- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The U.S. Department of Education yesterday announced new rules that will allow public schools to create classes, grades and even entire schools that teach students of one sex only.

“Research shows some students may learn better in single-sex educational environments,” Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in announcing changes that will take effect Nov. 24 and that will be voluntary.

“Every child should receive a high-quality education in America, and every school and district deserves the tools to provide it. These final regulations permit communities to establish single-sex schools and classes as another means of meeting the needs of students,” the secretary said.

The guidelines have been studied for four years. Education officials began examining policy changes after research indicated that some students learn and behave better in boys-only or girls-only environments.

The American Association of University Women and other groups oppose single-sex schools.

“The research supporting single-sex education is inconclusive. Indeed, in its most recent report, the Department of Education calls … the benefits of single-sex education equivocal,” said Catherine Hill, the association’s director of research.

Education Department officials in a teleconference yesterday made it clear that the evidence is mixed.

“The research suggests single-sex education can provide benefits to some students under certain circumstances,” said Stephanie Monroe, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights.

“We’re not imposing this as a one-size-fits-all mandate. This is an option that can be helpful to some students, and that’s what the literature says. Local schools and parents will make the decision on what is appropriate for their students,” she said.

The federal rules that will be published today in the Federal Register represent amendments to how the Education Department will enforce the Title IX anti-discrimination law of 1972. That law prohibits sex discrimination in education programs or activities that receive federal funds.

The need to ensure legal compliance was one reason why the regulations took so long to develop, Miss Monroe said. “This is an important issue, and we wanted to make sure the department got it right. … We made sure [the amendments] are legally sound, are consistent with Title IX, and with the Constitution,” she said.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales approved the guidelines after making a few changes that officials described as minor.

Kent Talbert, general counsel for the Education Department, said it “took two to three years” for officials to analyze more than 5,800 public comments on the issue of single-sex education.

Miss Monroe said most who commented “did not think single-sex education is wrong,” but many “were concerned about how it would be implemented.” She said the department thinks it has “adequately addressed those concerns.”

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said in an interview that her group is “very concerned” with the guidelines and repeatedly filed objections.

“Whenever there are efforts to provide separate but equal [programs], it never manages to be equal. Girls invariably get the short end,” Mrs. Gandy said.

Single-sex classrooms have become more common, increasing from four public schools in 1998 to at least 228 today, according to the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education.

In the Washington area, Frederick County’s Twin Ridge Elementary School began offering all-boys classes for fourth- and fifth-graders two years ago. The decision was prompted by lagging test scores for boys, the school’s principal told the Baltimore Sun in May 2004.

In Baltimore, at least eight city schools offer all-boys classes “taught by black men and designed to present role models to African-American boys,” the Sun reported. This fall, Septima Clark Public Charter School in Ward 8 became the District’s first all-boys charter school, The Washington Post reported.


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