Single-Sex Classes Rooted in Stereotypes Prevalent Across the Nation, Says ACLU Report

August 20, 2012 2:55 pm

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Findings Gathered As Part of “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” Campaign

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union released a preliminary report today that finds that single-sex education programs in public schools across the country overwhelmingly and unlawfully base their programs on discredited science rooted in sex stereotypes and don’t offer parents any reasonable alternative.

The report’s findings were gathered as part of the “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” campaign in fifteen states to investigate programs that force students into a single-sex environment and deprive both boys and girls of equal educational opportunities. Although documents continue to be collected, the ACLU released the preliminary report because its first findings show that sex-stereotyped instruction is widespread.

“Too many of these programs are based on sweeping and unfounded generalizations that assume that all girls learn one way and all boys learn a different way,” said Amy L. Katz, cooperating attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “All meaningful studies of these programs show that they don’t improve academics, but they do foster stereotypes and do a disservice to kids who don’t fit these artificial distinctions.”

Since 2006, when federal restrictions against single-sex education were eased, hundreds of these programs have been introduced across the country, when there previously had only been dozens. Many of these recently instituted programs are based on discredited theories of the supposed differences between boys’ and girls’ brains that are rooted in archaic stereotypes. The report calls on the Department of Education to rescind these regulations, or at least to provide warnings to schools that programs based on stereotypes are illegal.

Supporters of these theories have claimed 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.

“We all want to find the answer to fix schools that are in crisis, but simply separating boys and girls is not going to fix anything,” said Christina Brandt-Young, attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Supporters of these programs claim they’re giving parents a choice, but all our findings have shown that in a significant number of cases, there is no coeducational option available. An option based on methods that have been never been proven to be effective is not a valid choice at all.”

In order to safeguard against sex discrimination, federal law prohibits coeducational schools from implementing single-sex programs unless they meet extremely stringent legal requirements. At a minimum, schools must offer a persuasive justification for the decision to institute single-sex programming based on something other than stereotypes. There must be evidence that the sex separation will improve student performance, the separation has to be determined on a class-by-class basis, the programs must be completely voluntary, and a substantially equal co-educational alternative must be available.

The ACLU report shows lack of compliance with these requirements is widespread. In addition to basing programs on stereotypes, some schools required students who did not wish to participate in sex-separated classes to enroll in another school, while others failed to alert parents that they could opt out of the classes.

This month, the ACLU and the ACLU of West Virginia filed a lawsuit on behalf of a mother and her daughters against a Wood County, W. Va., school that limited the girls’ academic progress by forcing them into girls-only classrooms that discriminated against them in multiple ways, including reprimanding a girl with attention deficit disorder for failing to sit still, while the boys are permitted to move around to expend energy; and forcing a legally blind girl to read in dim light, while the lighting in the boys’ room is purposefully brighter because girls supposedly learn better with lower lighting.

The report can be viewed at:

For more information on the campaign, please visit:

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