I loved my all-girls school

Despite the lack of flashy promposals, all-girls schools offer a unique and valuable educational experience, writes Alex Riklin. (Photo: Pexels)

By Alex Riklin on November 18, 2019

Stanford Daily

When I tell people I attended an all-girls school since age 4, I’m met with expressions of either confusion, shock, curiosity or some combination of the three. I get the same responses ad nauseum: Why? Was it horrible? But how did you meet boys?

Contrary to what many people immediately assume, judging from their looks of sympathy, I really enjoyed going to an all-girls school. Sure, there were times when I envied the promposals and homecoming dances I saw in movies and on American friends’ Instagrams but never actually experienced myself. But apart from that, going to a single-sex school shaped me in many valuable ways and allowed me to forge amazing friendships. 

Many myths still need to be debunked when it comes to talking about single-sex education. First, I reject the idea that being in a single-sex environment renders one unable to interact with members of the opposite sex later in life. Despite this  popular belief, everyone I knew at my school and other single-sex schools not only knew how to interact smoothly with members of the opposite sex, but they were also able to form actual friendships with those people outside of school time. 

Although the majority of my close friends were girls, I wasn’t constantly cooped up away from the outside world. Being in a single-sex environment also encouraged me to make more friends outside of school and socialize outside of my fairly small school bubble. These experiences gave me invaluable skills, many of which I have used in my first few weeks here at Stanford in making friends and building relationships. 

Another common belief about all-girls schools in particular is the overwhelming presence of drama and hostility between students. There is inevitably going to be drama in all schools and close-knit communities at some points, but I never noticed a correlation between single-sex schools and drama when talking to friends who went to coed schools. I would say that drama doesn’t depend on whether you’re at a single-sex or coed school, but rather on the personalities of the people you surround yourself with.

Coming to Stanford, I thought I would immediately notice intense differences between my 700-person, single-sex school in London, England and this 7,000-person coed college. I assumed  it would feel really weird to be in classes with boys for the first time in my life.

Despite what I suspected, once on campus, none of these thoughts even crossed my mind until a few days ago. Out of the blue, I started to think about the fact that I’ve never been in a learning environment with boys before. It is sort of strange to consider that I basically learned everything I know purely surrounded by girls for 16 years of my life, despite the fact that in working environments and most other situations this will mostly not be the case. I will be forever grateful for the experiences I had and the relationships I formed in my all-girl school environment, but I’m equally so happy to be where I am now, experiencing new things every day and growing more and more in the process.

Contact Alex Riklin at ariklin ‘at’ stanford.edu

Fostering Academic and Social Engagement: An Investigation into the Effects of All-Girls Education in the Transition to University

NCGS

Author(s): Tiffani Riggers-Piehl, Kyungmin Lim, Karen King
Institution: Higher Education Research Institute
Year of Study: 2018
Fostering Academic and Social Engagement: An Investigation into the Effects of All-Girls Education in the Transition to UniversityFostering Academic and Social Engagement: An Investigation into the Effects of All-Girls Education in the Transition to University focuses a lens on how graduates of all-girls schools today compare to female graduates of coed schools in terms of their academic characteristics and readiness for university. Drawing data from the well-known Freshman Survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles, the researchers used multilevel analyses to separate the effect of an all-girls education from other influences including socioeconomic differences, race/ethnicity, parent education, and the characteristics of the high schools attended. The data reveals a consistent portrait of girls’ school graduates who are more engaged academically and socially than their coeducated peers.

In summary, the researchers concluded that when compared to their female peers at coed schools, girls’ school graduates:

  • Have stronger academic skills
  • Are more academically engaged
  • Demonstrate higher science self-confidence
  • Display higher levels of cultural competency
  • Express stronger community involvement
  • Exhibit increased political engagement

For deeper insight into the findings, listen to our PEP Talks: Podcast on Educational Possibilities interview with the principal investigator Dr. Tiffani Riggers-Piehl:

One School’s Conversation About Open Gradebook

NAIS

October 01, 2018

By Jess Hill, Buffy Baker, Armistead Lemon, Jenny Jervis, Maddie Waud, and Adam Wilsman

In the fast pace of what we do in our schools every day, every week, and every year, it is increasingly difficult to carve out time to research or even reflect on any change of policy that may be heading down the pike. We often hear or read about an educational trend or what another school is doing, or we may hear from a few parents that we should do [insert latest trend], too. At Harpeth Hall School (TN), we talk to faculty and to students, if appropriate, and take the time to consider what we think is best for our students within our school culture. Then we make a recommendation whether to change a policy.

