The Value of An All Women’s Education
[Education Update asked the Young Women’s Leadership School, a public school in NYC founded by Anne Tisch, to describe the value of all girls’ schools. The responses follow.]
Do you believe academic achievement is higher for girls in an all-girls academic setting? Is there a benefit to single sex education in non-academic areas?
There is no doubt that for most of our girls, achievement both inside and outside of the classroom is higher because they attend an all-girls school. It is difficult to separate academic and non-academic achievement because for adolescent girls, the two are interrelated.
Academically: Years of research have shown that single-sex schools promote an environment where gender differences are valued not ignored. At TYWLS the fact that we are an all girls school enables us to use the woman’s perspective as a critical lens for teaching all subject areas particularly math and science. Studies have demonstrated that girls typically lag behind boys in math and science as they enter the middle school years and this continues into high school.
At TYWLS we teach Math and Science in a way that makes these subjects relevant to our students and we help our students experience success. Our teachers do not allow our students to say, “I’m just not good at Math.” In our school every young woman is a mathematician and every girl is a scientist. At TYWLS, our students work together in groups to get results whether they are collectively solving a calculus problem or working on a lab. This personal interaction and discussion enables our students to support each other and work together as a team. We also provide a number of hands on experiences and field trips for our students to make class work relevant and practical.
In English courses, traditional works like Shakespeare, Poe, and Ibsen are taught along side Zora Neal Hurston, Octavia Butler, and Lorraine Hansbury. Classical texts as well as more modern classics are taught with an eye towards understanding the experience and perspective of women of color. Encouraging our students to identify with the characters creates an environment where class discussions are student centered, rich and energetic.
The social studies curriculum at TYWLS also incorporates the unique learning styles of our students and encourages dialogue about the role of women in establishing all societies. At TYWLS, project based learning allows students to work in groups where they research social justice issues and women’s roles in history. It is not uncommon to see a 7th grade history class putting Christopher Columbus on trial for war crimes, or a senior government class creating voter awareness brochures to inform citizens of candidates.
Clear differences can be seen in Health and Physical Education classes. Women’s health issues are discussed candidly in every grade level without hesitation to ask specific and personal questions. AIDS, Lupus, STDs, Diabetes, Hypertension, and teen pregnancy are not abstract concepts saved for a chapter in a health textbook. These issues are real in the lives of our students and their families. In this single sex environment, these issues can be addressed in concrete ways that have an impact on the students’ personal lives.
Non-Academically: A critical component of the culture of TYWLS both academically and non-academically is our Advisory program. This is a tool that enables the school community to address the individual needs of our students. Each teacher in the school is an advisor and is trained to work with adolescent girls. During the advisory time students discuss issues personal and academic and the environment of a single-sex school enables our students to feel safe and encourages an open environment.
There is no front row in our school. All students sit at tables with four or five chairs circled around them; there is no front or back of the class. Students work cooperatively in small groups on project-based and discussion-based assignments. When students work in small groups, all voices are heard, and students cannot be wallflowers.
When you go to an all girls’ school the President of the student council is a girl. The head of the Math Club is a girl and the top science student is a girl. Leadership is a critical component of our model and students are responsible for leading their own lives as well as becoming leaders in the community. All of our students have the opportunity to lead both inside and outside of the classroom. In this all-girl environment, a culture of success has been established where the expectation is that all students will participate, work hard, and be responsible. We have found that students’ confidence soars as students begin to see success in the classroom and in their social life.
Is your faculty predominantly women?
The faculty at TYWLS includes 23 women and 5 men. We feel it is important to have a diverse staff that will provide strong role models both male and female.
Approximately what percent of your students go on to single sex colleges? Coed colleges?
65 students graduated in the Class of 2005. Although only five students enrolled in a women’s college, 32 (almost half) of the class applied to a women’s college. The graduates of our school clearly appreciate the benefits of a single sex education.
Are there any other aspects of all-girls education that you wish to discuss?
Our students are often the most articulate about the benefits of a single-sex school. We would like to share with you some sentiments of the young ladies in our schools. “I feel safe here.” “There are no distractions and I can focus on my learning.” “In elementary school I was shy and did not participate in class, now I am not afraid.” “There is no reason to cut class.” “The girls are not fighting over the boys and we can build a deeper bond with each other.” “I really love math.” “At this school the teachers tell you, you can do it and they push you and help you to understand the work.” There are many aspects of a single-sex education that are not quantifiable and are not measured by test scores but the positive experience of students and fantastic college acceptance and attendance rates of our school are proof of a job well done. #
Kathleen Ponze is Principal of the Young Women’s Leadership School, Maureen Colburn is Executive Director of the Young Women’s Leadership Foundation, Chris Farmer is a CollegeBoard Counselor.