Sex-Segregated Schools: Separate and Unequal

February 29, 2012

The ACLU Women's Rights Project works to ensure that public schools do not become sex-segregated and that girls and boys receive equal educational opportunities. 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 sharply accelerated in October 2006, when the U.S. Department of Education announced new Title IX regulations making it easier for public schools to implement single-sex schools and classrooms.

In addition to being unlawful, the rationale behind sex-segregated academic programs is bad for kids. These programs are often based on questionable science about how girls' and boys' brains develop and on disturbing gender stereotypes. For example, advocates of sex-segregated schools tell teachers that:

• Boys need a competitive and confrontational learning environment, while girls can only succeed 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, girls' brains cannot function well under these conditions; and

• Boys are better than girls in math 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. Creating sex-segregated schools and classrooms is 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. Rather than offering choice, sex-segregated programs limit the education of both boys and girls.

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

More on the Women's Rights Project's work on sex-segregated schools:

NEWS
> ACLU Asks Dept of Education To Investigate Single-Sex Programs Rooted In Stereotypes (12/06/2012)
> Back to Coeducation in Wood County: Judge Rules School May Not Separate Students by Sex This Year (8/30/12)
> Single-Sex Classes Rooted in Stereotypes Prevalent Across the Nation, Says ACLU Report (8/22/12)
> West Virginia Family Challenges Single-Sex Middle School Program Rooted in Stereotypes (8/15/12)
> ACLU Launches “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” Campaign Against Single-Sex Classes Rooted in Stereotypes (5/21/12)
> Following ACLU Demands Pittsburgh Ditches Single-Sex School Plans (11/11/2011)
> Madison Metropolitan School District and Madison Preparatory School (11/7/2011)
> Experimenting with Sex Segregation in the Classroom? Not with My Girls (10/14/2011) > "Science" Says No to Single-Sex Education (9/26/2011)
> ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging Illegal Sex Segregation In Louisiana Public School (9/8/2009)
> ACLU Ensures Equal Education For Girls And Boys In Vermilion Parish (8/21/2009)
> Alabama School District Agrees To End Illegal Sex Segregation (7/6/2009)
> School District in Mobile, Alabama, Agrees To End Illegal Sex Segregation (3/25/2009)
> ACLU Asks Alabama School Districts To Disclose Documents On Sex Segregated Programs (12/15/2008)
> ACLU Warns Alabama School District That Its Mandatory Sex Segregation Program Is Illegal And Discriminatory (11/12/2008)
> ACLU Represents Students In Challenge To Sex Segregation In Kentucky Public School (5/19/2008)
> Sex Segregation In Florida's Public Schools A Bad Move, Says ACLU (4/10/2008)
> ACLU Requests Georgia School District Disclose Sex Segregation Plans (4/7/2008)
> New Education Department Regulations Violate Title IX, Constitution (10/24/2006)
> ACLU Wins Major Lawsuit Against Sex-Segregated School in Louisiana (8/3/2006)

CASES
> Doe v. Wood County Board of Education
> Doe v. Vermilion Parish School Board
> Alabama Open Records Act Requests
> A.N.A. v. U.S. Department of Education
> Selden v. Livingston Parish School Board

RESOURCES
> Why Single-Sex Public Education is a Civil Rights Issue (February 2014)
> Women's Rights Project Deputy Director Emily Martin and Professor Cornelius Riordan Debate Sex Segregation as an Educational Strategy (February 2008, off-site)
> Venus and Mars in Separate Classrooms: The Rise of Single-Sex Education, an article written by the ACLU's Emily Martin and published by the Florida Association of Women Lawyers (Spring 2007)
> Statement by the ACLU of Michigan regarding H.B. 4264, a bill on sex-segregated schools (6/14/2007)
> New Title IX Regulations Pose a Serious Threat to Civil Rights of Students (10/26/2006)
> NCWGE Memorandum to the Department of Education Requesting Rescission of 2006 Regulations and Seeking Guidance (July 2011)
> NCWGE Memorandum to the Department of Education Requesting Rescission of 2006 Regulations (December 2009)

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