In our wonderfully diverse coalition of girls’ schools, we espouse many different paths to reaching the summit of engaging, educating, inspiring, supporting, and mentoring our girls and young women. It comes as no surprise that the mention of an open gradebook—giving each student and parent online access to all of a student’s grades in a teacher’s gradebook, all of the time—is concerning to some girls’ school administrators. To others, it is something they incorporated years ago and are now off to consider newer trends and best practices. This topic was a clear fork in the road for us.

As one of only two girls’ schools in Nashville, with a robust community of independent, magnet, charter, and public co-ed schools, Harpeth Hall may be the only school that doesn’t have an open gradebook. We believe that considering this question within the context of our mission as an all-girls school is essential and a decision not to be taken lightly.

The Pros and Cons of Total Transparency

On the surface, a system that provides both students and parents uninhibited access and feedback on a student’s letter grade would appear to be an improvement. Students can keep track of their assessments and can easily see each grade and whether they have any missing or late assignments. There are no report card surprises; rather, the parent and student can always be aware of the student’s average and take action accordingly. An open gradebook allows for conversations between parents and students, and gives both parties an up-to-date view of the student’s achievements in each class.

Such ease of access and total transparency mirror the 24/7 online world that we live in. An apt parallel might be online banking: Log on anytime to learn your balance. The critical difference is that at Harpeth Hall, and most likely any all-girls school, we know a student’s numeric average at any given moment will never provide the whole picture of her educational journey. We have many high-achieving students, and we must consider whether such a system would best serve our particular community, or whether it would undermine our goals as an institution.

For the student who experiences anxiety about any uncertainty with regard to her grades, an open gradebook will allow for a superficial level of control via constant transparency. What might be the cost of this transparency? Right now, teachers are aware of their students’ specific anxieties because of the one-on-one conversations that happen around grades. Students can already ask for their average, grade, or test result at any time and be accommodated. More importantly, when students ask teachers directly, critical face-to-face conversations often reveal nuances for a teacher about how a student is processing an experience or developing in a class. The current system, while technically old-fashioned, preserves the teacher-student relationship and still allows students to have ownership. At this time, we can find no research showing that open gradebooks have improved students’ grades or helped teachers know their students better.

Minding the Confidence Gap

We do, however, have plenty of research on girls and confidence. Over the past four years, our school has focused on this research, namely the disconcerting truth that girls and young women who perform well in school do not always meet with the same success in the workplace. In order to address this confidence gap, we have identified several primary inhibitors we see in our students. Three of these five inhibitors could be exacerbated by an open gradebook.

Perfectionism: High-achieving students with perfectionist tendencies are more likely to equate their self-worth with their grades. Grades become powerful extrinsic motivators for these students, who begin to value successful performance over learning. Over time, the joy of learning diminishes as they focus narrowly on the numbers and improving the numbers. We are concerned that an open platform will drive students’ focus further toward numbers. At Harpeth Hall, we never want a student to define herself by a number.

Comparison: Equally concerning is the possibility of promoting an obsessive-compulsive behavior focused on results. Teenage girls are already online all the time, checking the number of likes on Facebook and Instagram. Refreshing the open gradebook page is an added reality for many girls across the country today, and we might spare our students from this option by giving them the space to think about something more than their grades. Tendencies toward perfectionism exist without an open gradebook, and we think they would worsen without the intervention of teachers should we go to an open system.

Fear of failure: Research shows that girls are especially prone to the fear of failure because of “good girl” conditioning. Girls avoid risks and value image over learning, and this avoidance diminishes confidence. Yet we are learning that college admission is becoming increasingly more interested in a prospective student’s ability to handle disappointment, adversity, and struggle rather than just seeing a grade point average. Girls who develop perseverance, tenacity, and a healthy sense of risk-taking are less vulnerable to depression and anxiety. This leads to a more successful experience in college and beyond. We hope our girls will have healthy, successful life experiences, and thus we want them to take safe risks in our classrooms, to have an opportunity to experience and recover from failure, and to develop skills that allow them to persevere.

