- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

Women's and civil rights groups are urging President Bush to drop the idea of allowing school districts to open more single-sex public schools, claiming such schools only promote sexism.

"We live in a real world, and that world has got men and women in it," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "They must compete."

Noting high demand for the country's 15 single-sex public schools, the Bush administration wants to relax federal rules that now limit single-sex schools and make more money available for school districts to form single-sex schools or classes.

However, groups including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the Feminist Majority Foundation and the National Women's Law Center said that separating students by sex promotes boys' sexism and is poor preparation for increasingly integrated workplaces.

"Separate is never equal," said Nancy Zirkin, deputy director of LCCR, an umbrella group of 185 civil rights organizations. "We would never accept it in a race context. Why on earth would we ever accept it in a gender context?"

The groups said the idea of single-sex schools only distracts educators and diverts money from proven ways to improve education: more attention to core academic subjects, greater funding, smaller class sizes, more parental involvement and a clear code of behavior and discipline.

Thomas Carroll, founder and chairman of the Brighter Choice Charter School for Girls and Brighter Choice Charter School for Boys in Albany, N.Y., said single-sex schools should be an option that's made available to lower-income families.

"We're not saying this type of education is an answer for every child parents should be the ones to decide what's best for their children," he said.

Mr. Bush last winter signed the No Child Left Behind Act that allows school districts with single-sex schools to compete for a small portion of $450 million for innovative programs. The law also allows school districts to receive federal dollars for single-sex schools and classes if comparable course work and facilities are available to both sexes.

Since 1972, Title IX outlawed federal funding for education programs that discriminate on the basis of sex. The revisions, which were included in the education bill, endorses single-sex schools so long as there are equal-funding opportunities for both sexes.

Education Secretary Rod Paige has said that school districts do not need to provide his department with a justification for offering a single-sex school. Mr. Paige said he wants to revise federal regulations to give school districts "as much flexibility as possible" to offer more single-sex programs.

Research on single-sex education, done mostly in private schools, suggests the schools are more orderly and that girls tend to do better in math, science, athletics and social situations. It also found that the self-esteem of girls attending such schools is not necessarily better than that of girls in other schools.

Supporters of single-sex schools argue such learning environments are good for girls and minorities. Girls pay attention to their teachers, work confidently at lessons and speak up freely in class, they said.

As for single-sex schools hindering girls' leadership skills, Mr. Carroll said: "Look at Hillary Rodham Clinton. She went to Wellesley College, an all-women's school, and that didn't seem to impair her leadership abilities. What we're finding is, it gives girls greater opportunities for leadership roles."

Ms. Zirkin said more research should be done on whether single-sex education benefits children before expanding on the idea. "Why in the world are we doing a whole program when there is no, or little at best, scientifically based research?" she said.

The story is based in part on wire service reports.

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