The Benefits & Advantages of Single-Sex Schools
Here are few paragraphs on what I’ve learned about girls’ schools after having taught in two for a total of eighteen years. The first was a Roman Catholic day school in the Midwest, and I am currently teaching in an east coast boarding/day school.
First, I have learned that girls’ schools have evolved significantly in their culture from the days when they were extremely strict and were really more like a cross between a nunnery and a prison. I have heard many horror stories about sisters making girls kneel on the sidewalk to check skirt length before they could enter school. Clearly, at one time, propriety was enforced ferociously perhaps out of fear students might follow the garden path to an unwanted pregnancy. While we have strict rules about things like signing in and out of dorms, students today have a lot of freedom to be off campus, and they typically don’t feel like they are being scrutinized for the least misbehavior or for a slightly risqué outfit. For some years now, girls’ schools have decidedly not been the smothering, oppressive institutions of yesteryear. Students now have many opportunities to meet boys if they so choose. There are dances they can attend at various neighboring schools almost every other weekend.
Second, the primary virtue of single sex schools is that they offer every student an opportunity to explore his or her gifts and leadership potential sheltered to some extent from the pressure to perform for the opposite sex. Problems related to possible sexist teaching practices are virtually eliminated. A homely or awkward student can find an equal opportunity at our school to grow, learn and show what she can do. I have witnessed many girls who were marginalized and alienated in coed schools for one reason or another come to ours and feel immediately liberated to find and develop their abilities.
Third, a cooperative learning environment is much more likely to predominate in a single sex school precisely because it is clear that individuals are responsible and free to learn without being boxed in by sexual stereotypes. Girls can pursue science. Boys can pursue the arts. Talent can flow more naturally to those subjects in which it will be best expressed.
Fourth, Girls form friendships that last a lifetime. This is a commonplace of single sex education but striking in the larger cultural context of a society that militates against close and lasting bonds.
Fifth, It has to be good for girls to experience at least one community in which girls and women run the show and participate in all its functions.
Sixth, I don't have any evidence for this claim, but judging from how our students typically get into their first choice colleges, I think admissions committees in colleges look favorably upon candidates coming from single sex schools.
Seventh, Again the following is an anecdotal claim based upon my own experience. It is easier to teach in a single sex environment because the teacher is faced generally with one type of psychology. Girls and boys really do differ in a general way in their learning styles. Mixing the students is a greater challenge to the teacher's skill, time and patience. Reducing that stress opens the possibility that the teacher will use more of his or her energy planning and teaching imaginatively.
Eighth, Girls at our school are encouraged to take risks, to step up and step out as leaders or at least as explorers of their own potentials. Here they don't have to fight a cultural pressure to be "nice" and passive. Here the culture is quite the opposite: give it a try to show what you can do, and if you fail, don't worry try again.
Additional Recent Data
UCLA Study Shows Girls Schools Have Edge
The findings, analyzed by UCLA's Dr. Linda J. Sax and her colleagues, draws on the large database housed at UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. Descriptive comparisons as well as statistical analyses compares the achievements, aspirations, and behaviors of 6,552 graduates of 225 independent girls' schools, and 14,684 of their peers from 1,169 coeducational high schools (public, independent, and parochial).
According to the UCLA report, which was commissioned by the National Coalition of Girls' Schools, girls' school graduates consistently assess their abilities, self-confidence, engagement and ambition as either above average or in the top 10 percent. Compared to their coed peers, they have more confidence in their mathematics and computer abilities and study longer hours. They are more likely to pursue careers in engineering, engage in political discussions, keep current with political affairs, and see college as a stepping stone to graduate school.
The new data from UCLA's nationwide study of women entering their first year of college reveals girls' school alumnae assess themselves stronger across the academic disciplines. Statistically significant are the following findings:
Ten percent more girls' school graduates rate their confidence in math and computer abilities high at the start of college compared to their peers from coed schools. That is, 47.7 percent of women entering college from single-sex schools feel well-prepared in math, as compared to 36.6 percent from coed schools. A similar gap turned up when comparing computer skills: 35.8 percent of girls' school graduates report self-confidence versus 25.9 percent of their coed peers.
Girls' school graduates are three times more likely than their coed peers to consider pursuing a career in engineering; or 4.4 percent compared to 1.4 percent.
More than 80 percent of girls' school graduates consider their academic performance highly successful compared to 75 percent of women from coed schools. On the intellectual front, 60 percent of women from girls' schools report self-confidence, compared to 54 percent from coed schools.
Nearly half of all women graduating from single-sex schools (or 44.6 percent) rate their public speaking ability high, compared to 38.5 percent of women graduates of coed schools. A similar differential exists for writing abilities: 64.2 percent girls' school graduates assess their writing as high, compared to 58.8 percent women graduates of coed schools.
Women graduates of single-sex independent schools spend more time studying or doing homework, talking with teachers outside of class, tutoring peers, and studying with others. Indeed, 53 percent of independent girls' school graduates study with other students, compared with 45 percent of their coed peers, and 63 percent spend 11 plus hours a week studying or doing homework compared with 42 percent of the coeds. And 37 percent of girls' school alumnae spend 3 or more hours a week talking with teachers, compared to 30 percent among women from coed schools.
More girls' school graduates consider college a stepping stone to graduate school (71 percent versus 66 percent from coed schools) and 45 percent of women from single-sex schools (compared to 41 percent of their coed peers) choose a college in part for its record of alumnae gaining admission to graduate school.
Political engagement thrives in single-sex schools: 57.9 percent of girls' school graduates compared to 47.7 percent of their coed peers report they are more likely to keep current with the political scene and have political discussions in class.
As the UCLA study points out, girls' schools graduates rate themselves more successful and engaged in precisely those areas in which male students have historically surpassed them - mathematics, computers, engineering, and politics. The findings may undermine opponents of girls' schools, who argue that single-sex education accentuates sex-based stereotypes and widens the gender gap.
Since the early 1990s, NCGS, a national girls' school advocacy group, has worked to document the value of girls' schools. Since the shift in title IX in 2006, 94 new single sex schools have been formed in the US. Two-thirds of them are girls' schools. "Single-gender education represents a valuable opportunity. It has well-documented results in terms of benefits and successful outcomes independent of high school variables. Our nation's girls are a national resource and they deserve the best we can offer them." said Meg Milne Moulton, Executive Director of NCGS.
This article reprinted with permission from NCGS.