National Catholic Register
November 12-18, 2006
WASHINGTON — While
Catholic and private schools have always had the option for
single-sex education, public schools have not. A new law is
changing that — giving Catholic parents more options when it
comes to schooling for their children.
For the first
time in 30 years, the U.S. Department of Education has
made a broad change to education policy, relaxing Title IX
regulations to make it easier for public school districts to
offer single-sex classes or schools.
“Research shows that some
students may learn better in single-sex education environments,” said Margaret
Spellings, U.S. Secretary of Education, in a press release announcing
the change. “The Department of Education is committed to giving
communities more choices in how they go about offering varied
Katherine McLane, press secretary for the Education Department,
called the policy change “groundbreaking.”
“A change like this hasn’t
been seen in the history of Title IX,” said McLane.
“This adds another tool for school districts to offer children
a high-quality education.”
Proponents of single-sex instruction say the new
regulations will offer communities greater flexibility and lead to better
“We believe that boys and girls do
learn differently,” said Margaret Richardson, director of the education department
with the National Consultants for Education. The Catholic consulting group
supports the integral formation system of education, which seeks to
form students academically, apostolically, humanly and spiritually. That methodology was
developed by the Legionaries of Christ.
“Gender separation helps
us meet the needs and learning style of each student
we have in the classroom,” Richardson said.
She cited research
that demonstrates that boys and girls hear differently, see differently,
and prefer different temperatures, volumes of instruction and activities.
The National Consultants for Education has 12 member schools, operated
by the Legionaries of Christ, which segregate students by gender
in all of the academic areas. While most of National
Consultants for Education schools do not begin segregating until third
or fourth grade, one of the schools — Canyon Heights
in San Jose, Calif. — does so as early as
The new federal rules allow single-gender education any
time schools think it will improve student achievement, expand the
diversity of courses or meet children’s individual needs. Enrollment is
entirely voluntary, and children excluded from the class must get
a substantially equal coed class in the same subject or
be offered a separate single-sex class. The new regulations take
effect Nov. 24.
Districts may also offer an entire single-gender
school without offering the same for the opposite gender, as
long as there is a coed school that provides substantially
the same education.
Prior to the new law, single-gender classes
were allowed only for courses such as choir, gym or
Separate But Equal?
Not everyone is
pleased with the change. Opponents compare the ruling to the
“separate but equal” concept that has been discredited by the
civil rights movement and say there hasn’t been enough research
to demonstrate that single-sex education is any better than coeducational
Feminist organizations, in particular, have criticized the regulation.
regulations will disadvantage all students by allowing vastly expanded sex-segregation
in our nation’s schools without proper safeguards against discrimination and
stereotyping,” said Marcia Greenburger, president of the National Women’s Law
Center in a press statement.
“The regulations allow schools to
separate girls and boys for virtually any reason they can
dream up,” said Emily Martin, deputy director with the American
Civil Liberties Union Women’s Rights Project. “Although the administration’s regulations
claim to make these programs optional, sex segregation can never
truly be voluntary.”
David Sadker, professor of education at American
University and author of Failing at Fairness, argues that the
government’s new regulations went ahead without adequate research.
is supposed to be based on scientifically based research,” said
Sadker. “When we had (sex-segregated education) 30 years ago, girls
lost out and boys lost out. Imagine if we did
this with race. We’re saying you can separate for no
Leonard Sax, director of the National Association for
Single-Sex Public Education and author of Why Gender Matters, disagrees.
He said that the major benefit to single-gender education is
that it gives schools the power to break down gender
“For example, there are hard-wired differences between how boys
and girls hear,” said Sax. “There are no educationally relevant
differences among the races.”
He was critical of President Bush
for taking so long to make the change, however. “President
Bush has prevented hundreds of programs from moving forward,” Sax
told the Register. “He is the real enemy of single-sex
The idea actually came from
female senators in both parties. In 2001, Sens. Kay Bailey
Hutchison, R-Texas, and Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., drafted an amendment to
the No Child Left Behind Act supporting the expansion of
McLane said that the move by the Department
of Education began three years ago and took time for
the department to investigate the research and solicit comments from
educators, parents and communities.
According to a systematic review of
2,221 studies of single-gender classes and schools, released by the
Department of Education in 2005, the department found a preponderance
of studies that yielded results lending support to same-sex schooling.
Many of the existing studies have examined single-gender education at
Catholic institutions, primarily because they were the prevalent schools offering
such education over the past three decades.
Such instruction is
consistent with Church teaching that the sexual differences between men
and women are an essential component of human identity, are
constructive and complementary.
Single-sex instruction such as what is now
allowed by the federal government has been available in Catholic
schools for decades. According to data from the National Catholic
Education Association, 33% of all Catholic secondary schools, and .8%
of all Catholic elementary schools are single-gender. A total of
441 Catholic schools across the country offer such instruction.
is a topic that people have a strong opinion about,”
said the Department of Education’s McLane. “The department wanted to
make sure that they got it right, and felt the
American people should have their say. That’s why it took
a little time.”
The Department of Education received more than
5,800 comments from the public about the change.
the new law, Sax expects that single-sex instruction will see
phenomenal growth. At present, there are fewer than 240 public
schools across the country that offer single-sex instruction.
lot of districts have been laying in wait for these
new regulations to come out,” Tom Carroll, president of the
Foundation for Education Reform, told the New York Sun. “Now
that they’re out, I think there’s going to be an
Reprinted with permission from the issue of National Catholic Register, November 12-18, 2006.