindergarten teachers in single-sex classrooms were required to attend a training entitled "Busy Boys, Little Ladies." The school district encouraged teachers in boys' classrooms to "be louder" and "have high expectations," while teachers in girls' classrooms were expected to be "calmer" and "less critical." In one instance, boys had an electronics day, where they could bring in all their electronics and play them if they behaved, while girls did not. In another, the teacher in a girls' classroom gave each girl a dab of perfume on her wrist for doing a task correctly.

In Middleton School District in Idaho, boys were seated shoulder-to-shoulder while girls were 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 called for "large amounts of explanation for assignments" for girls and "limited teacher explanation" for boys. Boys were permitted to play and exercise while girls were required to maintain a "quiet environment."

And a personal favorite of mine: Teacher training materials used widely across the state of Florida, including in Broward, Hernando and Volusia counties, advised teachers to "reassure" young female students struggling with math that "when her brain is ready she'll be ready."

These examples show the harms of making crude judgments about what is best for kids based on their sex. No one denies that there are biological differences between boys and girls. But these have simply never been shown to translate into a need to teach boys and girls differently. And we all know kids who don't conform to sex stereotypes – including, of course, transgender students.

The Department's clarification should establish once and for all that programs based on this model violate Title IX. It also contains other important safeguards, including requiring schools to justify each single-sex classroom separately by grade and subject (rather than implementing sex segregation across an entire grade or school), clarifying that affirmative consent is required for participation, establishing that transgender students and students with disabilities must be given equal opportunities to participate in single-sex classes (including by honoring students' individualized educational plans and ensuring that students are permitted to participate in the class that conforms to their gender identity), and emphasizing the programs must be evaluated to ensure that they are meeting their objectives and not perpetuating sex stereotypes.

We look forward to disseminating the Education Department's guidance widely to educators and policy makers. Hopefully it will provide a much needed course-correction and help put a stop to this costly, misguided, and discriminatory experiment with our kids.

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Anon

Hear hear!

Anonymous

"...'large amounts of explanation for assignments' for girls and 'limited teacher explanation' for boys." As an elementary school teacher, that sounds exactly backwords to me. A group of girls is usually better at listening the first time around and more girls than boys think before rushing to say they don't understand and need personal help, in my experience.

I've always thought that the following remedy should be tried. When starting school, let all the boys be, on average, 6 months older than the girls. That half year of additional maturity in the boys might make each class easier to handle. One might want to re-group the classes after middle school, or not. I'd really like to see this suggestion tried.

Anonymous

Went to an all boys high school - was absolutely fine.

While you can complain about the reinforcing certain stereotypes (and I would agree with that) ... my experience has been that separating the sexes in this regard is not detrimental. We had virtually no fighting, no distractions, and the atmosphere was positive. On the other hand, teenage angst and fights are common at public, co-ed high schools. Nearly all of which fights are over cheating, flirting or hitting on whoever's boyfriend or girlfriend. It's ridiculous.

I'm fine with single-sex education ... and to suggest that there are not differences between the sexes when it comes to learning is to overlook the science on the issue.

Anonymous

So the education experts of the ACLU have determined that they are qualified to micro-manage how education is delivered in the USA?

Innovation is being stifled for this PC idiocy. Time for the voters to wake up and tell these pretentious marxist idiots to hit the bricks.

Anonymous

So if boys are doing worse in mixed-sex schools, as they clearly are, doesn't continuing to do the same thing which leads to these unequal results constitute discrimination as well? What are you doing to end this discrimination?

On average, boys and girls are clearly different, just look at a class of 6th graders if you don't believe it. Girls seem to mature more quickly. If they are separated into groups and taught based on their maturity level, would this be okay, even if these groups had unequal ratios of girls to boys?

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