The Rising Campaign Against Single-Sex Education

Although the headline of a December 22 Atlantic article was “The Resurgence of Single-Sex Education,” a less misleading title might have been “The Resurgence of the Campaign against Single Sex-Education.”

Because every time single-sex education finds a constituency, it seems there are people waiting in the wings to shut it down. This time it’s the ACLU and prominent academics—including Juliet A. Williams, author of The Separation Solution? Single-Sex Education and the New Politics of Gender Equality.

Instead of rejoicing that at last the single-sex school, once of prerogative only of the affluent, is becoming an option for more low-income families, these folks are mounting a campaign against the upswing. It began in the 1990s when less affluent families, facing the prospect of sending their kids to failing or dangerous public schools, began to lobby for the single-sex option for their kids. Generally speaking, parents of girls wanted them free from the pressures of impressing boys. And parents of boys wanted teachers who could be firmer and espouse certain ideals of—if you’ll excuse the politically incorrect term—manliness.

The push for single-sex public schools for kids from low-income families became so pronounced that the Obama administration had to hold its nose and issue guidelines for establishing such schools. They stipulate that there must be a compelling educational reason for setting up a single-sex school and that “gender stereotypes” are strictly forbidden.

According to the guidelines, parents must opt-in rather than simply having children assigned to one of these nefarious institutions. Unfortunately for the critics of single-sex public education, parents seem to be doing just that: The waiting lists for successful single-sex public schools such as the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy in Dallas, where young men wear ties and blazers, or the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, which enrolls girls from low-income families and is considered one of Texas’ best public schools, are long. In 2004 there were 34 single-sex public schools in the U.S.; today there are around 850.

Williams concedes in the Atlantic that these schools may have been established with “the best of intentions” but rates the results as unimpressive and, moreover, worries that single-sex schools play a part in “reinforcing damaging gender stereotypes.”

Indeed single-sex education has become a feminist issue. University of Texas psychologist Rebecca Bigler, told the New York Times last year that “segregating” the sexes can lead to prejudice. “You say there’s a problem with sexism,” Ms. Bigler said, “and instead of addressing the sexism, you just remove one sex.”

She has it backwards, though. If there is a problem with sexism (and I don’t necessarily buy it), maybe an enclave where sentences can be diagramed in peace without the glares of the opposite sex on you is the solution.

Meanwhile the ACLU has taken up the issue. “The ACLU has long fought to end the practice of separating boys and girls in public schools based on discredited ‘science’ that is rooted in outdated gender stereotypes,” an item on the organization’s website explains. The name of the ACLU program is “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes.”

The organization has filed suits against public school districts in Florida, Idaho, and Wisconsin for their use of single-sex schools. It managed to force a school in West Virginia to discontinue its single-sex school classes for at least two years. But is there any real evidence that single-sex education is harmful?

The research on both sides is ambiguous at best. Often cited by those hostile to single-sex schools is a 2011 critique in Science magazine. It argued that there was evidence that single-sex education “legitimizes institutional sexism.” But the article was written by eight academics who were active in the fight against single-sex education. One of them, Lise Eliot, predicted that in the future single-sex schools, including private colleges, could see their federal funding withdrawn if they remain single-sex.

We don’t have academic studies to prove that single-sex education works well either. There is evidence that there are fewer disciplinary problems in single-sex schools. And some parents see value in that alone and want single-sex education to be a choice for their children. Who is the ACLU to deny them?

One reason that the war against single-sex education is so hot right now is that, if single-sex public schools were to prove successful, it might be considered evidence that gender differences exist. So even if the cost of this battle is reducing educational choices for low-income families, liberals will dig in their heels.


  • John Brave

    Of course feminists will fight tooth and nail against single sex schools and of course they will claim that they’re fighting against sexism.

    The truth is somber of course. Feminists now have a very firm grip on education and they’re using this control to disadvantage boys (several studies showed that eliminating teachers’ assessment of boys and taking only their test results resulted in an increase in boys’ scores) and indoctrinate them with whatever feminized version of the world they want.

