Public Education

Issues Involving Single-Gender Schools and Programs Gao ID: HEHS-96-122 May 28, 1996

A host of legal and educational issues surround proposals for single-sex classes in the public schools. These issues involve the legality of single-gender programs, the effectiveness of such programs in promoting desired educational outcomes, and the desirability of using these programs to achieve such goals as fostering improved academic and social performance among boys and teaching mathematics to girls in a nonthreatening setting. Some public elementary and secondary schools have recently offered single-sex classes or programs in a coeducational setting. However, some of these programs have been terminated or modified to not exclude anyone on the basis of gender because federal or state officials believed that the programs violated federal or state laws. School districts that have such programs could face lawsuits.

GAO found that: (1) single-gender educational programs are thought to reduce dropout rates and improve overall academic performance among urban males and academic achievement in mathematics and science among females; (2) single-gender settings are believed to reduce the distraction boys and girls create for each other, particularly during the middle school years; (3) some studies of minority students in private single-gender schools have suggested that both boys and girls improve academically in such settings; (4) the effectiveness of single-gender programs may be due more to students' and parents' motivation and commitment and small student populations; (5) some experts fear that single-gender educational programs will lead to unequal resource allocations and reinforcement of stereotypes; (6) some believe that training teachers in diversity and equity, creating smaller classes, and providing more individual attention would be just as effective in coeducational settings; (7) some public schools have terminated or modified their single-gender programs because of federal and state limitations on single-gender educational programs; and (8) the Department of Education has received numerous complaints regarding single-gender educational settings.

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