For decades this fundamental question has sparked intense debates and even some lawsuits. Single-sex education remains highly contentious as the number of single-sex schools has exploded over the past decade. A new book, The Separation Solution? by Juliet A. Williams, explores the different facets of this hotly debated issue. Recently she shared some thoughts with me on the subject.

Melinda D. Anderson: A major thread running through the book is that so many people—educators, parents, activists, and politicians—strongly believe in the potential of single-sex education to unleash academic excellence, while the evidence supporting this claim is sparse and insufficient. What would you say is the primary driving force behind its well-entrenched support?

Juliet A. Williams: Some people believe in single-sex education because they had a great personal experience. To other people, single-sex education seems like plain old common sense: They see differences between boys and girls, and they like the idea of creating schools that reflect these differences. Still others look at the failure of U.S. public-school systems and think, “we’ve got to do something; let’s give it a try.” Since the 1990s, there has been a resurgence of interest in single-sex education in public schools serving students in grades K-12. My book takes a look at the arguments driving interest in single-sex public education, as well as the results. What I have found is that single-sex public-school initiatives have been created with the best of intentions, but that they are not delivering the results. At the same time, they are producing some unintended consequences in terms of reinforcing damaging gender stereotypes.

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(Photo: Beloit Daily News)