United States' Katie Ledecky wins the gold medal in the women's 200-meter freestyle during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Where Do Female Athletes Get the Recognition They Deserve? All-Girls Schools.

Women were not allowed to participate in the first modern Olympic games held in 1896. At the 1900 Olympics held in Paris, there were only 22 women among 997 athletes competing in just five sports. Female participation increases with every new games and women competed in every sport for the first time at the 2012 Olympics in London.

The world has come a long way, but as the coverage of the 2016 Olympics is showing us, we still have far to go. The current headlines say it all:

Instead of celebrating the achievement that female athletes are out in force at the 2016 Olympics with the highest percentage of female competitors in history, there’s a seemingly unending need for the success of these female athletes to be linked to the men in their lives.

How do we educate our young women to be resilient – persevere against the odds, build confidence to take risks, have the courage and conviction to be leaders – despite the uphill battles they face with negative media, unequal pay (though major strides were recently made when the Senate unanimously approved equal pay for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team), and body-shaming?

One answer is all-girls schools.

According to the National Coalition of Women and Girls in Education, “despite substantial benefits of participation in sports… students have fewer opportunities to participate in both high school and college sports than their male counterparts.” But not at all-girls schools.

In an all-girls school, a girl can comprehend her value and her capabilities in ways that have nothing to do with how she looks. She can be free to try new things and try on new roles. She can follow her ambitions without wasting a second thought or a backward glance on how her male counterparts might perceive her.

By subtracting boys, an all-girls education adds opportunities. At a girls’ school, a girl occupies every role: every position on every sports team, every team captain. Athletic facilities and coaches are dedicated to girls. There’s no waiting for access to the field or gym until after the football team practices. Not only does she have a wealth of avenues for self-exploration and development, she has a wealth of peer role models. Girls’ schools develop scholar-athletes where everyone supports the girls’ teams: every fan in the stands is cheering for girls.

Girls’ schools empower students to become bold leaders. “Programs at girls’ schools focus on the development of teamwork over other qualities of leadership, while the qualities of confidence, compassion, and resilience also ranked prominently,” states Dr. Nicole Archard in her report Student Leadership Development in Australian and New Zealand Secondary Girls’ Schools.

A welcome exception to the media mishandlings about how to talk about female Olympians was when NBC broadcaster Rowdy Gaines said of the US swimmer Katie Ledecky: “A lot of people think she swims like a man. She swims like Katie Ledecky, for crying out loud.”

Ledecky, who wowed audiences around the world by winning one silver and four gold medals with unparalleled grace and focus, graduated last year from Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. Among the other female Olympians who attended all-girls schools are Kate Grace, an alumna of Marlborough School who won the women’s 800 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials to earn her place on the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team. Of the female athletes representing Great Britain, 27% attended all-girls schools.

In girls’ schools we have a saying that our schools should not be judged by the absence of boys, but rather by the presence—the self-assurance, poise, and derring-do—of the girls themselves. The same can be said of female athletes. They should not be judged by the men in their lives, their appearance, or age, but rather by their accomplishments. And that is what they are, their individual accomplishments.

So let’s give female athletes around the world the proper admiration and credit they deserve for their hard work and dedication. Just as we do for our male athletes.

Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools

Three happy teen girls reading book at park

Summer Reading: For Students and Educators

Summer is the prime season for reading.

Students who take part in summer reading programs significantly improve their reading skills. Whether measured by the number of books read, amount of time spent reading, or total visits to the library, research shows that students’ vocabulary test scores increase as a result of summer reading. Instead of losing knowledge and skills during the summer months, kids can actually avoid summer learning loss and show gains.

We encourage our students to be life-long learners. As educators, we also need to be students ourselves to stay informed about topics such as best practices for teaching girls, classroom innovations, and health and wellness issues related to the healthy development of girls and young women. Summer affords faculty and administrators a precious few months to catch up on our “must read” lists.

Several NCGS member schools select an all-school book for students and faculty or an all-faculty book for summer reading. Recommended reading lists for students by grade levels are also popular practice.

As a thought leader in girls’ education, NCGS offers an online bookstore with reading lists for educators, students, and parents. NCGS thanks the faculty and staff at member Emma Willard School for curating this summer’s student reading lists grouped by age-appropriate levels. The NCGS bookstore is available to help schools identify an all-faculty book or inspire selections for your students. It’s also an excellent resource for recommended reading for parents of girls.

