Is Opposing Single-Gender Classrooms Opposing Choice?

In an editorial for The Wall Street Journal, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Barbara Mikulski explain that opponents of single-gender education are sacrificing the needs of students on the altar of political correctness.

It is hard to create a learning environment that suits every student equally well, which is why trying to impose some kind of an artificial barrier to finding the best setting for each child is both counterproductive and serves to limit access to best education for American kids, they say.

So, allowing public schools to offer single-gender classrooms when they feel these would serve the best interests of their students is something important to members of both parties. The law that eventually made it possible was sponsored not only by Mikulski and Hutchison, but also by then-Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Susan Collins.

Research has shown that certain children learn better in single-gender classrooms, and seeing thousands of them benefit from the legislation made fighting to get it passed and signed worthwhile. Yet now this freedom might be under threat from those who believe that separating classes by gender could be discriminatory and should be disallowed in public schools:

To be clear: The 2001 law did not require that children be educated in single-gender programs or schools. It simply allowed schools and districts to offer the choice of single-sex schools or classrooms, as long as opportunities were equally available to boys and girls. In the vast and growing realm of education research, one central tenet has been confirmed repeatedly: Children learn in different ways. For some, single-sex classrooms make all the difference.

Although critics of single-gender education believe that such an environment promotes gender stereotyping, research has shown that such stereotyping actually is more prevalent in co-educational institutions.

Single-gender education is supported by those who are in the best position to judge its benefits: teachers and school administrators.

A 2008 Department of Education study found that "both principals and teachers believed that the main benefits of single-sex schooling are decreasing distractions to learning and improving student achievement." The gender slant—the math-is-for-boys, home-EC-is-for-girls trope—is eliminated.

There have been other studies that have shown clear benefits when single-gender classrooms were judiciously introduced.

The authors say that those who oppose the growth of single-sex classrooms need to remember that to support separating the genders in some cases doesn't mean supporting it in every case. It isn't right for every student and every family, but for some it could make all the difference. That is why attempting to forbid single-sex education, especially if that decision is based on conjectures and suppositions rather thant facts, does a disservice to students all over the country who could benefit from the freedom to choose the best solution for them.

10 19, 2012
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