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Education Reporter

Single-Sex Classes Get Backing of Feds

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WASHINGTON, DC - After 31 months in review, the Bush administration announced new rules in October governing the creation of single-sex classes and schools. The new rules took effect November 24, giving U.S. public school districts wide discretion in establishing single-sex classes and deciding how many subjects to hold such classes. The new rules are considered to represent the most significant federal education policy change on classroom segregation in more than 30 years.

The regulation published in the Federal Register (10-25-06) states: ". . . a recipient that operates a nonvocational coeducational elementary or secondary school may provide nonvocational single-sex classes or extracurricular activities. . . ."

The announcement comes at a time when single-sex classes are on the rise — from a total of four in 1998 to approximately 230 today. The classes have been established chiefly in response to research over the past 10 years which shows clear differences in the ways boys and girls learn. Some studies have also suggested that low-income children in urban settings benefit from single-sex classes.

While the request for new rules originated in 2001 from both sides of the political aisle, liberal women's groups including the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) are not happy about the change. A NOW spokesman told the Associated Press the new rules would create "the risk of breeding second-class citizens." The AAUW said the rules would "throw out the most basic legal standards prohibiting sex discrimination in education."

Leonard Sax, executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education and for years a leading proponent of single-sex classes, said the regulations are overdue and that separating the sexes encourages boys and girls to pursue their interests. Single-sex education "can erode stereotypes — not reinforce them," Sax told the Associated Press. "A same-sex environment might encourage boys to play the flute or girls to assemble computers."

Enrollment in single-sex classes and schools must be voluntary. To ensure compliance with the federal Title IX law banning sex discrimination in educational institutions, the new regulations also require school districts to evaluate single-sex classes and schools every two years.

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