As another school year comes to a close, we hope you – and your students – find the time this summer to relax with a good book or two or three… or more!

Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools

customer satisfaction survey form with checkbox showing marketing concept

The Girls’ School Advantage: Top Ten Reasons to Attend an All-Girls School

The admissions season is coming to a close with families weighing their options. They are pouring over acceptance letters, evaluating financial aid packages, and reviewing for the final time their pros and cons lists comparing different schools. Lists that will help them make the ultimate decision—one that’s led equally by the head and the heart—which school will they entrust with educating their daughter.

For many families, they are making a choice between a girls’ school and one or more coed schools. NCGS encourages families to ask themselves, “What do girls’ schools do best?” We’re confident they will discover the answer to be, “A lot.”

Whether she wants to be an astronaut, ambassador, or accountant, a girl needs to know—not just think, but really know, deep down in her gut—nothing can stand in her way. Girls’ schools send that message to girls every day.

To help remind families how a girls’ school will engage, challenge, inspire, and prepare their daughter, here’s a list of the top ten reasons to attend an all-girls school supported by research:


Girls’ schools champion the education needs of girls.

Single-sex programs…create an institutional and classroom climate in which female students can express themselves freely and frequently, and develop higher order thinking skills. —Dr. Rosemary C. Salomone, St. John’s University, Public Single-Sex Schools: What Oprah Knew

The robust learning environment encountered by students at all-girls schools is highlighted by a recent survey of high school students. The girls’ responses provide unequivocal support for the value of an all-girls educational environment. —Dr. Richard A. Holmgren, Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools


Girls’ schools create a culture of achievement.

More than 80% of girls’ school grads consider their academic performance highly successful. —Dr. Linda Sax, UCLA, Women Graduates of Single-Sex and Coeducational High Schools: Differences in their Characteristics and the Transition to College

Nearly 80% of girls’ school students report most of their classes challenge them to achieve their full academic potential compared to 72.3% of girls at coed independent and 44.3% at coed public schools. —Dr. Richard A. Holmgren, Allegheny College, Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools


At girls’ schools, a girl occupies every role.

Majority of girls’ school grads report higher self-confidence over their coed peers. —Dr. Linda Sax, UCLA, Women Graduates of Single-Sex and Coeducational High Schools: Differences in their Characteristics and the Transition to College

All-girls settings seem to provide girls a certain comfort level that helps them develop greater self-confidence and broader interests, especially as they approach adolescence. —Dr. Rosemary C. Salomone, St. John’s University, Same, Difference, Equal: Rethinking Single-Sex Schooling


Girls’ schools empower students to become bold leaders.

Programs at girls’ schools focus on the development of teamwork over other qualities of leadership, while the qualities of confidence, compassion, and resilience also ranked prominently. —Dr. Nicole Archard, Kincoppal-Rose Bay School of the Sacred Heart, Student Leadership Development in Australian and New Zealand Secondary Girls’ Schools: A Staff Perspective

93% of girls’ school grads say they were offered greater leadership opportunities than peers at coed schools and 80% have held leadership positions since graduating from high school. —Goodman Research Group, The Girls’ School Experience: A Survey of Young Alumnae of Single-Sex Schools


Girls’ schools champion the educational needs of girls as a group underrepresented in STEM majors and careers.

Girls’ school grads are 6 times more likely to consider majoring in math, science, and technology compared to girls who attend coed schools. —Goodman Research Group, The Girls’ School Experience: A Survey of Young Alumnae of Single-Sex Schools

Compared to coed peers, girls’ school grads are 3 times more likely to consider engineering careers. —Dr. Linda Sax, UCLA, Women Graduates of Single-Sex and Coeducational High Schools: Differences in their Characteristics and the Transition to College

During the middle school years, girls show a decline in both their performance in math and their attitudes towards math. New research suggests that girls’ schools may mitigate the decline when compared with coed schools. —Dr. Carlo Cerruti, Harvard University, Exploring Girls’ Attitudes About Math


Girls’ schools capitalize on girls’ unique learning styles.

To be successful, students need more than just a feeling of support. That support must translate into actions geared toward student success. Nearly 96% of girls’ school students report receiving more frequent feedback on their assignments and other course work compared to 92.9% of girls at coed independent and 79.5% at coed public schools. —Dr. Richard A. Holmgren, Allegheny College, Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools

A study prepared for the U.S. Department of Education observed, “more positive academic and behavioral interactions between teachers and students in the single-sex schools than in the comparison to coed schools.” —U.S. Department of Education, Early Implementation of Public Single-Sex Schools: Perceptions and Characteristics


Girls’ school students strive for greatness.

