U.S. Department of Education to allow single-sex educational opportunities
The U.S. Department of Education amended regulations that are a part of the Title IX Higher Education Act on Oct. 25, allowing public school systems an opportunity to create single-sex schools or offer single-sex classes and extracurricular activities.
The amendments altered the Title IX regulations by authorizing school systems to create single-sex programs as long as there is a co-educational program available for the opposite sex. Under the old regulations, single-sex classes were only permitted if there was another equivalent single-sex class available for the opposite sex.
The new amendments mean that single-sex education is now a viable option for school districts in Maryland, said Linda Shevitz, the Maryland Title IX coordinator. "It makes it a lot easier to provide single-sex programs. Now, you could set up an all-boys school by just offering [another] co-ed [school]," she said. The changes could also spur the creation of more single-sex programs, she said.
Jim Bradshaw, a Department of Education spokesperson, said that the new regulations are a significant change compared to previous amendments to Title IX. "In the past there's been a bit of tweaking that's gone on. This is a really significant amendment, and we're hoping that it can give schools another option," Bradshaw said. Single-sex educational programs must have a significant and relevant academic purpose. According to the department, enrollment is completely voluntary, and programs must report back to local school districts every two years.
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings officially endorsed single-sex education, in an Oct. 24 statement, acknowledging department studies on the effectiveness of single-sex education. "Research shows that some students may learn better in single-sex education environments," she said.
A systematic review by the department on the merits of single-sex education versus those of co-educational schooling found that separating boys and girls in the classroom could have both negative and positive consequences. "Research was mixed, but we felt like there was enough evidence that in some cases it might work," Bradshaw said.
The review, which focused mainly on public and private all-girls high schools found that single-sex classes could increase educational aspirations of students. In addition, the review said that single-sex schooling could be associated with long-term effects such as a lower dropout rate and reduced unemployment. However, results from the review also showed that co-educational schooling might have a better effect on self-esteem than single-sex schooling.
Gregory Bell, director of Diversity Initiatives and Title IX coordinator for Montgomery County, said that the county has no plans to offer new single-sex classes nor are there single-sex classes currently offered in MCPS.
In March 2005, MCPS also created the Girls in Information Technology (IT) task force to deal with concerns from the Montgomery County Commission for Women about the shortage of women entering high-tech fields. In an Aug. 24 presentation, the task force proposed early IT recruitment programs for girls before sixth grade.
Blair has also pushed for gender equity in prior years. The annual Females in Science and Technology Conference (FIST), sponsored by the Blair Magnet Program, was held at Blair on Nov.11. The program was created in 1989 to increase female participation and interest in math and science. "It was started to keep girls interested in math, science and technology," said Mary Ann Dvorsky, co-sponsor of FIST and a Analysis of Algorithms teacher.
According to Shevitz, there has been a nationwide increase in the number of single-sex programs across the nation. There are now 253 public high schools in the country that offer single-sex educational opportunities, as opposed to the three that existed before 1995, according to the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education.
Bell said that the changes were initially made to test the impact of single-sex schools on students. "This is a new viewpoint, a new ideology, a new concept. We need to ask what is it that we can do differently that can make an impact," Bell said. With programs reporting biennially, local school districts would be able to closely monitor the progress of single-sex classes and schools. "It's a wait-and-see kind of piece," Bell said.
Reactions to change
The changes drew criticism from civil rights and women's rights organizations. In a recent battle with Southside Junior High School in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) won a lawsuit that prevented mandatory sex segregation in the school. The clause in the new regulations that enrollment in new single-sex programs must be voluntary did not satisfy the ACLU, which claims that single-sex schooling will be inherently obligatory. "Although the administration's regulations claim to make these programs optional, sex segregation can never be truly voluntary," Emily Martin, deputy director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project, said in a press release.
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) denounced the changes, claiming that money should be spent on more practical solutions, such as lowering class sizes. "The new single-sex regulations take attention away from fundamental changes that need to be made to improve education," AAUW Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Lisa Maatz said.
Single-sex schooling in recent history
The increase in single-sex schooling is the recent result of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which allowed public school systems to use federal funds for single-sex schools and classes. According to Bradshaw, "NCLB opened the door for greater choice options in this education."
But public high schools have offered single-sex education since 1844. According to National Association for Single-Sex Public Education, one of the first public high schools offering single-sex schooling was Western High School in Baltimore.
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