Bush pushes for single-sex schools

19th March 2004 at 00:00

TES correspondents report on efforts to close the gender gaps in teaching and learning

President Bush is proposing to give American education authorities broad new powers to offer single-sex schooling.

He wants to sweep away anti-discrimination rules that mean school districts have to prove that single-sex schools and classes redress previous inequity, and match them with corresponding arrangements for the opposite sex.

The strict conditions have made single-sex schooling a largely private-sector service. Just 25 of America's 93,000 state schools are single-sex, and most of these have sprung up since President Bush signalled support for the concept, and provided $297 million (pound;165m) for pilot initiatives.

The new regulations, which could be adopted next month, would shake up co-ed schools, allowing them to split boys and girls into separate classes, said Meg Moulton, of the National Coalition of Girls' Schools.

The number of same-sex schools will probably double within three years, said Cornelius Riordan, a sociology professor at Providence college, chosen by the White House to lead a $1.2m, 36-month study.

The Bush plan has united conservative educational traditionalists and feminists in favour of affirmative action. Single-sex education has often been touted as a way to nurture girls' self-esteem and achievement, particularly in maths and science.

But Mr Riordan expects new boys' schools to outstrip those for girls, reflecting mounting concerns about poorer academic scores and higher drop-out rates.

Educating at-risk boys separately allows staff to counter an "oppositional anti-academic culture" and instil discipline without the distractions posed in unisex settings, said Mr Riordan.

By "bringing up" boys in reading and writing and girls in maths and science, separating the sexes would advance equality, he said. However, experts said single-sex education reinforced stereotypes.

"There's no clear evidence that single-sex state schools are effective," said Elisabeth Woody, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. She co-conducted the largest study to date of US public single-sex education.

"Research in private Catholic schools suggests there are some benefits for minority kids," she said. "But it's hard to say whether it's just that same-sex schools are smaller and more focused."

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