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Education Equality

Sex Segregation

FMF Study Shows Increase in Nationwide Single-Sex Public Education —
Despite evidence that single-sex classes are “educationally unsound,” numbers continue to grow

The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) released its second national study “Identifying US K-12 Public Schools with Deliberate Sex Segregation (2011-14) (PDF). FMF found that instead of decreasing sex segregation, the number of public K-12 coed schools with single-sex academic classes and all-girls and all-boys schools have continued to increase since the 2006 Title IX regulation that made it easier to establish single-sex K-12 public education. (Read more in the press release and news story blogs.)

This 2014 FMF study is based on responses from the 2011-12 Civil Rights Data Collection, CRDC. As in its previous three-part study, the State of Public School Sex Segregation in the United States (2007-2010) (press release), FMF found that it was impossible to find all public K-12 schools with deliberate sex segregation. However, this 2014 study lists 805 public K-12 schools with intentional single-sex education by name and state. Lists 1 and 2 contain URLs and other information on 699 Coed K-12 Public Schools reporting single-sex academic classes in 2011-12. List 3 has information on 67 all-girl public schools and List 4 has information on 39 all-boy public schools.

List 1: Coed Public Schools with Single Sex Academic Classes 2011-14, Sorted by State
List 2: Coed Public Schools with Types of Single Sex Academic Classes 2011-14, Sorted by State
List 3: All-girl Public Schools Identified in 2011-14, Organized by State
List 4: All-boy Public Schools Identified in 2011-14, Organized by State

The previous three-part FMF study State of Public School Sex Segregation in the United States (2007-2010) is based on responses from the 2006 and 2010 CRDCs and much more -- such as verification information from State Title IX coordinators. It documented 646 K-12 public schools with deliberate sex segregation including 564 coed schools with single-sex academic classes and 82 all- girl and all-boy single-sex public schools. It also provided many examples of how schools violated legal prohibitions against sex discrimination. The three parts of the State of Public School Sex Segregation in the United States (2007-2010) follow:

Part I: Patterns of K-12 Single-sex Public Education in the U.S. (PDF)
Part II: Role of States in Addressing Single-sex Public Education (PDF)
Part III: Summary and Recommendations (PDF)

Problems with Sex-Segregated Public Education

Increased Sex Segregation Is More Likely to Increase Sex Discrimination and Sex Stereotyping in Public K-12 Education than to Reduce It


After Title IX was passed in 1972, there was a decline in single-sex education even in private K-12 schools and colleges. Instead, the focus was on creating non-sexist coeducational classes and schools.

But there was an increase in intentional sex segregation in K-12 non-vocational public education since 2002, when the Department of Education signaled its intent to be more flexible in allowing the expansion of sex- segregated education. In 2006 the Department of Education issued a Title IX regulation  that weakened safeguards against sex discrimination, the sole purpose of Title IX. The Feminist Majority Foundation's multi-year studies concluded that there were over 1000 public K-12 US schools with deliberate single-sex academic classes during 2007-10 and 2011-14.

Individuals concerned with sex-segregated instruction should be aware of the following:

•  Separate is not equal or fair to all. It is very difficult to provide even "substantial" equality in sex segregated schools, classes, or activities, whether we are talking about facilities, quality of instruction, levels of expectations, treatment of students, or preference for a particular teacher.

•  Sex segregation (allowed under the 2006 regulation changes) is absolute and not totally voluntary. Even advocates of single sex education agree that there is more variation within groups of girls and boys than between them, but they ignore this important truth when excluding everyone of one sex from a class intended for all boys or all girls, even if the excluded girls or boys want to enroll.

•  Many assumptions about benefits of sex segregation are educationally unsound. Many of the post 2006 sex segregated classes and schools are based on inaccurate claims of innate student differences by sex and related myths that male and female students learn differently and should receive dissimilar instruction. Good educational practices can and do meet the needs of both girls and boys in a coeducational setting by addressing individual needs and by consciously striving for gender equity in curriculum and instruction.

