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Genesee Valley Chapter — ‘Educate Better Citizens’ or ‘Title IX and the Single Man’

“Educate Better Citizens” or “Title IX and the Single Man”

By Scott Forsyth

A version of this article appeared in the ‘Daily Record’ on March 3, 2010.

A new charter school will start in September called the University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men.

It will be the area’s first public high school just for boys and “will use a hands-on experiential learning model.”

Its founders expect the boys to perform better, isolated from girls, and “grow up to be productive citizens.”

Not surprisingly, the data on the effects of single-sex education does not support the founders’ optimism. In 2005 the U.S. Department of Education performed a meta-analysis, drawing on 40 useable studies. It found that single-sex schools were neither better not worse for their students. So many variables are at play in a school — the quality of the teachers, the quality of the administrators, the quality of the infrastructure, the involvement of families, financing, etc.

Other advocates of single-sex education have a similar penchant for ignoring the data. Not so easily overlooked is Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits schools receiving federal funds from excluding individuals from any educational program or activity based on sex.

The statute carves out a few, narrow exceptions. By regulation the Department of Education has expanded the exceptions to include any single-sex class or activity in which enrollment is “completely voluntary.” A “substantially equal” coeducational class in the same subject or activity must be made available to all students. Any segregation of the sexes must be implemented in “an even-handed manner.”

Other federal agencies with jurisdiction over public schools, such as the Department of Agriculture through the school lunch program, do not permit any separate activities under Title IX.

In spite of the clarity of Title IX and the regulations, school administrators regularly run afoul of the law. A recent example is a middle school in Kaplan, La.

Last August, two weeks before school was to open, the principal informed parents that all students would be allocated to classrooms by sex. He did not offer the parents a choice.

Upset parents contacted the ACLU, which wrote to the principal and the school board to let them know the segregation was illegal. They immediately saw the error of the principal’s ways, so they said, and agreed to make the allocation voluntary and offer co-ed classes.

The principal circulated a form giving parents a choice, and several parents selected the co-ed class option. Upon the return of the forms, he told several parents that their children were “too smart” for the co-ed class, would be placed in a “special needs” co-ed class or would lose contact with their friends, all of whom had signed up for a single-sex class. He placed one child in a single-sex class because the co-ed class for her grade level was “full.”

The principal told the local media that the teachers in the single-sex classes would use different teaching methods and different books, geared toward the sex of the class.

The principal’s comments and actions reveal the sort of gender-based stereotyping Title IX seeks to prevent. In this principal’s school, separate was not equal let alone substantially equal. Opportunities must be available to all students based on their abilities, rather than on their gender.

A parent filed suit with the assistance of the ACLU. Doe v. Vermilion Parish School Board, 6:2009cv01565 (W.D.LA 2009). Last week the court began the first ever hearing on sexsegregated classes in public schools.

Whatever the outcome, one wonders about the wisdom of the new charter school in Rochester. Research demonstrates that the psychological differences between individual boys are far larger than any average psychological differences between boys and girls.

Education is more than learning the three Rs. Schools must instruct students in the virtues of civic living — tolerance, respect for the norms of society and working with others.

Segregating students by sex or religion or ethnicity may increase test scores in the three Rs, but will it make them better citizens in our democracy?

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Civil Liberties Union