Girls at all levels of achievement in the single-sex schools receive a…benefit from the single-sex school environment in terms of heightened career aspirations—an effect unprecedented in any other portion of our study. —Dr. Cary M. Watson, Stanford University, Sex Roles: A Journal of Research

Students at all-girls schools have higher aspirations and greater motivation than their female peers at coed independent and public schools. More than 2/3 expect to earn a graduate or professional degree. —Dr. Richard A. Holmgren, Allegheny College, Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools


Girls’ school students are mentored by a community of peers, teachers, and school administrators.

The overwhelming majority of girls’ school students agree to strongly agree that they feel supported at their schools: 94.6% feel supported by their teachers compared to 84.1% of girls at coed schools, 89.9% report feeling supported by other students compared to 73.1% of girls at coed schools, and 82.8% feel supported by their school administrators compared 62.6% of girls at coed schools.  —Dr. Richard A. Holmgren, Allegheny College, Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools

Research indicates that girls place more emphasis on interpersonal relationships than boys, which may provide girls with beneficial social support… Compared to boys, girls are more likely to socialize in smaller groups, share more personal information with each other, and emphasize helping behavior over competitive behavior in their friendships. —Dr. Lisa Damour, Center for Research on Girls at Laurel School, Girls and Their Peers


Girls’ schools engage students in activities that prepare them for life beyond the classroom.

Nearly half of all women graduating from single-sex schools rate their public speaking ability as high compared to 38.5% of women graduates from coed schools. A similar differential exists for writing abilities: 64.2% of girls’ school graduates assess their writing as high, compared to 58.8% of women graduates of coed schools. —Dr. Linda Sax, UCLA, Women Graduates of Single-Sex and Coeducational High Schools: Differences in their Characteristics and the Transition to College

In the world outside of school, the answers are not always found in the text. All-girls schools prepare students for the world beyond school by requiring outside research, encouraging them to connect ideas across problem domains, and challenging them to grapple with problems with no clear solution. —Dr. Richard A. Holmgren, Allegheny College, Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools


Girls’ schools provide an environment where students feel safe to express themselves and engage in an open and safe exchange of ideas.

Over 88% of girls’ school students report they are comfortable being themselves at school, which means they are free to focus their energies on their learning. —Dr. Richard A. Holmgren, Allegheny College, Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools

93% of girls’ school grads are very or extremely satisfied with their school’s ability to provide individualized attention, and 80% strongly feel encouragement to develop their own interests. —Goodman Research Group, The Girls’ School Experience: A Survey of Young Alumnae of Single-Sex Schools

Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools


International Women’s Day: Step It Up for Girls’ Education

Today we proudly observe International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day first emerged from the labor movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and Europe. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to celebrate women’s rights and world peace by proclaiming March 8 as International Women’s Day. Since those early years, the day has become a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

The United Nation’s 2016 International Women’s Day theme, “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” focuses on how to advance the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda is a plan of action to eradicate global poverty, preserve the planet’s natural resources, ensure prosperous societies, foster peace and justice, and strengthen global solidarity. This plan contains several goals that are aligned with the missions of NCGS and Girl Up, the United Nations Foundation’s adolescent girl empowerment campaign, including:

  • Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.
  • Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Educating girls transforms lives, families, communities, and entire countries. Globally, more than 62 million girls, half of them adolescents, are not in school. Millions more are fighting to stay there. Access to education for women and girls, like gender equality, is not only a fundamental human right, it is also a means of achieving a peaceful, prosperous world that helps fuel sustainable economies and societies. When girls are educated, they lead healthier and more productive lives. They gain the skills, knowledge, and confidence to break the cycle of poverty and help strengthen their communities. And educated girls are also more likely to educate their future daughters.

As the leading advocate for girls’ schools, NCGS connects and collaborates globally with individuals, schools, and organizations dedicated to educating and empowering girls. Girl Up empowers and mobilizes girls around the world to take action by raising awareness and funds to help girls living in places where it is hardest to be a girl. NCGS and Girl Up know it is vital to the continued health of girls’ education that we engage the power of many voices to strengthen our schools, communities, and world. We – educators, students, parents, alumnae, advocates – can help inspire the next generation of girls and women not just within our existing girls’ schools, but around the globe to lead with courage, competence, and empathy.