Every day our faculty members are on the frontlines of our students’ emotional health and well-being. Harpeth Hall remains a progressive school with innovative teachers, and yet we hesitate to adopt the latest open gradebook trend. Based on our research and experience teaching girls, we question how an open gradebook would benefit our students’ well-being and emotional health or increase their ability to own their successes and failures, take risks, or succeed dramatically better in the classroom or more importantly, at life.

A Single-Sex Education Makes All the Difference for Girls

Editor’s note: This piece was originally posted on the website of the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools and is used with permission.
It’s time to challenge the coeducation standard. The evidence supporting the benefits of all-girls schools is abundant.
A new report comparing all-girls high school environments to coeducational institutions provides clear evidence that — from academics to personal aspirations — the impact of the all-girls experience positively permeates a girl’s life at rates coeducational environments simply cannot match. At a time when real and resounding inequities remain between women and men in the workforce — from pay disparity to significant leadership gaps in nearly every industry — the report provides compelling evidence that girls’ schools offer a worthy solution.
Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools analyzed the responses of nearly 13,000 high school girls attending all-girls schools, coeducational independent schools, and coeducational public schools to the 2013 High School Survey of Student Engagement. According to the survey [conducted by the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University], girls attending girls’ schools are more likely to have an experience that supports their learning than are girls attending coeducational schools. In particular, students at all-girls schools report:
  1. Having higher aspirations and greater motivation.
  2. Being challenged to achieve more.
  3. Engaging more actively in the learning process.
  4. Participating in activities that prepare them for the world outside of school.
  5. Feeling more comfortable being themselves and expressing their ideas.
  6. Showing greater gains on core academic and life skills.
  7. Being and feeling more supported in their endeavors.
Among the most striking results detailed in this study is the effect the all-girls environment has on a girl’s personal aspirations. Virtually all girls within an all-girls environment expect to earn a four-year degree; two-thirds expect to go on to graduate-level work. This is compared to under 40 percent of coeducational public school girls with graduate school expectations.
Such higher personal aspirations are likely influenced by the educators and classes girls attend while at school. More than 75 percent of girls in all-girls schools report their classes challenge them to achieve their full potential, and that they gave their maximum effort in their classes. This was higher than both coeducational independent and public schools, with public coed schools faring the worst with just under 40 percent reporting that their classes challenge them to their full potential.
The majority of our girls deserve better from their education. How can we hope to raise the profile of women if we cannot push them to reach their full potential in the classroom? Confidence grows out of experience and our girls are simply not getting enough practice.
The girls’ school girls also report higher levels of confidence in a wide variety of academic areas compared to their coeducational peers, including writing, speaking, critical thinking, reading, teamwork, and independent learning abilities. In sum, they are more personally engaged and successful in their learning and they report higher levels of support from both their fellow students and teachers.
The difference for girls in these educational environments is dramatic and the impact of educating even more girls in this way could help balance our social and political landscape, enabling women to claim their talents in a world that needs them to do so. Imagine a world where all women receive an education that unleashes their true potential.
A study released last month by University of Massachusetts at Amherst states that when women make up the majority of a group in an educational environment – specifically in the sciences – they are “more likely to worry less, feel confident and also to speak up and actively contribute to solve the problem at hand.” Another study at UCLA found that, even when accounting for self-selection biases, graduates of girls’ schools enter college with more confidence in their mathematical and computer skills, a greater interest in engineering careers, a stronger scientific orientation, higher SAT scores, and generally a more intellectual orientation toward the purpose of college.
With this supporting research and thousands of successful girls’ school graduates as living proof, we now have clear evidence that the coeducational high school environment needs to be challenged.
An all-girls education is a choice made by families because they value the extraordinary benefits of this learning environment.

Trudy Hall is board president at the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools and head at Emma Willard School (New York). Megan Murphy is executive director of the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools. This piece was originally posted on the website of the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools and is used with permission.

Why Single Sex Education Is Good For Girls

Forbes

This article is by Caroline Erisman, Head of School at Dana Hall, an all-girls independent day and boarding school for grades 6-12 in Wellesley, MA. 

While it was heartening to see that Maryam Mirzakhani, born and raised in Iran, just became the first woman to win a Fields Medal in mathematics, it is unfortunate that the breaking news in this story wasn’t necessarily her accomplishment, but that she was, in fact, a woman.The Boston Globe recently ran a story about this achievement, and raised a common question: why does our country lag behind others when it comes to encouraging female talent in mathematics, especially when research has shown that mathematical talent is fueled by nurture, not nature?  It is an interesting thought, especially given recent coverage of a studyhighlighting how top male professors in life-sciences tend to hire fewer women than female professors do in the same field.

