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Darius Phifer, left, works on constructing a robot in his math class at Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School in Atlanta, as teacher Travis Brown works with student Alexander Greene.

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As the number of single-gender classrooms and schools has grown in the past decade, the ACLU has filed about a half dozen administrative complaints with the U. Department of Education and four lawsuits against districts in Kentucky, Louisiana, and West Virginia.

In Louisiana and West Virginia, the districts returned to co-educational environments as part of out-of-court settlements, Sherwin said; two cases were dismissed on procedural grounds.

The organization has challenged assertions that boys and girls learn differently and need different educational methods, one of the justifications districts make for creating such schools.

"We believe that the public school system should not be in the business of teaching boys and girls differently or reinforcing notions about purported differences between boys and girls," said Galen Sherwin, a senior staff lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union's Women's Rights Project.

And rather than creating more equitable schools for nonwhite students, some critics compare separating boys and girls to racially segregated schooling.

The disputes pitting ardent supporters against fervent detractors have done little to dampen popularity, however.

That number jumped 25-fold in 10 years: reported in 2014 that 850 schools nationwide had single-sex programs.

With participation apparently on the upswing, the Department of Education’s civil-rights division offered guidelines on single-sex classes to K-12 public schools last year.

At least 223 public schools across the country already offer some single-sex classrooms — up from four in 1998, said Leonard Sax, director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.

Sax predicts thousands more schools will join the movement once the Education Department finalizes new Title IX regulations first proposed in March 2004.

The scholars from Penn recognized that the random nature of the assignment creates the opportunity to compare single-gender schools with coed schools, without the usual confounding variables which would accompany any attempt at a similar comparison among North American schools.

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