Progress has been made towards increasing access to education and enrollment rates in schools, yet bolder efforts are needed to make even greater strides for achieving universal education goals. While the world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, few countries have achieved that target at all levels of education. Consider the different ways that girls’ rights to education are cut short around the world:

  • Only 32% of constitutions protect girls’ rights to attend secondary school. While 71% of national constitutions protect girls’ access to primary education, few countries protect their rights to attend secondary education.
  • In many countries, more than half of girls drop out before they reach the 6th grade.
  • Gender bias, cultural norms, and economic backgrounds can hinder girls from completing even the most basic level of schooling, regardless of the policy protections in place.
  • Girls from low-income families receive the least schooling. Particularly in Middle Eastern and African countries, girls from low-income families complete primary school at disproportionately low levels.
  • In many developing countries a prohibitively long – and unsafe – distance between home and school prevents girls in rural areas from completing their education, and girls in urban areas face social isolation and are more likely to be confined to the home.

For girls in developing countries, going to school can be more than just an opportunity to be educated – it can mean financial security, staying healthy and safe, and the possibility of getting a job that otherwise would not be possible.

Girl Up works closely with its partners at the United Nations to make sure adolescent girls have access to quality education and the opportunity to complete their schooling through high school. Providing a girl with an education means:

  • She is healthier – an educated girl is more likely to seek healthcare for herself and her family, and marry at an adult age.
  • She is economically powerful – an educated girl will earn more money, reinvest 80-90% of her wages back into her family and community helping to break the cycle of poverty.
  • She is poised to be a leader – an educated girl will be more involved in her community, more prepared for decision-making, and more confident in her own abilities.

The positive impact of girls’ education has been shown to transcend generations, resulting in better health outcomes among women, their children, and eventually, their grandchildren. Working together, the girls’ school community, strengthened by mission-aligned partners like Girl Up, can help prepare girls and women around the globe for lives of confidence, contribution, and fulfillment. If we are going to transform girls’ lives around the world, we need to advocate for girls’ education and gender equality not just annually on March 8, but 365 days a year.

Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS) and Melissa Hillebrenner Kilby, Director, Girl Up

Data sources: Let Girls LearnNo Ceilings: The Full Participation ProjectGirl Up, and United Nations


Block that Stereotype: Doing Public Relations for Teenage Girls

I’m often stunned by what adults say to me when they learn that I’m a psychologist who consults to girls’ schools and cares for adolescent girls in my private practice. All too frequently I hear, “Teenage girls? They’re crazy!” or “How do you put up with all of those mean girls?” or “They’re totally obsessed with their phones!” Of course, anyone who works closely with teenage girls can attest that hoary stereotypes don’t begin to describe the dynamic, compelling young women we have the privilege of guiding, and learning from, every day.

Those of us who spend time with adolescents share an obligation to challenge the negative views held about teenagers in general and girls in particular. While conducting research for my book, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood (my 280-page attempt to change how adults think and talk about adolescent girls), I developed several handy responses to the derisive things I hear.

“Teenage girls? They’re crazy!”

Adults who make comments along these lines are usually referring to the intense emotionality that sometimes characterizes adolescent girls. Teachers of middle and upper school students know that girls sometimes do get upset, but usually feel better as quickly as they become undone. When confronted with adults who call girls “crazy” or “dramatic” I will often say:

“Yes, it’s true that girls can sometimes be intense and emotional, but being a teenager isn’t easy. A lot of growth and change is packed into a very short period of time, so it’s bound to be stressful.”    

If I’ve still got their attention, I’ll add:

“Interestingly, new research tells us that teenagers process feelings differently than kids and adults do. In adolescence, the part of the brain that calms feelings down is easily overridden by the part of the brain that has emotional reactions. Girls are rarely “being dramatic,” and most of the time, they manage their feelings really well.”

“How do you put up with all of those mean girls?”

