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November 27 2006

Single-sex schools are good option for Baltimore

Carrie L. Lukas

BALTIMORE - Is a single-sex school right for your child? The other paper's editorial board thinks they know the answer: No. In a recent editorial, "Separate But Equal," the paper criticized the U.S. Department of Education for issuing new rules that would make it easier for public school systems to offer single-sex options. The editorial parrots concerns of feminist organizations that girls will somehow be harmed by these new rules and question evidence suggesting that boys and girls may learn more when educated separately.

Yet Maryland parents are likely to have a very different reaction to the news that there may soon be new options for how their children are educated.

After all, it doesn't really matter if there is conclusive evidence that all children thrive without the distraction of the opposite sex. The only question that concerns parents is, will my child do better?

The Department of Education believes that parents are in the best position to make that determination.

Certainly single-sex education isn't going to be the right choice for every child: That's why the new regulations specify that enrollment in a single-sex class must be voluntary. Parents must choose this option for their child.

What families might benefit from these new options? The parents with daughters who seem more concerned with their looks than with their school work and the parents with sons who attempt to impress their female peers, not through academic achievement, but by acting up. Some of these families might decide that their children will do better and learn more in a single-sex classroom.

Single-sex schools have always been an option for some parents-- parents who can afford to pay tuition to enroll their children in private school. Private schools often cater exclusively to one sex or offer "brother" and "sister" schools that intermingle the sexes for some activities, but not others. Some of the most prestigious private schools in the nation enroll only one sex.

But of course, few families can afford private school tuition, which means most have only the options offered within the public school system.

It's particularly odd to question the benefits of single-sex education in Baltimore. After all, the city is home to Western High School, the nation's oldest all-girls public high school, and one of the city's highest performing schools. Girls who attend Western far exceed district and state averages on state standardized tests.

According to the school's Web site, the college preparatory high school boasts a 100 percent college placement rate. The graduating class of 2006 received over $7 million in scholarships. Since Western High School is a competitive or magnet school, students must apply to enroll. Currently, the school enrolls just 852 students.

Would the other paper's editorial board and the liberal feminist organizations argue that the success of the all-girls Western High School somehow harms the male students in Baltimore City? After all, the Maryland State Department of Education reports that the graduation rate of female students in Baltimore City public schools is 67 percent, compared to 52 percent for boys.

And it isn't just in Baltimore where girls are outperforming boys. Nationwide, boys are more likely than girls to drop out before graduating high school; they are less likely to go to college; they take fewer advanced placement courses; they are less engaged and express less interest in their studies. Education policy makers ought to be concerned about the culture of failure that has become the norm for many males in our society.

They should be looking for new ways to reverse this disturbing trend, and single-sex education may be the answer for some parents of disaffected boys.

The real question confronting our education system is who should make decisions about how children are taught? Education bureaucrats who think parents should turn their kids over to the one-size-fits-all government run schools are not the answer.

Parents know better. And increasingly policy makers are seeking ways to give parents more options and more control over how their children are educated. The Department of Education's decision to make it easier for public school systems to provide single-sex options is a step in that direction.

It isn't going to solve all the city's education problems, but it could make a difference for a few kids. And that's enough of a reason to support it.

Carrie Lukas is the vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women's Forum and author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism."

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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