The ACLU Women’s Rights Project works to ensure that girls and boys receive equal educational opportunities and are not subjected to different treatment in the classroom based on their sex.

In recent years, many school districts have introduced programs that allow for expanded use of single-sex education, often presenting these programs as quick-fix solutions to the array of problems facing many public schools. This trend accelerated sharply in October 2006, when the U.S. Department of Education announced new Title IX regulations that make it easier for public schools to implement single-sex classrooms.

These programs are often based on junk science about how girls’ and boys’ brains develop and disturbing gender stereotypes. On the basis of these sex-based generalizations, schools separate male and female students and subject them to wildly different teaching strategies. For example, advocates of sex-segregated schools have trained teachers that:

  • Boys need a competitive and confrontational learning environment, while girls can succeed only if they work cooperatively and are not placed under stress.
  • When establishing authority, teachers should not smile at boys because boys are biologically programmed to read this as a sign of weakness.
  • Girls should not have time limits on tests because, unlike boys’ brains, girls’ brains cannot function well under these conditions.
  • Boys are better at math than girls are because boys’ bodies receive daily surges of testosterone, whereas girls don’t understand mathematical theory very well except for a few days a month when their estrogen is surging.

Although these ideas are hyped as “new discoveries” about brain differences, they are in fact only dressed-up versions of old stereotypes, and treating boys and girls differently in the classroom is the definition of sex discrimination.

Creating sex-segregated schools and classrooms is also a waste of time and effort that diverts resources from initiatives that actually will improve the education of both boys and girls, such as reducing class sizes and increasing teacher training. Moreover, these sex-segregated classes deprive students of important preparation for the real, coeducational worlds of work and family.

The ACLU opposes sex segregation in public education that perpetuates antiquated gender stereotypes.

Stay Informed