• Research results do not generally support the superiority of sex segregation in advancing student learning or in decreasing sex discrimination. It is difficult to conduct fully equitable comparisons of single sex and coeducational programs or schools to learn what is better, as many other factors may influence the results. Although it is possible that both coeducational and single sex classes may help either eliminate or increase sex stereotyping, increased sex stereotyping is likely to be more of a problem in sex-segregated classes. Research to date has not done much to control for other explanations of differences, and the patterns of results from various single studies of sex-segregated education do not show consistent superiority on any outcome measures. Additionally, few of these studies examined outcome measures related to decreasing sex discrimination or sex stereotyping. (See Handbook for Achieving Gender Equity through Education, 2007, especially Chapters 9 and 31)

•  Costs are higher. The separate operation and facilities for single sex education are more costly than comparable coeducation. It takes more time and money to assure that all facilities and resources are equitable for both girls and boys in segregated and mixed sex options. Also, additional resources are needed for staff training and program evaluation and for responding to public information requests and litigation to defend potentially discriminatory practices.

•  Evaluations are critically important, but costlyThe monitoring and evaluations needed to assure continued parity with equivalent coeducational opportunities and avoidance of increased stereotyping in single sex education “experiments” need to be done carefully and rigorously to meet the Department of Education's own What Works Clearinghouse standards of effectiveness, which are designed for all educational programs and certainly should apply to single sex instruction as well. This is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. See Feminist Majority Foundation suggested evaluation guidelines (PDF). (The December 2014 Office for Civil Rights Single-sex Guidance (PDF) does specify the need to meet the What Works Clearinghouse standards of effectiveness.)

•  The institutions responsible for the single sex education may face lawsuits and Title IX complaints. The ACLU web page “Sex-Segregated Schools: Separate and Unequal” and their campaign “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes” document many of their successful and ongoing efforts to use the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause, Title IX,  the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, and state laws to end sex discrimination associated with this sex segregation.

In summary, most efforts to provide sex-segregated education are detrimental and waste resources that instead should be used to end sex stereotyping and discrimination in coeducational environments, especially for the most vulnerable students who face multiple types of discrimination related to poverty, race, ethnicity, disabilities, and sexual identity or orientation.

Title IX has been a highly effective and popular law. It has withstood many challenges. The 2006 Department of Education regulation that encourages sex segregation deliberately undermines the intent of Title IX and will continually threaten the advancement of gender equity in U.S. schools until it is rescinded or otherwise invalidated. There is no right to discriminate on the basis of sex using federal financial assistance to education.

(This section of the FMF sex segregation web page on “Problems with Sex-Segregated Public Education” is also available as a separate PDF Handout.)

Background on Efforts to Stop Discriminatory Public Supported Sex-Segregated Education

In March, 2004 the US Department of Education proposed changes to the Title IX regulations that would make it significantly easier for schools and school districts to allow single-sex classes and single-sex schools. On October 25, 2006 the Department of Education issued the final changes to its Title IX regulation without remedying the key objections of the 6,000 people who submitted public comments opposing the 2004 proposed changes.

The original 1975 Title IX regulations used by multiple federal agencies permit sex-segregated education under very limited circumstances, such as for single-sex schools and classes when they are needed to overcome the effects of gender discrimination. The 2006 Department of Education Title IX regulation allows K-12 non vocational single-sex schools, classes, and extracurricular activities in public elementary and secondary schools for a variety of vague purposes such as “the achievement of an important governmental or educational objective”. This 2006 Department of Education Title IX regulation no longer ties the key justification for allowing this sex segregation to overcoming the effects of sex discrimination, the sole purpose of Title IX. 

These 2006 Title IX regulation changes allow separate facilities or classes as long as the gender that is not given the special class or school receives a "substantially equal" coed educational opportunity. "Substantially equal" is not specifically defined in the regulation and there are no instructions in the 2006 regulation on how to learn if the single-sex activities contribute to increased sex stereotyping and sex discrimination or if they contribute to achieving any important governmental objectives such as increased academic achievement. Also, the vague evaluation requirements do not provide explicit guidance on how the school must demonstrate that its single-sex instruction is any more effective than coed instruction.

The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and many women's rights groups see this weakening of Title IX and related government encouragement of single-sex education as an improper use of Title IX. The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education points out that instead of making it clear that Title IX protects against sex discrimination, these rule changes facilitate sex discrimination and should be rescinded.

Help from recent guidance on stopping sex discriminatory sex segregation

FMF and other equity advocates hope that if education decision makers understand that deliberate sex-segregated public education is legally, educationally, and economically unsound, they will stop allowing it in their schools. If followed rigorously, the following two sets of guidance should help end questionable sex segregation in public education programs and activities.  

In 2013 FMF submitted “Suggestions for Evaluation Guidelines for Schools Contemplating or Using Single-sex Education“ (PDF)  to the Office for Civil Rights in the US Department of Education and also shared it with our gender equity colleagues. The Executive Summary (PDF) of the FMF evaluation guidelines outline three evaluation phases that should be used prior to Title IX coordinators, administrators, school boards, and others approving the initiation or continuation of this sex segregation.

