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Opinion & Essays - May, 2002 Issue #93 

By Lon Woodbury

Once again, the public sector seems to be following the lead of the private sector. This time, it is the concept of Single Sex education as a viable option for some kids, which has caused those within public education to sit up and take note.

Coed Education has been a basic foundation dogma in public education throughout the 20th century. It was based on the firmly held conviction that in educating boys and girls, separate cannot be equal. In recent years, the only exception has been when occasionally all girl classes have been allowed expressly for compensatory purposes, to make up for perceived past inequities believed to have been disadvantageous to girls.

However, a news story this month reported that President Bush’s education bill, just signed into law, includes a section with the purpose of exploring ways that single sex education might be allowed by current law in public schools. Of course this is going to be controversial, but it is the first serious crack I have seen in the public school dogma that coed is the only way to provide equality in education. Part of the justification for this section being put into law was pointing to the accomplishments of the private sector where single sex education has often been found to be very beneficial for some children.

Part of what they must be referring to is the success and consequent popularity of Single Sex education in the parent-choice network of Therapeutic/Emotional Growth Schools and Programs during the last ten years. The reason for the popularity of Single Sex education, especially among schools for children with behavioral/emotional problems, is that many children have done measurably better in Single Sex classses than they were doing in coed schools. This trend in private parent-choice schools and programs has been reported on many times in Woodbury Reports over the years.

The first time I observed the advantages of Single Sex education for children with problems was in Provo Canyon School in the early 1990s. This example is instructive because it shows an immediate before and after. At that time, purely for scheduling reasons, they told me they had separated the boys and girls both for academics as well as many other activities. They found in the classrooms and elsewhere, behavioral problems decreased and academics improved significantly within a Single Sex environment. The conclusion drawn by this treatment center school was that they could work more effectively with their children when the sexes were separated. From my personal observation, the reason for this success was that boys and girls were no longer posturing for the opposite sex when they were in separate classrooms and teachers and staff could better focus on individual needs. For example, many issues are extremely difficult for children to talk about honestly in mixed groups, and sharing of sensitive issues was often easier in Single Sex groups.

In the subsequent ten years, Single Sex groups have become so common they are almost a standard. A good example of this is wilderness programs where some of the larger organizations run several groups at a time, placing a specific child in either a Single Sex or mixed group, depending on the child’s individual needs. Also, more of the new schools and programs that are starting up are Single Sex. Their staff have found that compared to their previous experience with coed schools, not only are there the obvious advantages of avoiding clandestine liaisons, but also, students can better focus on their personal issues and academics when not distracted by the presence of the opposite sex.

So, it seems once again, the private sector has been on the cutting edge of what works best with kids with problems, and the public sector is taking notice. Hopefully it will follow suit by replacing dogma with a flexibility that focuses on what works best for each child. For those of us working with struggling teens, it is common sense that some children will do better in coed schools, and some will do better in Single Sex schools, depending on the child’s needs. Maybe the public sector will also start taking advantage of the flexibility that the parent-choice private education sector has found to be effective.

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