Affluent parents can always make the choice to send their children to single-sex schools. But what about other parents? Should they be denied this option?

That was a key question behind a spirited debate entitled “Should Single-Sex Schools Be Eliminated?” sponsored August 28 by the IWF and the American Enterprise Institute. The American now has the entire debate up: here, here, and here. The debate was ably moderated by S. E. Cupp.

It was a terrific evening at which your humble blogger, a grateful product of single-sex education and thus not unbiased, embarrassed herself several times by guffawing and grimacing when uncongenial points were made. I urge you to read the transcripts on The American. But I’ll offer just a few quick highlights in hopes of whetting your appetite. With the ACLU filing lawsuits against single-sex schools, it’s a hot topic.  

AEI scholar and IWF friend Christina Hoff Sommers, whose seminal The War Against Boys, has just been reissued with new material, made the case for single-sex schools, pointing out that “millions of students have flourished intellectually and socially” in single-sex schools. Noting that more than 500 public schools currently offer single-sex classes and that there are 116 public all-girls or all-boys public schools, Hoff Sommers singled out two successful schools in Dallas, the Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, and the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy.

“Single-sex academies like the two Dallas schools not only benefit the students fortunate enough to attend, but they are a part of the solution to the growing boy gap in education and the persistent girl gap in math and science,” Hoff Sommers said. (Boys seem to be falling behind in general, while girls often don't do as well in math.)

Arguing against single-sex schools was Lise Eliot, an associate neuroscience professor at the Chicago Medical School, activist, and author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain, How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps—and What We Can Do About It. One of the things to do about it, in Eliot’s view, is the elimination of single-sex public schools. Eliot is director of communications for the American Council for CoEducational Schooling.  

Eliot cited studies that she said show that there is no benefit from single-sex education. Eliot said she had read every study and weighed the evidence. “In a nutshell,” she said, “we showed that three lines of research used to justify single-sex schooling — educational, neuroscience, and social psychology — all fail to support its purported benefits, and so the widely-held view that gender separation is somehow better for boys, girls, or both is nothing more than a myth.”

“Not only is there substantial research in favor of single-sex education,” Hoff Sommers countered, “but some of the research discrediting such schools is blatantly ideological.” But Hoff Sommers made the most compelling point of the evening: whatever the studies say, it comes down to a philosophical question. Some people think single-sex education is a good idea. No study, for example, can tell me that my single-sex school wasn’t a cornerstone in my life.

One of the best exchanges was when Hoff Sommers asked whether, if the movement against single-sex schools continues, private, single-sex colleges might face legal action or withdrawal of any public funds. Eliot said she wasn’t prepared to go there but that the courts might very well want to do so one day. Well, so much for making choices.