Turning back the clock on single-sex education

The Department of Education retools Title IX, allowing more same-sex ed.

Published October 25, 2006 10:06PM (EDT)

Welcome to the official Title IX backlash! Dear, sweet Title IX was passed in the halcyon(ish) days of 1972, banning sex discrimination in schools and activities that receive federal funds. It ensured equality in education for girls and is responsible for many of today's female mathletes and soccer champs. Hooray!

But its days may be dwindling. Lately the so-called boy crisis in public schools has become every lazy media outlet's topic du jour, fueling the perception that girls get better college preparation than boys. That theory has been officially debunked with genuine research -- race and class turned out to be two of the real culprits for educational disparities, not gender -- but the Bush administration has yielded to the overblown boy crisis hysteria anyway.

The latest result is a new amendment to Title IX, which allows public school districts to expand their numbers of same-sex classes and schools. According to the Education Department's mellifluous press release, it's not backtracking in history by promoting single-sex ed but giving communities "more flexibility in offering additional choices to parents in the education of their children." To that end, enrollment in single-sex classes must be voluntary, and classes of "substantially equal" quality must be available for the other sex. Anyone uncomfortable with this "separate but equal" formulation, raise your hand.

For what it's worth, the New York Times says that the ACLU, which often takes an interest in such matters, is considering going to court over the ruling.

Don't get us wrong, we're reasonably into the writings of Carol Gilligan and the notion that girls and boys can have different methods of learning. And any approach to school that makes academics the focus and promotes an environment in which kids can feel unselfconscious about being smart is great. But is amending Title IX really the way to go about making nuanced changes in the way we educate our kids?

By Marisa Meltzer

Marisa Meltzer is a freelance writer in New York City. She is coauthor of "How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time," which comes out in April.

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