We’ve gone through, and are still living with, racially segregated schools, rich vs. poor schools, religious schools that tend to segregate and schools that segregate by gender.
Sex-segregated public education is increasing, according to a report from the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) in a report titled “Tracking Deliberate Sex Segregation in K-12 Public Schools.” The report was based on data from the Civil Rights Data Collection which found and named 794 public co-ed schools that reported having single-sex academic classes and all-girl and all-boy public schools.
I know and work with many women in the FMF. They do great work on behalf of women and girls. I must admit I haven’t always been much involved in the question of whether boys and girls are better off when they attend separate schools. However, this report got my attention when I learned that sex-segregated schools are increasing.
Having been a proponent of Title IX that was signed into law over 40 years ago, I was curious about whether girls are still discriminated against. The law prohibits sex discrimination and often sex segregation in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Instead of decreasing, there are now more deliberate sex-segregated public K-12 education programs and they are increasing.
The FMF study found that public schools reported having single-sex classes with especially large increases in Nevada and Tennessee. There are also additional single-sex schools. Most of these schools are found in low income Black and Latino communities. At the same time, it was found that 64 years after the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, our public schools are more racially segregated than ever. That raises the question whether schools have improved for Black and Latino students or do practices under Title IX or Brown v. Board help. If they’ve not helped, is it because the intent of these laws is ignored?
The FMF report documents how deliberate K-12 single-sex instruction is educationally unsound, economically wasteful and often unlawful.
The report further tells us, “Under the Bush administration, the ED released 2006 regulations weakening Title IX prohibitions on single-sex education. In December 2014, the ED Office for Civil Rights provided clarifying Q&A guidance on justifications that schools need to show that their single-sex education is not discriminatory.”
These 2014 Questions and Answers on Title IX and Single-Sex Elementary and Secondary Classes and Extracurricular Activities are meant to be used to adequately justify that any allowable single-sex public education does not increase sex stereotyping and sex discrimination. This guidance also reminds schools they should publish information on their single-sex activities as well as their evaluations and justifications on their websites and that any of this deliberate single-sex education should be approved by Title IX Coordinators and other officials.
Maybe some sex-segregated schools are necessary, but they shouldn’t exist if they’re discriminating. The discrimination is generally against the girls. In order to reduce the numbers of sex discriminatory sex-segregated programs in K-12 public schools, the FMF recommends that Title IX Coordinators and other gender equity advocates check the current status, policies, and for any plans of schools that indicate allowing single-sex classes.
In many cases, these district- and school-based Title IX coordinators need help from other gender equity activists including reminding them that intentional sex-segregated public education is rarely legally, educationally, or economically justifiable. For more information on this subject, contact Dr. Sue Klein, FMF Education Equity Director, firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s the expert, but you may also contact the National Congress of Black women at 202/678-6788.
As parents and those interested in what is happening with girls in school, all of us need to be more vigilant.
Williams is national president of the National Congress of Black Women and a weekly columnist for the Trice Edney Wire Service.