Gender Bias

Eduwonk cannot understand the reflexive opposition from many left-leaning groups to publicly financed single sex education options for students. Perhaps the Bush administration’s recent attempts to frame the issue as a Bush initiative are engendering natural suspicion, but that’s a weak basis for opposition when people like Senator Hillary Clinton support it, too…

A Christian Science Monitor article discusses the issue and showcases the concerns of opponents of single sex public school programs. These boil down to: (a) these programs are not supported by a body of research, (b) this is the first step on a slippery slope to gender discrimination, and (c) kids need to learn to interact with everyone.

Fair, but certainly not decisive, points. There is not a preponderance of empirical evidence in favor of single-sex schools (though there is some anecdotal evidence), but there also is no evidence that it hurts kids, either. Besides, considering some of their favorite programs, single-sex opponents are skating on very thin ice when they start demanding research as the base for any policy change. [But isn’t this in opposition to the emphasis on more rigorous research as the basis for policy? No! There is a difference between large-scale policy prescriptions, for instance on reading or teacher qualifications, and creating space for innovations like this.]

The slippery slope argument just seems sort of absurd because we’re talking not about mandatory assignment of students to single sex classrooms or schools, but instead about offering more public options and a more customized public setting to parents who seek it. Most supporters of providing single sex options, including Eduwonk, would balk at any sort of mandatory program. No one is being forced into single sex education; schools are just making one more option available. Finally, of course kids do need to learn to get along with others, but that can (and does) happen in settings besides school and the classroom and does not trump the advantage some students may gain academically or socially in single sex settings at some point in their schooling.

Just a thought: Considering all the various pressures on the public purse shouldn’t progressives be championing ideas that broaden support for public sector services by making them more customized and responsive to citizen demand rather than alienating various constituencies at every turn?

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