On Dec. 1, 2014 the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the US Department of Education issued long-awaited “Questions and Answers on Title IX and Single-Sex Elementary and Secondary Classes and Extracurricular Activities” (PDF). This guidance seeks to provide answers to what public schools providing single-sex education must do to comply with Title IX, the US Constitution and other federal and state civil rights laws to avoid discrimination. The 33 questions and answers in this OCR Dec. 2014 guidance address violations of equity principles discussed earlier in this FMF sex segregation web page. For example, they address examples of sex discrimination identified in the FMF multi-year reports for 2007-10 and 2014, the problems with sex segregation outlined in the FMF handout (PDF) as well as many of the FMF “Suggestions for Evaluation Guidelines for Schools Contemplating or Using Single-sex Education.” However, this 2014 OCR guidance is based on the 2006 Title IX regulation which equity advocates believe should be rescinded because it allows sex segregation for vague purposes such as “increasing diversity” which has nothing to do with decreasing sex discrimination under Title IX. 

In summary, FMF hopes that education and equity experts including the required Title IX coordinators will identify public schools in their areas that are using deliberate sex segregation. (The 2014 FMF study lists of schools with sex segregation by state should help with the initial identification.) After identifying schools with deliberate sex segregation, these experts should work with others to learn if the schools are in full compliance with Title IX, the US Constitution, and other civil rights laws. The FMF and the Dec. 2014 OCR legal guidance should provide an initial framework for making fully informed decisions about allowing any deliberate sex segregation. But the experts should also determine if the sex segregation is improving education better than comparable coeducation and if it is more cost effective. If there is no convincing evidence that the specific sex segregation is better than comparable coeducation, it should be ended and all efforts should be used to create high quality gender equitable coeducation.

Additional Information

Busy Boys and Little Ladies: How fake brain science has supported gender segregation in schools by Lise Eliot.

Failing Our Kids: Despite pseudoscience to the contrary, sex segregation in public schools creates problems ---- not solutions
 by Susan McGee Bailey in Ms. Magazine
“Problems with Sex-Segregated Public Education”

The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling by Diane F. Halpern, Lise Eliot, Rebecca S. Bigler, Richard A. Fabes, Laura D. Hanish, Janet Hyde, Lynn S. Liben, Carol Lynn Martin

The Effects of Single-Sex Compared with Coeducational Schooling on Students’ Performance and Attitudes: A

 by Erin Pahlke, Janet Shibley Hyde and Carlie M. Allison in Psychological Bulletin

American Civil Liberties Union, Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes

Single-sex schools: A good idea gone wrong?
 By David Sadker & Karen Zittleman

The Myth of the "Boy Crisis"
 by Caryl Rivers & Rosalind Barnett

Sex-segregated Public Schools: Illegal and Unwise
 by Vivian Berger

Title IX Defined Page
 for the Department of Education's proposed and final Title IX Regulations and Guidelines on single-sex education.

Older but still relevant information:

Title IX at 40: Working to Ensure Gender Equity in Education, NCWGE, 2012, Chapter on Single-Sex Education: Fertile Ground for Discrimination

Title IX at 35: Beyond the Headlines
, NCWGE, 2008, Chapter on Single Sex Education by Sue Klein, Jan Erickson, & Elizabeth Homer

Rescind Regulations Weakening Title IX Prohibitions Against Sex Discrimination in Education

The Risks of Sex-segregated Public Education for Girls, Boys, and Everyone
 by Susan S. Klein

Handbook for Achieving Gender Equity through Education, 2nd Edition
, 2007, especially Chapter 9,Gender Equity in Coeducational and Single Sex Educational Environments, and Chapter 31, Summary and Recommendations for Achieving Gender Equity in and through Education. New York, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Taylor and Francis Group.

FMF's objections to the proposed 2004 changes

Other comments on the proposed changes
 related to allowing single-sex education from 2001. Available in the archives of the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

Learn more about the assumptions behind the push for sex-segregated schooling
 by Patricia B. Campbell & Jo Sanders

How sex-segregated schooling threatens Title IX - Turning Back the Clock
 by Lory Stone

Title IX and single sex education
 by Sue Klein

Helpful Websites

American Council for CoEducational Schooling (ACCES)

ACLU: Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes

Revised 1-12-2015