The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against a middle school for allegedly violating the Constitution and federal law by segregating classes by sex.
Van Devender Middle School in West Virginia implemented a single-sex education program at the start of the 2010-2011 school year for all incoming sixth graders. Reading, math, social studies and science classes were all segregated by gender.
“Supporters of these programs make completely unfounded generalizations about boys and girls, but offer no proof that these strategies pay off academically,” said Sarah Rogers, staff attorney with the ACLU of West Virginia. “What has been proven, however, is that these programs foster stereotypes and hurt kids who don’t fit the idea of how a stereotypical boy or girl is supposed to learn and behave.”
The ACLU said boys’ classrooms are more brightly lit and teachers permit boys to move about during class to exert energy, on the theory that boys see better in bright light. In contrast, girls are to sit quietly and share feelings in dimly lit rooms.
Advocates of single-sex education claim that boys and girls should be taught separately because of gender differences in the brain — and some studies back up their claims. For example, researchers at Brown University found in 2000 that women performed as much as 12 percent better on math problems when tested in a setting without men.
But single-sex classrooms have been assailed by educators, psychologists and neurologists. Research conducted by Penn State psychologists in 2011 found that students in sex-segregated classrooms were no more educated than students in coeducational classrooms. Students in sex-segregated classrooms, however, were more likely to accept gender stereotypes.
“The bottom line is that there is not good scientific evidence for the academic advantages of single-sex schooling,” the study’s led author, psychology professor Lynn S. Liben, explained. “But there is strong evidence for negative consequences of segregating by sex.”
The enactment of Title IX in 1972 outlawed educational discrimination on the basis of sex. But in 2006, the U.S. Department of Education allowed public schools to segregate classes on the basis of sex if they provided a compelling reason for the decision, which was not based on gender stereotypes. The single-sex programs also must be voluntary.
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