Harvard Educational Review
  1. Same, Different, Equal

    Rethinking Single-Sex Schooling

    By Rosemary C. Salomone

    New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003. 304 pp. $29.95

    Reflecting on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1996 ruling overturning the Virginia Military Institute’s (VMI) admissions policy barring female applicants, the opening of an all-girl public middle school (the Young Women’s Leadership School in New York City), the school choice movement, and other educational developments, author Rosemary C. Salomone explores the topic of single-sex schooling. In Same, Different, Equal, she embraces a more complex understanding of gender (looking beyond our preconceptions) and considers the historical and legal rulings to answer the questions inherent in single-sex schooling: “Is it legal within public schooling, and whether it produces educational benefits for girls [and] boys?” (p. 6) Salomone also encourages opponents of single-sex schooling to go beyond the text of these questions and consider the subtext, which includes the history and politics of single-sex schooling and their effect on public discourse and policy.

    In chapter one, “Text and Subtext,” Salomone takes care to contextualize her arguments by briefly highlighting the “educational developments, political reactions, and legal events” (p. 5) related to single-sex schooling. The backdrop of this chapter includes the Supreme Court’s striking down of VMI’s admissions policy and the subsequent reverberations, and the renewed public interest in single-sex education. Chapter two, “A Tale of Three Cities,” complements chapter one by providing a detailed account of three inner-city, all-girl public schools that have endured “over a century and a half of sweeping social change” (p. 6). The stories of all three schools — the Young Women’s Leadership School in New York City, the Philadelphia High School for Girls, and Baltimore’s Western High School — provide insights into the world of single-sex schools, and Salomone offers a glimpse into the rich history each has built in the face of legal threats and political opposition.

    Chapter three, “Equality Engendered,” moves beyond the personal realities of single-sex schools as experienced by students and their families to a discussion of the complex arguments surrounding single-sex schooling. These arguments, “grounded in history, philosophy, and law, and informed by developmental psychology” (p. 37), are centered on the concept of “equality” and its meaning in the context of single-sex schooling. Salomone explores the various conceptions and meanings and offers a theoretical framework, grounded in feminist jurisprudence (as well as theories of psychology, sociology, history, and literacy studies, among other disciplines), to examine the question of how educational equality can be reconciled with single-sex schooling. This framework includes the concepts of sameness, difference, dominance, and (in) essentialism. Salomone posits that these concepts are “essential to unraveling the paradoxes and dilemmas inherent in [the] seemingly irresolvable debate over single-sex educations” (p. 42).

    In chapter four, “Myths and Realities in the Gender Wars,” Salomone argues that if educators and policymakers are to reach a consensus on how to level the educational playing field for boys and girls, these two constituencies must have a “shared understanding of competing concerns” (p. 64), with regard to single-sex schooling. To this end, she reviews and offers a sensitive critique of the research on gender and education, highlighting the ways in which a broader view — one that focuses on similarities and differences between girls and boys — opens the single-sex debate. Chapter five, “Who’s Winning, Who’s Losing, and Why?” goes further to examine the “intense and inconclusive” debate over gender and schooling. Sifting through more than two decades of arguments against single-sex schooling, Salomone seeks to identify present-day meaning while staying attuned to the implications of same-sex versus mixed-sex schooling. Recognizing the often overlooked influence of race, culture, and social class in the push toward gender equality, she appropriately concludes that the questions of who is “winning” and “losing” academically is complicated, defying simple conclusions on both the “what” and “why.” Salomone urges educators to focus on improving the “differential performance and maximiz[ing] the potential of different populations of girls and boys across schooling experience . . . without falling into . . . harmful stereotypes and gender essentialism” (p. 125).

    Chapters six and seven, “Legal Narratives” and “Reconciling the Law,” offer a review of judicial ambiguities, legislative “gridlock,” and the modern-day struggles to achieve gender equity. Chapter six provides an account of several seminal court cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Garrett v. Board of Education. Salomone also examines the impact of congressional rulings of Title IX, the agency of the Office of Civil Rights, and the subsequent dismantling of single-sex enrollment at both VMI and The Citadel, within the debate of single sex schooling and coeducation. For example, she posits three provisions in the current regulations of Title IX that need to be reexamined: the comparability standard, affirmative action exception, and prohibition against single-sex classes. As currently written, these regulations do not account for the changes in social realities, nor for the expanded understanding of child and adolescent development, learning, and achievement by congress and lawyers affiliated with the now reorganized Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

    In chapter eight, “The Research Evidence,” Salomone “attempts to cut through the subjective analysis . . . that has . . . paralyzed the search for evidence supporting single-sex schooling” (p. 191). Her review of the research includes findings from both peer-review journals and anecdotal reports published since 1980, thus allowing her to capture a contemporary view on sex roles. The literature includes research on women’s colleges, institutional environments, single-sex schools in the United States and abroad, and the current debate on the education of boys, among other topical areas. In her review of the literature, Salomone finds “no clear indication that single-sex schooling harms students academically” (p. 235). In fact, she finds evidence that single-sex schools develop more positive attitudes toward certain traditional male or female subjects in students of the opposite gender, and that disadvantaged minority students benefit both academically and socially from such schools. These findings have been attributed to the emphasis of single-sex schools in the promotion of leadership opportunities, the reduction of risk factors (e.g., teen pregnancy, drug abuse, etc.), and access to courses often gendered in coeducational schools, among other factors. Given that the majority of research focuses on higher education, Salomone suggests that future research examine the “effects of single-sex schooling and classes for boys and girls at the elementary, middle school, and high school level in rural, suburban, and rural contexts” (p. 236).

    The final chapter, “Rethinking Single-Sex Schooling,” summarizes the main point of each chapter while considering the merits and potential challenges of single-sex schooling. Salomone urges educators and organizers of single-sex schooling to be mindful of the educational effects and of the questions of legality, especially with regard to public schools. She further posits that, “at its best, single-sex education can be an effective tool of empowerment and self-realization for some boys and girls,” and at its worst it can be “a tool of gender polarization and oppression” (p. 243). The remaining question becomes how to provide an appropriate education for girls and boys, regardless of social location, that is informed by their developmental needs, gender-wise, as they move through childhood, adolescence, and toward adulthood.

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    Book Notes

    Tough Fronts
    By L. Janelle Dance

    Temperament in the Classroom
    By Barbara K. Keogh

    Same, Different, Equal
    By Rosemary C. Salomone

    The Gatekeepers
    By Jacques Steinberg

    Applied Longitudinal Data Analysis
    By Judith D. Singer and John B. Willett