Liz Weissert, WLP Intern
In May 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced the launch of their “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” Campaign. To initiate this campaign, the ACLU sent letters to various public school districts across the United States including Florida, Maine, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Alabama demanding that they “end single-sex programs that rely on and promote archaic and harmful sex stereotypes.” In addition to sending these letters, the ACLU is investigating single-sex schooling programs in Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, Massachusetts, Indiana, Idaho, and Illinois through the filing of public record requests. The ACLU states that, “single-sex programs are not only unfair; in many cases they are illegal.”
Single-sex education programs often rest on the misguided notion that boys and girls are neurologically different and thus have different learning styles. There is no scientific basis for this theory, which rests on stereotypes about boys and girls. The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE) found in their recent report Title IX at 40: Working to Ensure Gender Equity in Education that “many single-sex programs claiming a basis in research are in fact based on claims that amount to little more than repackaged sex stereotypes.” The NCWGE further concludes that “despite assertions to the contrary, separating students by sex has not been proven to improve educational outcomes.”
Indeed sex-segregation itself perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes. In a Washington Post article, “The Case Against Single-Sex Schooling”, Rebecca Bigler and Lise Eliot discuss the harmful effects of some single-sex schooling programs:
Gender segregated classrooms are detrimental to children in several ways. First, research in developmental psychology has clearly shown that teachers’ labeling and segregating of social groups increases children’s stereotyping and prejudice. […] Classroom assignment based on gender teaches children that males and females have different types of intellects, and reinforces sexism in schools and the culture at large
The NCWGE report includes a full chapter on single-sex education which explores the “potentially harmful” aspects of single-sex education based on gender stereotypes. These single-sex classrooms can be detrimental to the learning of all students. As the NCWGE explains, “assuming, for instance, that boys need active, loud environments focused on abstract thinking skills and girls need quiet activities that emphasize concrete thinking makes it less likely that the classroom will meet the varying learning needs of all students.”
The Women’s Law Project (WLP) has long been involved in challenging unlawful single-sex education in Pennsylvania public schools. In 1983, in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA), WLP accomplished the admission of girls to Philadelphia’s prestigious Central High School, which had long been an all-boys school. Most recently in 2011, WLP, again with the ACLU-PA, successfully opposed Pittsburgh Public Schools’ experimentation with gender-segregated schooling at Westinghouse Academy. WLP joined an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief filed in a lawsuit challenging the implementation of single-sex classrooms in a Louisiana school district, in concert with the Education Law Center, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, and the ACLU-PA opposing the creation of a boys’ charter school in the Philadelphia School District, and objecting to the Philadelphia School District’s conversion of neighborhood schools in North Philadelphia to single sex schools.
More information on the Women’s Law Project’s activities concerning single-sex schooling and gender discrimination in education can be found on our website.