October 30 2008

Position Paper No. 613: Title IX and Single-sex education

Allison Kasic

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Executive Summary

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 bans sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal financial assistance. Title IX impacts many areas of education, from sexual harassment procedures to athletic participation to single-sex education.

In the realm of single-sex education, Title IX has traditionally limited opportunities for such programs to a small number of areas, such as physical-education and sex-education classes. However, recent policy changes published in 2006 expand opportunities for public single-sex education programs.

The new regulations allow nonvocational public schools to offer a single-sex class or extracurricular activity if the purpose of the class or extracurricular activity is achievement of an important governmental or educational objective. The new regulations also provide more flexibility for forming nonvocational single-sex public schools, including public charter schools.

The new regulations require such programs to be voluntary in nature. Schools are not forced to offer single-sex programs, and when schools do offer such an option, student participation must be completely voluntary. 

In the years leading up to the final regulations, and since, single-sex public education has rapidly expanded, demonstrating demand from both parents and educators for such programs. Unfortunately, this acceptance by parents and educators has not quelled the backlash toward the regulations, mainly provided by women's organizations that claim, among other things, that single-sex education serves to reinforce dangerous gender stereotypes. Data, however, suggests that the opposite is true-in many ways, single-sex education helps to break down gender stereotypes.

Proponents of single-sex education point to a variety of social factors, as well as a growing body of research on biological differences between the sexes, to build support for their programs. While there is a growing body of research in areas such as intrinsic differences between male and female brains that might affect ideal educational environments, the body of research on the educational impact of single-sex education in general is typically deemed inconclusive, with some studies showing significant gains and others showing no educational benefits. However, several sub-areas of research in the field give reason to be optimistic about single-sex education.

While the aggregate data on the performance of single-sex educational programs remains contested, it is clear that some students are benefiting from these programs. As long as single-sex programs remain voluntary, parents and educators should celebrate the addition of more options in the public education sector.

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