Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does NASSPE assert that EVERY child should be in a single-gender classroom?
  • Certainly not. Some kids do better in a coed classroom. But some kids do better in the single-gender classroom. We don't believe that every child should be in a single-gender classroom; but we DO believe that every parent should have a CHOICE.
  • Lise Eliot recently wrote a book called Pink Brain, Blue Brain, in which she attacks single-gender education. Doesn't her book prove that NASSPE is based on inaccurate notions about gender differences?
  • Lise Eliot's book Pink Brain, Blue Brain is one of three recent semi-scholarly books which seek to demonstrate that gender is primarily a social construct owing little to any innate factors. In addition to Lise Eliot's book, there is also Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine, and Brainstorm by Rebecca Jordan-Young.

    What all these books share is a "straw man" approach to this topic. For instance, both Cordelia Fine and Lise Eliot devote many pages to debunking the notion that the corpus callosum is bigger in females than in males. This was a popular notion roughly 30 years ago, but by the mid-1990s it was clear that this old notion was simply false. The idea arose in the late 1970's because the technology simply wasn't that good in that era; the scans were low-resolution, and post-mortem studies were subject to a variety of technical confounds. Neuroscientists have known since the mid-1990's that the corpus callosum is not bigger in females than in males; it's actually slightly bigger in males, on average, although there is a great deal of individual variation; the variation among males on this parameter is greater than the difference between males and females. NASSPE Director Dr. Leonard Sax has carefully avoided any mention of the corpus callosum in his three books Why Gender Matters, Boys Adrift, and Girls on the Edge. Nevertheless, these three authors paint with a deliberately broad brush. Because some authors (such as Michael Gurian) have built their case in part on the inaccurate notion that the corpus callosum is bigger in females than in males, therefore (according to Cordelia Fine and Lise Eliot) anyone who makes arguments about female/male differences in the brain must be equally misinformed.

    Guilt by association.

    Specifically in regard to Lise Eliot's book: Dr. Eliot devotes roughly the first 200 pages of her book to the proposition that female/male differences in the brain are insignificant, and that gender is primarily a social construct. She then acknowledges that there is a significant female/male gap in this country in reading achievement. She writes: "There is no denying that the language and literacy gap is a real and important issue for both parents and teachers. Boys are not learning to read and write as well as girls, a factor that is contributing to their poorer school performance from kindergarten to college" (Eliot, 2009, p. 201). And what solution does she propose? "Pick books they like" (p. 203). Specifically, she recommends "satire and other books that are funny, edgy . . . yes, including Captain Underpants" (p. 203). She also recommends "novels with a lot of action and adventure . . .fantasy and science fiction" (p. 203).

    She is, in short, making recommendations which, if implemented, would reinforce precisely the same gender stereotypes she spent the first 200 pages debunking. Indeed she suddenly seems to accept some of those gender stereotypes: notions such as "boys like lots of action and adventure" - which presumably means that girls don't. She is mistaken on all points. In fact, 8th-grade girls love action and adventure stories such as Treasure Island, The Count of Monte Cristo, and All Quiet on the Western Front IF you know how to teach those books to them; and 8th-grade boys can love The Secret Garden and Jane Eyre, IF you know how to teach those stories to them. But the best way to teach Jane Eyre to boys is different from the best way to teach it to girls. Dr. Eliot has no clue about any of this, because she has no awareness of any of the emerging research on gender-specific pedagogy.

    We live in a sexist society: a society which says that "action and adventure" are for boys, and Jane Eyre is for girls. Rather than challenging these stereotypes, Dr. Eliot actually endorses them, by recommending "action and adventure" books rather than Jane Eyre for boys. When NASSPE Director Dr. Leonard Sax leads workshops for teachers, he shares with them proven strategies specifically for engaging boys in Jane Eyre, and for engaging girls in computer programming - strategies which may be difficult to employ in the coed classroom, but which are easy to deploy in the all-female or all-male classroom.

    We generally discourage the use of gender-stereotyped books such as the Captain Underpants series, despite Dr. Eliot's endorsement of this series. We don't agree with Lise Eliot that one must resort to such gender stereotypes in order to get boys to read. On the contrary, we are anxious to tell you about schools where the same boys who love football and hockey are jumping up and down with excitement to share their ideas about Jane Eyre.

    If you understand gender differences, then you can break down gender stereotypes. If you deny the importance of gender, as Lise Eliot does, then you end up reinforcing gender stereotypes - as Lise Eliot does.
  • I'm interested in starting a single-sex program in my school (or my district). What do I need to do?
  • If you are a school administrator, please read our Checklist for schools preparing to launch single-gender classrooms (or single-gender schools). Be sure to offer adequate professional development for your teachers, ideally at least 14 hours' worth, BEFORE implementing the single-sex program. Make sure you and your colleagues understand best practices for testing and assessment in single-sex classes.
    If you're a teacher or a parent: Your first step has to be to recruit the district administration - your principal and your superintendent, among others - on your side. Don't try to do this alone. One teacher, or one parent, will usually just be ignored. Talk to the PTA (parent-teacher association - different districts use different names for these groups). Give a presentation to the PTA about the advantages of single-gender education. Once you have a dozen or more parents who agree with you, then you're ready to talk with your principal and/or superintendent. Be sure to contact us early in the process - as early as possible. NASSPE can help in many ways.
  • The superintendent of Greene County, Georgia, announced in the spring of 2008 that his school district would offer ONLY single-sex classrooms beginning in the fall of 2008. Was that legal?
  • No, it wasn't (and the superintendent abandoned his proposal a few months later). In particular, the superintendent's plan to have ONLY single-sex classrooms in the district's COED elementary schools was a clear violation of the applicable Federal regulation governing single-sex classrooms, specifically 34 CFR 106.34 subsection (b)(iii). This regulation requires that public school districts which offer single-sex classrooms MUST offer a comparable coeducational classroom to every student. 34 CFR 106.34 subsection (b)(iii) reads as follows:
    A school district which "operates a nonvocational coeducational elementary or secondary school may provide nonvocational single-sex classes [only if] . . .student enrollment in a single-sex class is completely voluntary." (emphasis added)
    These final regulations, which have the force of law, were published in the Federal Register on October 25 2006. The citation above comes from volume 71, number 206, p. 62543 of the Federal Register. You can download the full text of the complete regulations at our web site, http://www.singlesexschools.org/policy-legalstatus.htm. .
    For the remaining questions, please click on the highlighted term for the 'answer.'

  • What are the advantages of single-sex schools for girls?

  • What are the advantages of single-sex schools for boys?

  • What is the evidence? What have researchers found when they compare students at single-sex schools with students at coed schools?

  • What is the legal status of single-sex public education in the United States?

  • How many single-sex public schools are there in the USA? What has their experience been?

  • What about regular public schools which offer single-sex classrooms?

  • What's NASSPE? Where do you get your funding? Why are you folks involved in this issue?

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