Women make up 50 percent of the population and account for 59 percent of the college-educated entry-level workforce. Today, we can look up to some of the most powerful women in the nation: three Supreme Court justices, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to name a few. But the numbers are not as high as they should be when it comes to female leadership.  According to the Center for American Progress, women still only make up 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners and a mere 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. In Massachusetts, The Boston Club released a report showing that nearly 14 percent of the 100 largest public companies have women as directors, which is below the national average of 17 percent.

Despite these discouraging statistics, there is reason for optimism. Earlier this year an article in Forbes, “11 Reasons 2014 Will Be a Breakout Year for Women Entrepreneurs,” set forth evidence that explains why the numbers of women-owned firms have increased significantly in the last couple of years.  According to research, women are able to build better, more effective teams. Women cooperate and communicate effectively, which are both important qualities of a strong entrepreneur. And women are more proactively seeking visibility these days because they recognize the importance of public speaking, and are beginning to network more aggressively.

While this information is encouraging, it is meaningless unless we ensure that these small gains turn into larger wins. So how do we take what we know and make it mean something?  The answer begins with middle and secondary education for girls.

If girls are exposed to and schooled in these skills during middle and high school, they can refine them in college and be prepared to compete on a more even playing field at that level, and when launching a career. We need to cultivate this type of skills-based learning in our girls at an early age. To create female leaders, we need to raise them as leaders. We need to integrate courses into our curricula that go beyond basic English, math and science classes, such as ones geared towards the principles of engineering, or classes that explore the central role of science and technology in shaping human life, civilization and thought. We need to incorporate into our program business-oriented courses that teach our students at a young age how to succeed in the work force. Otherwise women are disadvantaged when they leave school and enter the employment market. We need to continue to foster all-girls programs that provide an atmosphere where girls excel as leaders without a male presence, because research shows that girls are more engaged, and exude more confidence and competitiveness in single-sex environments.

We as women have come so far, and have made such strides towards success and equality, but it is frustrating to know that in the 21st century, barriers continue to block us from the highest achievements. However, if together, we as educators, parents, and mentors, start early enough, and give young girls the right tools to succeed in the future through early education, then generations of girls to come will use these tools to break down the barriers that currently stand in our way.

Girls Excel in the Classroom but Lag in Entry to 8 Elite Schools in the City

From The New York Times

An article about the small percentage of girls in NYC elite public schools.  Many of these schools concentrate in science and math.  Interestingly, according to the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, girls who attend single-sex high schools are 3 times more likely to major in engineering in college, than girls who attended co-ed high schools.

Michael Appleton for The New York Times

Students at Brooklyn Technical High School on Friday; it is one of the eight specialized schools where girls are in the minority.

By Al Baker

In the United States, girls have outshined boys in high school for years, amassing more A’s, earning more diplomas and gliding more readily into college, where they rack up more degrees — whether at the bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral levels.

Multimedia

But that has not been the trend when it comes to one of the highest accomplishments a New York City student can achieve: winning a seat in one of the specialized high schools.

At all eight of the schools that admit students based on an eighth-grade test, boys outnumber girls, sometimes emphatically.

Boys make up nearly 60 percent of the largest and most renowned schools, Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech, and as much as 67 percent at the High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at City College, according to city statistics.

While studies suggest that girls perform as well as boys in math and science classes in high school, their participation in those fields drops off in college and ultimately in careers, a phenomenon that the White House, with its Council on Women and Girls, and the National Science Foundation have tried to reverse.

The fact that girls are underrepresented in New York’s top high schools, which tend to be focused on math and science, and which have more than a dozen Nobel laureates among their alumni, worries some academics who see the schools as prime breeding grounds for future scientists and engineers.

“It is very suspect that you don’t have as many girls as boys in New York City’s specialized schools,” said Janet S. Hyde, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin who has published research on girls’ performance in math and science from elementary school through college. Individual girls might be losing opportunities, she said, “but it is also bad for society as a whole because in a global economy we need to identify the best scientists and mathematicians.”

