WASHINGTON — The Bush administration Wednesday announced plans to relax restrictions on single-sex public schools and classrooms, effectively ending three decades of federal attempts to enforce a nationwide policy of co-education.
New regulations drafted by the Department of Education will make it much easier to establish single-sex schools at taxpayer expense, and sweep away many of the legal obstacles to separate classes for girls and boys. At present, only a few dozen of the 93,000 public schools in the country offer same-sex classes in mainstream academic subjects.
The move could lead to "an explosion in the number of single-sex schools," predicted Tom Carroll, who founded separate federally-funded charter schools for boys and girls in Albany, N.Y., in 2002. "It eliminates many of the legal clouds hanging over us."
The new regulations, which are open to public comment for the next 45 days, change the way the Department of Education enforces Title IX of the 1972 education act, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded programs. Up until now, successive administrations have interpreted this provision to mean that virtually identical opportunities must be provided to students of both sexes.
According to the Department of Education, current regulations prohibit same-sex classes except in "very specific situations," such as sexual education or physical education classes. The proposed changes will permit single sex classes as long as "they are part of an evenhanded effort to provide a range of diverse educational options for male and female students of if they are designed to meet particular, identified educational needs."
Advocates of single-sex schools argue that girls and boys frequently perform better academically without the distractions of the opposite sex. Opponents say that the research is inconclusive and apparent increases in achievement levels in single sex schools are usually the result of greater resources.