I have an especially prickly reaction to comments like this because we have mountains of evidence demonstrating that girls are no meaner than boys. This is true regarding both the use of physical aggression and the use of relational aggression (rumor spreading, excluding, etc.) for which girls, specifically, are unfairly infamous. Here’s the response I stand ready to deliver:

“Funny you should say that. For the most part, girls are incredibly good to each other – I regularly watch girls go to bat for friends and lend support to classmates, even the ones they don’t much like. We know from research that girls are actually less aggressive than boys physically, and no more aggressive than boys socially. But when they’re not getting along, girls do become upset, seek peer support, and worry about one another. Adults are probably more likely to hear about it when girls are in conflict, but that doesn’t mean that girls are less kind than boys.”

“They’re totally obsessed with their phones!”

This is a tough one given that it’s pretty accurate. But in my experience, adults deliver this line in a tone suggesting that teenage girls are irrational creatures who cannot possibly be understood. So I say:

“Yes, they do love their phones. But as the researcher Danah Boyd notes, ‘They’re not addicted to their phones. They’re addicted to each other.’ And we were, too! I don’t know about you, but I spent many teenage afternoons pressing a corded phone to my ear, even as I did homework and watched television. If someone had given me better technology for staying in touch with my friends when I was a teenager, I know I would have used it.”

I find that my partners in these conversations are usually open to a more positive view of adolescent girls, especially when I back up my opinions with research. To me, there’s no better work than teaching and caring for teenagers. But if we really want to support girls, we need to advocate for them everywhere we go.

Lisa Damour, Director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls, is a psychologist in private practice and a clinical instructor at Case Western Reserve University, and writes a monthly column for the Motherlode blog at the New York Times. She is the author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood (Ballantine, 2016).

Caption Meg and Whitty 1991

NCGS: 25 Years of Advancing Girls’ Education Together

The National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS) proudly celebrates this year a quarter century of advocating for girls’ schools. Consider the shifts in the educational landscape over the last 25 years, and you will see the impact of the Coalition. The early days of the feminist movement and the Title IX push for equal access placed all-girls schools at risk.  Although coeducation had been the norm in public schools in the U.S. since the mid-nineteenth century, the social changes occurring in the 1970s helped solidify coeducation as the universally accepted standard in both public and independent education. Men’s colleges and secondary schools, wanting to respond to the feminist cry for equal access while also seeing the enrollment advantages in widening their applicant pools, opened their doors to women and girls. Suddenly, single-sex institutions were no longer seen as a natural alternative. Despite the historic role of girls’ schools in providing quality education for girls, single-sex education was seen as anachronistic.

Girls’ school educators knew otherwise and recognized the urgent need to change the climate and the conversation.

I had the pleasure of hearing from the Coalition’s founding Co-Executive Directors, Margaret “Meg” Moulton and Whitney “Whitty” Ransome, regarding their reflections on 25 years of the Coalition, what the NCGS community means to them, and how the girls’ school landscape has changed.

MEGAN MURPHY: I know it’s hard to believe, but NCGS was founded under your leadership 25 years ago. Congratulations! I would love to hear your thoughts and impressions on the past 25 years of the Coalition.

MEG MOULTON: NCGS did for girls’ schools in the 90s (and continues to do so) what Gloria Steinem did for women in the 70s. It gave girls’ schools a voice and a place on the map. They were no longer referred to as “dinosaurs.” “Dynamite” was used to reference their stature and impact.

WHITTY RANSOME: We never dreamed during the late 1980s when NCGS was being conceived that so few could accomplish so much. Long before it became the norm, four of us ran NCGS as a virtual office with shared leadership roles, all on a shoestring budget. We became social entrepreneurs, supporting an engaged and committed Board in realizing common goals. The work of our volunteers matched and complemented the work of our incomparable professional colleagues!

MEG: Seeds were planted at the Coalition’s start. Those seeds are now bearing fruit. They will continue to do so given NCGS’ ability to ride the crest of the wave and to seek new opportunities to collaborate, serve its members, and advocate for girls and their education in a continually changing world. Megan, you and your team have excelled in your abilities to raise the curtain. The Board of Trustees, in its wisdom, has never failed to provide valuable strategic guidance in charting the organization’s next and future steps. NCGS remains strong, vital, and hasn’t forgotten to tip its hat and make its mark.

MEGAN: Thank you! NCGS is what it is today thanks to the dedicated passion you two brought to the organization. You shared your talents to advance girls’ education. What does NCGS and the girls’ school community mean to you?