The racial makeup of the schools has been a combustible issue for years — 5 percent of the students accepted this month into the elite schools were black, and 7 percent were Hispanic. Civil rights groups have argued that using a test as the sole basis of admission favors students with means to prepare for the test, and have pushed unsuccessfully to have the schools adopt additional criteria, like middle school grades, for admission.

The gender imbalance has not generated the same kind of protest. But several academics and analysts said the reliance on the test might also play a role in keeping girls out. While girls outperform boys on an array of academic benchmarks in high school and college, they still trail on standardized tests, like the SAT, according to federal Department of Education statistics.

This year, of those who took the Specialized High School Admissions Test, 51 percent were girls. But only 45 percent of those offered seats in the schools were girls.

To Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy group, the gap at the elite schools could be as elemental as their perception as havens for science, technology, engineering or math, making them a natural magnet for boys, just as girls might gravitate to schools known for humanities.

“I don’t think you’re looking at discrimination here,” said Mr. Finn, who, with Jessica A. Hockett, wrote the recent book, “Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools.” “I think you’re looking at habit, culture, perceptions, tradition and curricular emphasis.”

Still, he said, New York’s experience runs against a national trend, in which enrollment in highly competitive high schools is 55 percent female. “The big gender-related chasm in American education these days is how much worse boys are doing, than girls,” he said.

Even the specialized schools with a focus on the classics and humanities, Brooklyn Latin and the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, now have a majority of male students. It was not always that way: Girls outnumbered boys at both schools until recently. American Studies has used the specialized admissions test since it opened a decade ago.

But in the first few years at Brooklyn Latin, founded in 2006, it had a broader admission policy based on grades and exams. Once it was made one of the specialized test schools, its population swung toward males.

“Sometimes, we see boys who are very bright, and can do well on an admissions test,” said Jason K. Griffiths, the principal. “But then I think the skills that a student needs to succeed in a school may be a little bit different.”

A corollary, perhaps, of the masculine leanings of the eight schools is the makeup of some of the elite high schools that do not use the specialized admissions test for admission.

At Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, which admits students based on grades and auditions or portfolios of artwork, 73 percent of the students are girls. At Bard High School Early College, which has campuses in Manhattan and Queens, as well as at Millennium, Beacon and Townsend Harris High Schools, girls outnumber boys by at least 3 to 2.

Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer in the city’s Education Department, said the eight specialized-test schools represented just a portion of the city’s best schools, so there was a flaw in studying gender disparities solely in those eight schools. “These are not the best schools in the city,” he said of the eight specialized schools. “They are among the best schools in the city.”

He said that at the highest echelons of test-takers, girls scored as well as boys, but that overall, fewer of the strongest female students were taking the exam.

“And the question is why,” he said. Girls, he said, “are choosing some of these other options, over the specialized schools, because they think it is better or they prefer not to take this exam.” Or, he added, “Perhaps there are other reasons that further research could shed light on.”

Students at the schools — boys and girls alike — said that they were not bothered by the imbalance, though it was sometimes noticeable. At Stuyvesant, Caroline Phado, 16, recalled how the five girls in her freshman swimming class were tickled watching 20 boys pile out of the locker room to join them. Kathryn Rafailov, 16, a junior, said boys so dominated her square-dancing class that they had to pair off with one another.

Students and administrators said girls held their own in the classroom, even when they were outnumbered. Several students at the High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering, a 436-student school housed at City College, said that a girl was the top student in three of the four grades.

Outside Townsend Harris, in Queens, where girls make up 70 percent of the student body, several girls said they were attracted by its more holistic admission policy, as well as its focus.

“I feel like, all the other schools, they mainly specialize in math and science, and, I don’t know, that doesn’t sound appealing to me,” said Ritika Modi, 16, a junior. She said she did not even apply to any specialized schools. Also, as a resident of Queens Village, she said, her parents “weren’t O.K.” with her commuting as far as Brooklyn or the Bronx, an issue several other girls noted.

Dr. Michael A. Lerner, the principal at Bard, said he has worked to find ways to balance classes. This year, for the first time, the dry-marker board he keeps in his office reflects a 50-50 split between boys and girls in the current ninth grade.

Of the 3,060 students who applied to his school this year, 44 percent were boys. To help rank the candidates, he said, he simply adjusted the focus of student interviews to more effectively draw boys out in describing their own strengths. This year he offered seats to 136 boys and 134 girls.

“Are we worried about getting unqualified boys?” asked Dr. Lerner. “No not at all.”