ACLU Asks Dept of Education To Investigate Single-Sex Programs Rooted In Stereotypes

December 6, 2012 5:02 pm

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Complaints Filed Against School Districts in Alabama and Idaho

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union filed complaints today with the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) today against two school districts in Alabama and Idaho running unlawful single-sex education programs.

Through information obtained through the ACLU “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” campaign, the programs appear to violate federal law by forcing students into a single-sex environment with little or no alternative options, rely on harmful gender stereotypes and deprive students of equal educational opportunities merely because of their sex.

“We understand that teachers and parents want to provide the best education for their children. But coeducation was never the problem with failing schools, and single-sex programs are not the answer,” said Christina Brandt-Young, attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “These programs are poorly designed and based on pseudoscience and stereotypes that do nothing to enhance learning, and only reinforce discredited ideas about how boys and girls behave.”

The complaints were filed in conjunction with the ACLU of Idaho and the ACLU of Alabama.

The programs in Middleton Heights Elementary in Middleton, Idaho and Huffman Middle School in Birmingham, Ala., are based on the theories of Dr. Leonard Sax and other proponents of single-sex education, whose discredited theories on the supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains are rooted in archaic stereotypes.

In Middleton, the single-sex program has been in place since 2006, and draws on stereotypes that men are active and independent while women are passive and dependent. The school plans the boys’ day to include exercise and movement, while the girls are provided with a “quieter environment.”

Boys are seated shoulder-to-shoulder while girls are 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 calls for “large amounts of explanation for assignments” for girls and “limited teacher explanation” for boys. Boys are permitted to play and exercise while girls must maintain a “quiet environment.” The school put out a call for “male role models” for the boys out of concern that too many female teachers contributed to a perceived difficulty in teaching boys. No such request was made for female role models.

Although the school maintains its single-sex programs are voluntary, it provides no written information to parents about how to exercise their option to put their students in a single-sex or coeducational class. Internal polling of parents in 2012 found 48.6 percent believed they did not have a choice about the classroom type.

“The pervasive and unfounded idea that boys and girls learn so differently that every detail down to the temperature and the light in the classroom should be dictated by sex is ridiculous,” said Monica Hopkins, executive director of the ACLU of Idaho. “These programs have not made a bit of difference academically to the students of Middleton, but have supported archaic ideas of what is considered ‘normal’ for boys and girls.”

The single-sex program at Huffman Middle School has been in place since 2010. In violation of federal law, no comparable coeducational alternative is offered. Students who wish to be in coeducational classes must transfer to another school. Huffman students are separated by sex for all classes, even during lunch. Instructions for teaching boys call for stressing “heroic” behavior that shows what it means to “be a man.” The school relied on a book that teaches that boys are better than girls in math because their bodies receive daily surges of testosterone, while girls have similar skills only “a few days per month” when they experience “increased estrogen during the menstrual cycle.”

Although Birmingham City Schools’ studied academic achievement at Huffman and concluded “[t]here is no definitive proof that the percentage of students scoring proficient [sic] is significantly impacted by students being taught in same gender classroom settings,” the single-sex program at Huffman continues.

“Every individual child learns differently, and no child should be forced to conform to one theory of how he or she should learn,” said Olivia Turner, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. “Assuming that boys and girls learn according to their hormones is just an old-fashioned stereotype.”

The ACLU is asking the OCR to investigate the programs and bring them into compliance with the law. To address the problem more broadly, the ACLU wants OCR to provide guidance to all school districts and make clear that the 2006 Title IX regulations do not authorize schools to adopt programs based on gender stereotypes; instead, schools must provide specific justifications for every single-sex class offered.

The complaints can be found here:

More on the Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes campaign can be found here:

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