Single-Sex Education Faces Burden of Proof in Wisconsin

In order to be allowed to receive its full funding allotment, Madison Preparatory Academy must first provide evidence that single-sex instruction is effective, the Wisconsin State Journal reports. The original proposal had Madison Prep operating as male-only charter school which aimed to serve mostly low-income minority children. After the funding approval was delayed while the state considered the implication of a single-gender school, Madison Prep agreed to have single-gender classrooms instead. With that compromise, the first half of the $225,000 planning grant was disbursed, but now the school must clear a higher hurdle to get the rest of the money.

According to the letter sent by State Superintendent Tony Evers, the Urban League, the organization behind Madison Prep, must provide:

“… scientifically based research upon which the school has determined that there is an important governmental objective to the single-sex education plan and that the use of single-sex education is substantially related to achieving that objective.”

One of the letter’s recipients, Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad, mentioned that the full compliance with the 14th amendment is also a condition for receiving the money. Urban League President Kaleem Caire believes that single-sex education would be profoundly beneficial to boys since it will help them focus on their studies by removing the distraction of the opposite sex.

However, providing scientific proof of that theory might now prove difficult with the recent release of a study that claims that single-gender education, far from being a positive thing, is actually ineffective, and contributes to gender stereotyping. The New York Times reports that a paper to be published in Science magazine, called “The Pseudoscience of Single Sex Schooling,” claims that there’s no evidence to support the idea that separating the genders brings about improved educational outcomes.

It asserts that “sex-segregated education is deeply misguided and often justified by weak, cherry-picked or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.”

The Science paper represents a survey of available research on single-sex education rather than original research. The authors contend that the current scientific research doesn’t show that gender separation is beneficial and actually might, in fact, create difficulties for students going forward. Based on the paper’s conclusions, the authors think that the Education Department should roll back the rules that relax sex-discrimination provisions of Title IX. In 2006, the DOE adopted regulations that allow single-sex education under certain circumstances.

Russlynn H. Ali, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department, said it was reviewing the research. “There are case studies that have been done that show some benefit of single-sex, but like lots of other educational research, it’s mixed,” she said.

The article comes out at a time when popularity of single-gender education is on the rise across the country. There are currently over 500 public schools that either have single-sex classrooms or operate as entirely single-sex located in 40 states. In the 1990s, there were only two single-gender public schools in the U.S.