ACLU Seeks Investigation of Single-Sex Programs Rooted In Stereotypes at School Districts Across the Country

March 28, 2013 1:14 pm

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CHICAGO – The American Civil Liberties Union asked the federal Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education today to investigate three single-sex education programs in three schools in the Beloit and Barron School Districts in Wisconsin.

Also this week, the ACLU sent open records requests to the Austin Independent School District in Texas and the Valley Charter School District in Modesto, California. An administrative complaint concerning a special education program was filed against the Cape May Regional School District in New Jersey.

The ACLU complaints, which followed an analysis of documents received through open records laws, contend that the programs appear to violate federal and state law by forcing students into a single-sex environment, relying on harmful gender stereotypes and depriving students of equal educational opportunities merely because of their sex.

“There is no solid evidence supporting the assertions about supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains that underlie these programs, and there is absolutely no evidence that teaching boys and girls differently leads to any educational improvements,” said Galen Sherwin, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “It’s harmful for public schools to promote these types of generalizations about boys and girls—particularly at the elementary school level.”

The Wisconsin complaints were filed against Riverview Middle School in Barron; and Robinson and McLenegan Elementary Schools in Beloit.

The programs trained teachers that boys should be allowed to move around the classroom during instruction, while girls should sit quietly; some encouraged tailoring instructional materials and assignments toward stereotypical “boys’ interests” like sports and “girls’ interests” like sharing feelings; and some emphasized that they should speak to boys in a clear and assertive manner while smiling and speaking softly to girls.

The programs were heavily influenced by the ideas of Dr. Leonard Sax, whose theories on the supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains are rooted in archaic stereotypes. For example, Dr. Sax has said that girls do badly under stress, so they should not be given time limits on a test; and that boys who like to read, do not enjoy contact sports and do not have a lot of close male friends should be firmly disciplined, required to spend time with “normal males” and made to play sports.

The school districts cited Sax’s discredited theory of differences between boys’ and girls’ brains as its justification for single-sex education. These theories were recently debunked in an article authored by a multidisciplinary team of scientists in the prestigious journal Science, which argued that sex segregation does not improve academic performance, but does foster stereotypes.

The ACLU demands that the OCR investigate and enforce federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex in schools and ensure that these programs are not implemented again.

Today’s filing was the latest action in the ACLU’s national “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” campaign, a national effort to uncover information about sex stereotypes in single-sex education programs across the country.

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

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