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In the three decades since the inception of Title IX, single-sex education has been banished almost entirely to private and parochial schools on the grounds that schools segregated by sex, like those segregated by race, cannot be counted upon to be equal. But last week, President George W. Bush announced plans to change its enforcement of Title IX rules in order to allow more single-sex classes and schools in public school districts. And, though we are concerned about lax enforcement of the Bush Administration’s new rules, we are happy to see families who can’t afford private school getting the same choice that more affluent families have had for generations.
The current body of research on all-boys and all-girls schools is fairly inconclusive. At least some studies, though, have found that boys and girls learn differently and benefit from different methods of teaching. These studies claim, among other things, that single-sex schools are more orderly and that girls in same-sex schools in particular thrive in math, science, social situations and sports relative to their coed counterparts.
But while the effects of single-sex schooling are not entirely clear, there is a huge demand for it. Many of those already open have long waiting lists, and the national number of such public schools has more than doubled—to 24—in the last 18 months. Single-sex education also continues to be popular for non-public schools nationwide. The old Title IX regulations, however, only allowed families with the means to send their children to same-sex private schools; everyone else had to put up with a government-enforced notion of political correctness.
The Bush plan, as stated, would alleviate this disparity without forcing same-sex schools on anyone; in no case would students lose the right to attend a coed school. School districts would also have to ensure that their all-boys and all-girls schools and classes are “substantially equal” between genders.
Providing these options to all American families is surely a good thing. But there is still room for disaster, and that is why it is essential that this equality clause be stringently enforced. The choice between single-sex and coed schools must remain a choice. One sex must not be allowed to receive an inferior education to the other. The Bush plan would look much less attractive if, for example, the only good school in a district was for girls, leaving boys with no good choices and girls who wanted a decent education without a viable coed option. We hope an administration that so often fails to deliver on its promises can manage to get this one straight.
Nonetheless, President Bush has made a promising move toward greater opportunity for public school students, without having to throw enormous amounts of additional money at the problem. America’s public schools should strive to provide the same opportunities as their private and parochial counterparts. If properly implemented, Bush’s plan can be a large step in that direction.
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