Single-gender education comes to an end at Morningside Middle in North Charleston


Morningside Middle School in North Charleston has ended its policy of educating boys and girls in separate classrooms, closing a chapter on what once was a growing trend in South Carolina.

Principal Stephanie Flock said leaders at the public school made the decision to drop its single-gender programs this school year after prolonged dwindling support from the S.C. Department of Education, which used to provide free training and curricula for such initiatives.

“With the lack of professional development, it wasn’t an effective strategy,” Flock said.

Eighth-grade students at Morningside will continue to be separated by gender for the rest of this school year, and it will continue offering single-gender physical education classes and an all-girls STEM class, Flock said.

But the school’s era of strict gender separation for all students has come and gone in the course of less than a decade.

Under a 2006 amendment to the gender-equity law known as Title IX, the federal government began allowing the creation of all-boys and all-girls public schools and schools that segregate by gender. The idea saw a brief renaissance among some education leaders who said it catered to gender-specific learning styles.

Democratic S.C. Education Superintendent Jim Rex hired a statewide coordinator for single-gender initiatives shortly after taking office in 2007. In 2008, the state reported that 214 public schools offered single-gender programs.

Morningside created its ARMS Academy for boys and EXCEL Academy for girls in 2009 amid a golden age of state support for the practice.

In 2011, Republican Mick Zais took office as state superintendent and eliminated the single-gender coordinator position. The last time the state provided an unofficial count, in 2015, only 26 schools statewide offered single-gender programs.

“There are still some, but not as many as there were back in the heyday of it,” said Ryan Brown, a spokesman for current Republican state Superintendent Molly Spearman.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Rex said his push for single-gender education was part of broader push he made for public school choice, including Montessori and other specialized programs.

Single-gender education has since fallen out of fashion: A 2011 Science magazine paper called the research behind the movement “pseudoscience,” and the American Psychological Association found in 2014 that the advantages were “trivial and, in many cases, nonexistent.”

Rex said he still sees value in single-gender education as one of an array of choices.

“It’s a little bit like Christianity: It’s an idea that might work if it were ever really tried,” he said. “So many different approaches fell under that descriptor ‘single-gender.’ Some had curriculum and training for teachers, some had support, some didn’t, so I know there were mixed results.”

Rex added that the idea still shows promise, “particularly at the middle school level where so many students are distracted by the opposite sex.”

Members of the North Charleston Constituent School Board and Charleston County School Board were unaware of the change at Morningside when reached by phone this week. As of Wednesday, the school district website still identified Morningside as a “Neighborhood Single-Gender” school, and the school’s website still displayed the ARMS and EXCEL logos.

Flock said school officials notified parents in January that changes were coming and that none had complained about it.

“We haven’t had any negative feedback,” Flock said. “Our parents want our scholars to get the best education.”

The Charleston County School District still has one option for parents seeking single-gender education for boys: Prestige Preparatory Academy, an all-boys public charter school that opened in North Charleston in 2016 serving kindergarten through fourth grade. The school hemorrhaged teachers and students in its first year amid complaints about a chaotic environment and lack of basic resources, including books.