A pair of South Florida lawmakers has filed a bill to establish a pilot program for single-gender classrooms in some Florida public elementary schools. The proposal is drawing praise from proponents of single-sex education and criticism from opponents who say it promotes sex stereotypes.
Stetson University education professor Kathy Piechura-Couture has been studying a teacher-driven single-gender classroom program in a central Florida public school for nearly ten years. From a research standpoint, Piechura-Couture said students in single-gender classrooms have an advantage and typically outperformed their peers in coed classrooms. “We had statistical significance for reading in the girls,” said Piechura-Couture.
“The girls in the single-gender classes outperform the girls in the coed classes for 2010 and 2011 combined and then also for math. Typically in math, it was at a 0.02 level which means that on one hundred times it only happened by chance two times. When we look at that with math, that’s typically where girls were lower scoring. So we really found that our single-gender classes on multiple occasions had statistically significant difference between the girls in the mixed gender classes.”
Piechura-Couture also reports that parents overwhelmingly support the single sex classrooms with 98-100% of parents reporting they were satisfied or very satisfied with it.
“I think the other interesting thing is they report that 93% of the parents reported that their daughter’s self-confidence was higher and their motivation was higher,” said Piechura-Couture. “With the boys, it’s a little bit lower. It’s 82%, but it’s still statistically significant.”
Piechura-Couture says one big difference between the program she studies and what could come from HB 313 sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah and SB 514 sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami-Dade is that her program is entirely voluntary whereas under the proposed bill, students would randomly be assigned to single-sex classrooms in public schools.
“This legislation in particular would be really be encouraging schools to engage in activity that is unlawful,” said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Galen Sherwin with the organization’s Women’s Rights Project.
“The Florida Legislature cannot change the legal requirements that apply across the country that are set by the Department of Education. Those requirements are that each program be completely voluntary. So I think this legislation is seriously flawed in that way alone, not even withstanding the sex stereotypes that it is promoting.”
The ACLU has identified single-sex education programs it’s concerned about in 15 states including Florida. Those concerns include not being in compliance with Title IX regulations as well as concerns about how male and female students are taught differently.
“Some examples include teachers not seating boys face to face because the notion is that it makes them act more confrontationally; that boys should be addressed by their surnames and be asked questions about actions in stories while girls should be seated in circles and asked questions about relationships and feelings,” said Galen. “This is the definition of sex stereotyping. It’s essentially making crude judgments about the educational needs of students based on their sex and teaching students differently based on that.”
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill are working their way through legislative committees. According to Galen, the ACLU will continue tracking the progress of the proposed legislation and consider options for possible legal action.