The state Department of Public Instruction is requiring backers of the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy to provide scientific research supporting the effectiveness of single-gender education to receive additional funding.

The hurdle comes as university researchers are raising questions about whether such evidence exists. In an article published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers also say single-gender education increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.

Efforts to justify single-gender education as innovative school reform "is deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence," according to the article by eight university professors associated with the American Council for CoEducational Schooling, including UW-Madison psychology professor Janet Hyde.

The Urban League of Greater Madison originally proposed Madison Prep as an all-male charter school geared toward low-income minorities. But after a state planning grant was held up because of legal questions related to single-gender education, the Urban League announced it would open the school next year with single-gender classrooms in the same building.

In a letter dated Sept. 20, State Superintendent Tony Evers informed Urban League President Kaleem Caire and Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad that the first half of the $225,000 planning grant would be released.

But to receive the second half, the district and Urban League must provide "evidence and documentation to determine full compliance with" federal and state law, including the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring equal treatment under the law. 

The evidence should include "scientifically based research upon which the school has determined that there is an important governmental objective to the single-sex education plan and that the use of single-sex education is substantially related to achieving that objective," Evers wrote.

Nerad said prior to the letter DPI didn't reference the 14th Amendment, and that now there's  "a more significant hurdle" for the school. The district's lawyer is still discussing the issue with the Urban League, he said.

Caire, who did not respond to a request for comment, has said single-gender education reduces distractions for adolescent boys. He has pointed to Urban Prep, a Chicago charter school with high college admission rates, as a model. However, the Science article said the school's success can't be attributed to its single-gender model.

Hyde said it is "extremely intelligent" of DPI to require scientific evidence for Madison Prep. "People understand that if you're going to try something, then you ought to evaluate it and see if it's working," Hyde said.

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