SINGLE-SEX EDUCATION has long been a no-no for feminists. So it was not surprising that, when the Department of Education announced this spring that girls' schools and boys' schools would henceforth be eligible for public money, the reaction was a barrage of protest. "The Bush administration's proposal for single-sex schools is a giant step backward in the struggle for girls' and women's equality," Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, proclaimed in USA Today. Terry O'Neill, the organization's spokesman, chimed in: "How can a single-sex school teach boys to be led by girls?" she asked.
For Nancy Zirkin, director of public policy for the American Association of University Women, the new rules on single-sex education raised the specter of racial segregation. Zirkin invoked the language of Brown v. Board of Education when she declared, "We believe that separate is never equal." "It is ironic and discouraging that the Bush administration has chosen to use its regulatory power to encourage sex discrimination by promoting single-sex education," wrote Leslie Wolfe, president of the Center for Women Policy Studies, in a letter to the New York Times.
Hold on, ladies. You're attacking the wrong folks. The real "culprits" are two female senators--Republican stalwart Kay Bailey Hutchison and Hillary Clinton, the feminist icon. When Hutchison proposed an amendment to the 2001 education bill to permit single-sex education in public schools, Clinton courageously rose to voice support.
Hutchison first introduced the amendment in 1998, when it passed in the Senate but then met its doom in the form of a veto from Senator Clinton's husband. During the debate that year, Senator Ted Kennedy argued that the amendment raised a "sinister and real issue of constitutionality." For good measure, Kennedy added that it would "undermine the whole movement of trying to get equal treatment for women.
When Hutchison tried again, in June 2001, something amazing happened--the amendment passed the Senate by unanimous consent and subsequently was signed into law. This might not have happened but for the support of Clinton, who signed on as a co-sponsor. With Clinton on board, not a single senator spoke against the amendment. Single-sex education in public schools has been illegal (more or less) since the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Tide IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. The Hutchison amendment made public single-sex education unambiguously legal and eligible for up to $450 million a year in federal funding.
When guidelines regarding this amendment were promulgated in May, newspapers--like the feminist establishment--simply assumed that the Bush administration was behind the shift in policy: "Bush Plan Would Reverse Key Policy," shouted the Washington Post's front page headline. The New York Times' headline blared: "White House Proposes New View of Education Law to Encourage Single-Sex Schools."
The new rules fly in the face of the "findings" of a famous report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which now opposes single-sex education. In 1998, the organization published Separated by Sex, a report on single-sex education for girls. The press release was headlined: "Report Finds Separating by Sex Not the Solution to Gender Inequity in School." The release listed five findings, all of which were negative. It further noted that single-sex public schools are of "questionable legality."