Science magazine has given space in its journal to a small group of self-appointed experts who insist that no child shall be allowed to attend a single-sex public school. The New York Times, who decided that these “founders” of the American Council for CoEducational Schooling are worthy enough to be accorded major news coverage, tells us that these psychologists find no evidence whatsoever that single-sex education yields any better results than co-educational education. Or vice-versa, I might add, though the New York Times forgot to mention that detail.
The lead proponent of the attempt to revive earlier restrictions on single-sex education is none other than a past president of the American Psychological Association, Diane F. Halpern. She and her fellow “founders” urge the federal government to forbid single-sex schooling, an idea dredged up during the early days of the feminist movement but something Washington backed away from during the Bush Administration (with support from Hillary Clinton, who was educated at Wellesley, the country’s premier women’s college).
But of course, if there is no evidence as to which type of schooling is to be preferred, why not let parents choose which type of schooling is best for their child?
Such a sensible view of the matter is taken by a clear majority of those members of the American public who have thought about the subject enough to have a clear position on the matter. Last spring this journal, Education Next, asked a representative sample of the American public whether or not school districts should “offer parents the option of sending their child to an all-boys or all-girls school.” We found that a large share of the population—42 percent—took a middling position, saying they neither supported nor opposed the idea. But of those who took a position, supporters of giving parents the single-sex option exceeded their opponents by a sizeable margin—34 percent to 23 percent.
Teachers, too, liked the idea. Among teachers, supporters outstripped opponents by a better than 2:1 margin– 46 percent to 19 percent.
And the highest-income, best-educated segment of the American population also favored the idea by better than a 2:1 margin—47 percent to 21 percent.
Nor is this just a rich, conservative, white person’s idea. Among African-Americans, supporters of a single-sex option also exceed opponents by a virtual 2:1 margin—35 percent to 18 percent. Among Hispanics, supporters amount to 33 percent of the population, while just 23 percent oppose the idea.
“I’d rather be governed by the first ten names in the telephone directory than by the faculty of Harvard University,” someone once said. Let’s rephrase that: “I’d rather be governed by the first ten names randomly drawn from Google than by the past presidents of the American Psychological Association.”
-Paul E. Peterson