    They will fight to not lose this long won control over the boys, otherwise boys and young men will become equal to girls in the education system.

    • Tom Billings

      “They will fight to not lose this long won control over the
      boys, otherwise boys and young men will become equal to girls in the
      education system and they may grow up to be strong, dependable and
      desirable men.”

      Not quite. instead of strong, dependable and desirable, …weak, dependent, and ignorable men. Otherwise, how is the progressive State to control them?

      • Michael McLaughlin

        The man of the future has blue streaked emo hair, wears skinny jeans and tonguekisses his best friend brad. Or he is a hipster with his lumberjack beard and suspenders riding his single gear bike to a craft brewery. Either way he’s never changed a car tire, shot a rifle or been hiking anyplace that didn’t require a passport to travel to.

  • Julia

    I agree with this article and find the liberal stance on this topic a little ironic. I went to a women’s college, which was basically a breeding ground for feminists and liberals (and it was even in the South). Women were allowed to speak freely (often about the terrible patriarchy) and do whatever they wanted without the threat of sexism from men, so shouldn’t feminists be encouraging same sex education? I always find it interesting when feminists disagree with something that you would think they would agree with 🙂

    • John Brave

      Feminists have no problem with single sex schools for girls. They only object to single sex schools for boys. They only talk about boys learning sexism, not girls.

      • D Guest

        So they can emasculate the boys.

        If the girls’ schools do go away, it will only be because the trans people will have superseded the females as the ultimate protected class.

      • DeboraR

        We need both.

  • Quancho

    But wait! Haven’t our betters on the U.S. Supreme Court already told us that single-sex education VILL NOT be tolerated? I’m thinking U.S. v. Virginia here.

  • Vizzini

    One of them, Lise Eliot, predicted that in the future single-sex schools, including private colleges, could see their federal funding withdrawn if they remain single-sex.

    Take the Devil’s money and you dance to his tune. People need to wake up and see that withdrawal of federal funds isn’t something to be feared. In fact, schools and states everywhere should stop being greedy and tell the federal government to take its funds and go pound sand.

    This should be accompanied by a tax revolt with the goal of reducing federal taxes proportionately, so the revenues can stay in local and state governments instead, where they can be used in a way more responsive to constituents wants and needs.

    • D Guest

      Funny, it seems that only the male-only colleges were forced to disappear. The women’s colleges, bastions of radical feminism, are still the beneficiaries of a double standard.

      Where did Hillary Clinton attend school again? Oh yeah – Wellesley women’s college.

  • Rick Caird

    The poor are always the victims of the well off elite who want to use them to adhere to the standards the elite think are “right”.

    • Michael McLaughlin

      …and those same Elites will send their children to single sex private schools while complaining how the poor need to adhere to the current educational groupthink.

  • carla5731

    Food and education are two topics where researchers can throw together a study with a specific point of view that’s turned into public policy; and then, several years later, throw together another study that contradicts the first study and that data will be used to craft new public policy. In both cases we should stop funding the researchers.

  • DeboraR

    Single-sex school are and should continue to be a valid educational choice. What is it that the hard left likes to say? “If you don’t want an abortion don’t have one.” Well then, “if you don’t want to go to a single-sex school, then don’t enroll in one!” See how easy that is?

  • Michael McLaughlin

    Boys and girls DO learn different…Boys are loud and competitive, girls are socially oriented and less willing to take risks in a mixed environment. Giving them the option to learn amongst their peers will enhance early education while helping them to ‘cross train’ in needed areas…boys can learn teamwork and empathy, girls can take risks and try different things outside their comfort zones.

    • Arken

      But there are more differences in learning by personality than just boy or girl there is way more to it than that. i’m a girl and i love taking risks and being competitive and i like group work. so how would i fit in at a all girl school?

  • Jim Treadwell

    No choice from the pro choice movement.

  • lfstevens

    Surprising that ss schools would be so popular if they don’t add value. Also surprising that research can’t figure out whether they work or don’t. Why is social science so broken? Half of the attempts to reproduced the results of published studies fail.