Today, the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs is holding a public hearing on LD 699, which seeks to allow Maine public schools to segregate classrooms by sex. We will testify in opposition, alongside many of our partners including Equality Maine and the National Organization for Women.

On top of the questionable legality of single-sex schooling in public schools, segregating students by sex in Maine's schools raises significant educational and pedagogical concerns.

The research that is cited in support of single-sex schooling has been deemed “pseudo-science” because it lacks scientific support. While many students who attend single-sex schools outperform many students in coeducational institutions, the link between the single-sex educational environment and academic success is tenuous. There is no empirical evidence showing that the success of these students stems from the single-sex nature of the learning environment. (Diane F. Halpern et al., The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling, 333 Science 1706, 1706 (2011).)  Most of the research on single-sex schooling in the United States has been conducted on private or religious schools, which tend to draw students from an affluent pool. (Amanda Datnow et al., Is Single Gender Schooling Viable in the Public Sector? (2001).) Research on the benefits of single-sex schooling often fails to control for socioeconomic factors. (Id.)   Thus, it is likely that the relative academic success of students in single-sex environments is attributable to factors apart from sex segregation.

Advocates of single-sex schooling claim that boys and girls learn differently because of differences between male and female brains. Two prominent advocates, Leonard Sax and Michael Gurian, have used alleged brain differences to justify sex-segregated schooling and different teaching methods for boys versus girls. (ACLU Women’s Rights Project, Boys’ Brains vs. Girls’ Brains: What Sex Segregation Teaches Students (2008).) However, neuroscientists have found little difference between the brains of male and female children, and where differences have been observed in adults, such differences “may result from a lifetime of sex-differentiated experiences[.]” (Halpern at 1706.)

A three year case study of so-called "single gender academies" in California found that perceived gender differences amongst boys and girls led teachers to conduct classes differently, which in turn reinforced gender stereotypes. (Datnow, 2011.) For example, boys were perceived to be louder and more talkative, leading teachers to create a stricter environment in boys’ classes. Separating boys and girls during academic periods, but bringing students together during social periods, like lunch and recess, increased the risk that students themselves viewed members of the opposite sex in social and romantic terms, rather than intellectual terms.

Segregating classrooms to promote gender equity is problematic because single-sex schooling reinforces sex-stereotypes. We hope the committee will consider these concerns, as well as the legal peril of schools engaging this type of programming, and vote ought not to pass on LD 699.