Separating Boys and Girls in Illinois Schools

Separating Boys and Girls in Illinois Schools 

Cora Leeuwenburg

Associate Editor

Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, JD 2022

Single-sex educational opportunities are many and varied, from all girls or boys’ private schools and colleges to single-sex classes offered in some public schools. Title IX established the framework in which schools can establish these single-sex programs to ensure their fairness and constitutionality. Individuals advocate for these types of programs under the assumption that the programs help students achieve greater academic performance. While there is no conclusive research supporting this theory, the ample anecdotal testimony and success stories from schools with these programs, offer a compelling voice in support of single-sex education. Some of these success stories come from schools in Illinois where single-sex classes have been recently implemented into the curriculum.

What must schools do to have single-sex classes?

Sex segregated schooling has been reviewed by the Supreme Court in a variety of cases and has established that to be constitutionally acceptable, a single-sex school or class, must meet the exceedingly persuasive justification test for intermediate scrutiny. Under this test, the state must establish that the policy serves an important governmental objective, and the discriminatory means used are substantially related to achieving those objectives. Accordingly, a single-sex program must not perpetuate gender stereotypes while intentionally assisting a disadvantaged gender. Furthermore, single-sex programs must be sufficiently tailored to achieve their objective of improving the educational achievement of their students.

Single-sex programs must also be in compliance with Title IX, which states that schools may establish single-sex classes if the class is based on an attempt to improve students’ educational achievement by providing diverse educational opportunities, or to meet the particular educational needs of their students. Additionally, single-sex classes must be voluntary and provide a substantially equal class for both sexes. In determining whether a school meets this ‘substantially equal’ requirement, the Office of Civil Rights states that they will consider all relevant factors in aggregate. These factors include the review of admissions, benefits, qualifications of staff, accessibility, and fairness. Thus, if a school is able to meet the exceedingly persuasive justification test and provide single-sex classes that are substantially equal and voluntary, then these classes are in compliance with Title IX and are constitutional.

Illinois schools: did it work here?

The Springfield School District began offering single-sex classes at their schools in 2007, including Capital College Preparatory Academy (“CCPA”). The school reported that this program was a success, stating that they have seen fewer disciplinary problems and an improvement in their students’ test scores, with 92.5 percent of their students meeting or exceeding state standards in math and reading. Students at CCPA also enjoy these single-sex classes. For example, Ellie Raney, age 14, said these classes “help me with my self-esteem.” And teachers have seen improvements too like Christine Orama, who stated that she “is able to pick things that are more appealing to them [the boys] … things that get them a little more excited.”

Another school in the district, Jefferson Middle School, has not seen as drastic changes, but their student’s meeting or exceeding state standards in math increased from 60 percent to 73 percent in the years following their incorporation of single-sex classes. Another student who likes these classes is Deangelo Hall, who thinks, “gender classes are more fun because you get more chances to participate.” Hall’s grades also improved significantly after taking single-sex classes at Jefferson.

Additionally, Ryerson Elementary School also has seen success with its single-sex classes. These classes were adopted at Ryerson as a strategy to curb discipline problems and raise academic achievement. It appears that Ryerson’s single-sex classes may be achieving these goals with test scores dramatically increasing, especially for girls. Preliminary ISAT scores show that in 5th grade, 38 percent of boys met state standards on reading tests, 50 percent of girls but the following year, with single-sex classes, the percentage rose to 52 percent for boys and 70 percent for girls.

While these Illinois schools don’t offer conclusive evidence that all single-sex programs are successful in increasing their students’ academic achievement, they do show that these programs might be working, especially here in Illinois. Accordingly, the experiences of students at these schools indicate a value to offering these classes as an option so long as they are established in compliance with Title IX requirements and guidelines.