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The value of single-sex education

Medical ResearchUCLA

Admission offices in Baltimore's private, independent and parochial schools are hives of activity in January as hundreds of decision letters are being prepared to be mailed to families. For those schools offering single-sex education, this year's admission season comes on the heels of an old argument rearing its head in the press. Last fall, an article in the journal Science, "The Pseudoscience of Single Sex Schooling," renewed the debate about the value of single-sex schools, particularly for girls.

Claims that such schools do more harm than good appear as regularly as the changing seasons. Yet each new study fails to note the mounting quantitative and qualitative evidence documenting the positive outcomes of an all-girls education. With many families making decisions for next academic year, it's worth revisiting the research.

A recent, peer-reviewed UCLA study compared a large and representative sample of girls' school graduates to their coed peers. Separating single-sex schooling from other influences, including socioeconomic background, parental education and characteristics of high schools attended, this study revealed many illuminating findings, including:

•In mathematics and computer skills, girls' school alumnae rate their confidence at the start of college 10 percent higher than do their coed counterparts.

•Girls' school alumnae are three times more likely than women graduates of coed schools to consider pursuing a career in engineering (4.4 percent versus 1.4 percent).

•71 percent of girls' school graduates consider college as a prelude to graduate school, compared to 66 percent from coed schools.

That's just part of the statistical story. According to the National Coalition of Girls Schools (www.ncgs.org), girls' schools create a culture of achievement in which academic progress is center stage, where girls take healthy educational risks and don't worry about getting everything perfect, and where taking three to four years of science, technology and math is the norm.

Given the endless headlines about gender gaps in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), salary averages, leadership positions, and the persuasive shadow of sexual harassment, schools that graduate smart, bold, competent, confident women matter more than ever. As former President of Wellesley Nannerle Keohane remarked about girls' schools, "It's not just equal opportunity but every opportunity."

At Garrison Forest School, from kindergarten through 12th grade, our sole focus is on girls. Hearing their words leaves little doubt, anecdotally or statistically, that an all-girls education is transformative.

But don't take it from me; consider the words of 12th-grader Kit Brennen, a National Merit Semi-Finalist and 2010 Jenkins Fellow: "At a girls' school, I don't have to hold back on what I want to say. Speaking up is the norm, not the exception. Being at a girls' school allows me to focus on academics and all the leadership positions are held by girls."

Or this, from Vasiliki Argeroplos, class of 2017, a social entrepreneur and co-founder of Okaytoplay.org: "Girls get to have every opportunity in an all-girls school. They can be the lead in the play, president of their class, and run any project. We build long-lasting friendships, learn to be confident, capable and positive, and get to be who we want to be. There is nothing we cannot do. We know we can make a difference in the world."

What continues to be missing in the ongoing debate about the value of single-sex education for girls is the empirical research proving that a co-educational experience trumps all others. One kind of school — whether single-sex or coed — doesn't suit everyone, but offering all students, girls and boys, educational options is the only way this nation can compete with talent pools around the world.

Whitney Ransome is director of the James Center at Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills. Her email is whitneyransome@gfs.org.

Editors note: An earlier online version of this article gave incorrect ages for Kit Brennen and Vasiliki Argeroplos. The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.


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