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Single-sex education can plant the seeds of lifetime benefits for girls (and boys, too)

Single-sex education can plant the seeds of lifetime benefits for girls (and boys, too)

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote an opinion supporting single-sex education. (Getty Images)

Studies and anecdotal evidence have combined to show that girls perform better when not surrounded by boys. The opposite can be true about boys not needing to show off for girls when attending an all-boys schools. The evidence shows that this is an idea that should be expanded and investigated more deeply.

For women, the benefits of a girls-only education can extend into adult life when they enter fields dominated by other women. The chance to climb the career ladder can be relative to the number of women already in a particular field.

But the concern about girls’ education starts at an early age. It begins at the point where society teaches them to speak softly, if at all, and act demurely. Hillary Rodham Clinton broke all those rules as first lady, U.S. senator, secretary of state and, finally, as a two-time presidential candidate. While on the campaign trail, any number of her female qualities came under intense and often unfair scrutiny, including even the sound of her voice.

Let’s hope that today’s young girls learn to speak loudly and clearly. That goal may be encouraged if more of them can attend all-girls schools. At least, that is what a recent article in The Washington Post implies.

The United States has today at least 90 public girls schools. That is considerably more than 25 years ago, when there were only eight such schools in the country. Back then, the start of a new girl school was attacked by the National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union for “unconstitutionally denying equality of the sexes.”

Fortunately, neither of these arguments prevailed. As The Post’s Jay Matthews wrote, six campuses in Texas and one in Florida has become among the most challenging in the country. They have reached the top third of 1% of all U.S. high schools measured by participation in college-level exams last year.

The debate over single-sex schools in American education will continue, as it has over the decades. Matthews cited the 1996 case that found Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing an opinion noting that females and males, unlike blacks and whites have “inherent differences.” She’s right. Many believe those differences can have lasting effects.

Ginsburg believed that single-sex education in public schools was constitutional if districts made comparable courses, services and facilities available to both sexes. Then-Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, agreed. They jointly added a provision to the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act that “further encouraged single sex education,” according to Matthews.

In 1996, Ann Tisch, wife of Loews Corp., co-chair Andrew Tisch, opened the Young Women’s Leadership school of East Harlem. Ann Tisch, who had been a national correspondent for NBC, believed doing so would reduce the rate of teen pregnancy among impoverished students. Lee Posey, a Texas business executive, started a similar school in Dallas in 2004 after visiting the East Harlem school. It is now one of nine schools in the Young Women’s Preparatory Network in Texas.

Results from public girls schools have shown, to a large degree, success on AP exams. Girls have also shown an overall increase in achievement, particularly in math and science. Yet, some experts insist that they would have done just as well in co-ed schools. It may be true. But offering young girls the chance to raise their voices and be heard among their female peers gives them a chance to realize how much they can accomplish. It doesn't hurt to offer the option.

The single-sex education debate will continue and those able to benefit from the existence of such schools, both girls and boys, will enjoy a rich experience that will serve them well throughout their lives.

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