New Rules Further the Same-Sex School Debate
> 10/30/2006 11:20:13 AM

A federal ruling issued on October 24 aims to make the same-sex education option more readily available to American public school students.

In 1972, Congress passed the Title IX amendment outlawing gender discrimination in all educational institutions that receive federal funding. Originally written to counter the underrepresentation of girls in school sports, the law came to be applied to all aspects of education, and for years effectively relegated the possibility of same-sex education to those enrolled at private institutions; many boarding and religious schools, for instance, have always been either male or female. Though this legislation is ideologically significant, the number of current students affected by the change is extremely small. Of the more than 94,000 public schools operating in this country, all but 241 are co-ed. The practice is more prevalent in higher education, but same-sex colleges are increasingly uncommon; longtime gender-specific state schools such as Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel recently made the less-than-perfect transition to co-ed status. For non-military schools the issue is somewhat different, and several exclusively female colleges operate in the U.S., but many institutions still widely thought of as women's schools, such as Vassar and Sarah Lawrence, actually began allowing men before Title IX passed. Men's colleges are extremely rare, with only four existing in the country today.

This legal revision will eliminate many potential lawsuits and invite a much larger number of willing schools to experiment with same-sex classes. The trend will probably be more common among charter schools, many of which are at least partially funded by private concerns and therefore afforded less restrictive regulations. Much like the ongoing debate over differences between public and private schools, this issue is colored by intense opinions on both sides. Though data on the topic is largely inconclusive, some studies suggest that boys perform better in math and literacy without the (arguable) distractions brought on by a co-ed classroom, and others surveys show females in these situations scoring better in  areas like science where they suffer from a perceived societal bias. Opinionators worry about the inevitable differences that will arise between schools for girls and boys, arguing that they may, in fact, only reinforce existing gender stereotypes and make it harder for either sex to pursue careers that traditionally fall to the other. On the opposing side, the very absence of definitive evidence makes it essential to allow these experiments to go forth. Without proof of their inefficiency, we should at least give them a chance.

Very important to this legislation is the written, if not sufficiently specific, requirement that participating school districts cannot allow the presence of same-sex classes to tip their district's balance in favor of either gender and that enrollment in these schools must be absolutely "voluntary". Exactly how various education departments will enforce these tenets remains to be seen, but the program could potentially lead to undesirable situations in which students must either go to same-sex schools or settle for lower quality education. Making the playing field truly equal and giving every student a fair choice between competing alternatives seems impossible, but many agree that these options should at least be explored. As more districts put the changes into effect and open same-sex schools, educators and experts in the field can only watch and measure resulting levels of performance. If grades and satisfaction levels increase, the system may be applied to the academic lives of a significant number of Americans.

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