WHITTY: Co-founding and co-directing NCGS has been the most fulfilling work of my career. My years with NCGS are about deep passion: a calling, not just a job. It’s been my honor to serve the thousands of women and men who expect the best from their girls and get it!  NCGS’ success depends on the power of collaboration, connections, creativity, and partnerships.  One of our former Board chairs called Meg and me “the guerilla girls” suggesting a can-do attitude on everything we undertook.

MEG: There is no question that Whitty and I take great pride in helping to give NCGS its legs at the start. NCGS reflects attributes that I would like to model in my life and hope that girls in our tomorrow will model them as well—strength of purpose, belief in one’s possibilities, the self-confidence to lead, a humbleness that allows one to join hands with others, the nerve to take informed risks, a belief in the power of one’s voice to be heard, and the drive to make a difference. The girls’ school community is a sisterhood of schools and colleagues who value education and are committed to a belief in the power of women to lead by example and to be change agents. It is a community of leaders and doers who have realized that, through their actions, there are many avenues on which to travel that impact girls and women directly and indirectly.

MEGAN: I can think of so many ways your influence is still felt today at NCGS from a continued dedication to research to providing valuable professional development opportunities. What are your proudest NCGS accomplishments?

WHITTY: Yes, using both qualitative and quantitative research to document outcomes and creating ways to serve our membership through conferences and professional development are among our proudest accomplishments for NCGS. Along with moving girls’ schools from surviving to thriving, helping build increased enrollments, positioning girls’ schools as thought leaders on multiple topics (STEM, civic engagement, leadership, global involvement, financial literacy, and countless other areas), data collection publications, and media work.

MEG: I am proud of what Whitty and I accomplished together at the Coalition’s start and I couldn’t be more proud of the organization today. Looking in my rear view window, I too take great pride in helping to trumpet the importance of research in documenting the value of girls’ schools. One of my greatest joys was stretching NCGS’ embrace internationally to include other girls’ school organizations and to broaden the reach of our work across national boundaries. NCGS was one of the first organizations to thinking globally and to begin to define programming that speaks to global citizenship. The upcoming Global Forum on Girls’ Education is a testament to the Coalition’s continued stature as a trusted leader, facilitator, responder to issues (and opportunities!) confronting girls worldwide.

MEGAN: How has the girls’ school landscape changed over the past 25 years?

MEG: Dramatically! A far more receptive audience is in place. Other agencies have invested in the education of girls worldwide. Girls’ public schools have opened with great success around this country and beyond due, in part, to NCGS’ active support in tilling the soil. Who would have imagined an increase in NCGS membership from 56 schools in 1991 to 200 in 2016, that new girls’ school would open, enrollment would grow, and impressive new levels of philanthropic support would be achieved?

WHITTY: Yes, the biggest change since 1991 has been the remarkable increase in enrollments and the establishment of new public and private girls’ schools in the U.S. and around the world. I attribute the resurgence of all-girls education to a savvy use of research, public relations, and the media. Coupled with the development of a common vocabulary describing the benefits and outcomes of an all-girls education, NCGS has positioned girls’ schools as thought-leaders on what strategies work best with girls.

MEG: In its 25 years, NCGS has become a respected worldwide advocate for the education of girls. Its members and public are singing the same song—girls matter, girls’ schools change lives.

MEGAN: Looking ahead to the next 25 years, what do you envision for the future of girls’ schools?

WHITTY: Harnessing the power of social media and other innovative technology as we did with print and TV, continuing international links, giving voice to girls who are denied education, and never underestimating the power of girls and women to change the world!

MEG: Girls’ schools and the education of girls have earned their place. NCGS will continue to weave its way into its future—rising to challenges and realizing opportunities. Garth Nix wrote, “Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?” I believe with continued strong leadership and an enterprising spirit, NCGS will make its path and walk on it with the confidence and unequivocal belief that girls matter. NCGS will continue to make a difference in girls’ lives through promoting educational settings and communities that value their present and future.

MEGAN: Thank you both! The resources and opportunities NCGS provides are ever-evolving and growing, but the pillars of research, professional development, advocacy, and networking holding up our mission remain as strong today as when the Coalition was formed. I recently wrote to our membership that the NCGS mantra for 2016 was connect, collaborate, convene—three words that have been at the heart of the Coalition since its inception. Thank you for setting NCGS on this path!

Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools

Mother Helping Stressed Teenage Daughter Looking At Laptop

Embrace a No Rescue Policy: Help Parents Encourage Resilience in Children

“In an effort to promote independence and responsibility, the school encourages a policy based on the premise that choices have natural consequences — both positive and negative. Students often learn best when they learn from their mistakes. If a student forgets an item at home or fails to complete an assignment, for example, parents are asked not to bring items to school. If a parent does bring an item for the student, it will be the teacher’s discretion whether or not to allow the student to have it. Allowing girls to work out solutions to their challenges on their own or with a caring adult at school builds confidence and resilience.” —The No Rescue Policy, as articulated in The Hamlin School Parent-Student Handbook

Raising our children can often feel like groping in the dark, but some simple truths are as clear as the light of a California day: Children forget. Children fail. Children fret. Children fall down. Simply put, children mess up, sometimes in grand style, and it is absolutely painful for parents to watch the consequences unfold. As the mother of two young sons, I can say with certainty that allowing our children to experience disappointment, frustration, and sadness is very hard. Never mind that we have read 100 times that mistakes are the building blocks of learning, that we should use the word “yet” to ensure a growth mindset, and that acknowledging strong effort is far more important than praising outcomes (thank you, Carol Dweck). Never mind that we have the “The Lesson of the Butterfly” pinned on our bulletin boards and bookmarked on our computers to remind us that the butterfly’s struggle to squeeze out of the tiny hole was nature’s way of strengthening its wings (thank you, Paulo Coelho). Even though we know progress isn’t possible without struggle (thank you, Frederick Douglass), we quickly don our firefighter gear, grab a pick-ax and a hose, and run to the rescue as soon as we smell the smoke of impending failure.

Moreover, as the mother of sons and the head of a school for girls, I have a strong sense that we tend to rush in and save our girls far more quickly than our boys, thereby reinforcing the stereotypical image of the helpless girl who is unable to use her wits and grit to save herself (thank you, fairy tales and Saturday morning cartoons). If her soccer cleats are left at home, we’ll carry them to practice later. If her lunch bag is still in the backseat of the car after morning drop-off, we’ll re-enter the carpool line and get it to her. Is the math homework still on the kitchen table? No problem — we’ll ask a loving caregiver to bring it to school. Is rescuing our children from distress getting in the way of raising them to be responsible adults? At The Hamlin School (CA), we think so. Thus, in order to create clear boundaries for parents and to help build confidence and resilience in our girls, Hamlin has had a long-standing No Rescue Policy, which we work diligently to enforce each day. It’s not easy to tell parents that they cannot get their own children out of a bind, but we need to draw the line somewhere.

In a perfect world, the No Rescue Policy would be unnecessary. Rather than schools devising rules and regulations to guide parental behavior, it would be best if adults were better able to govern themselves. When it comes to our children, how can we increase our pain tolerance, breathe deeply, and allow them to stumble on the very brick that we could have cleared from the path? I humbly offer three key messages to all parents, myself included, with an eye toward reclaiming our role as responsible adults, altering the habits that do not serve our girls and boys well, and controlling our natural instinct to protect our lion cubs.

1. Detach your identity from your child’s. If my son forgets his piano music for the third time, I worry that his teacher will think that I am a disorganized mom, not that he is a disorganized student. I resist the urge to pack my son’s backpack with the necessary sheet music by reminding myself that his work habits are not a reflection of mine. Though we share a last name and certain physical features, I am not my children. I love them dearly and take pride in their accomplishments, but their successes and failures are theirs — not mine.

As Kahlil Gibran writes in the poem On Children: “They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.”

2. Remember that parental love should be more about doing things with your children rather than doing things for your children. As busy parents, we often assuage our guilt by searching for evidence in our daily lives that proves that we are active and attentive parents. Creating a mental list of all the tasks we have completed for our children makes us feel at peace, needed, and “on the job.” Rescuing them from chores and hard work and checking things off of their to-do lists feel good, even if we don’t readily acknowledge the endorphin rush. The problem with this kind of “parental productivity” is that we are doing tasks that our children are able to do independently. Sadly, we rob our children of a sense of efficacy and affirmation because we need it for ourselves.

3. Slow down. I am far more likely to rescue my children and fix problems for them if I am in a rush. It’s far more efficient for a parent to tie a first grader’s sneakers rather than wait for the endless trial and error that comes with learning to loop the laces. You will certainly move faster throughout the day (and the airport, too) if you zip the jackets, pull the roller suitcases, and pass all four boarding passes to the agent. However, what will your child do when he or she is traveling solo? We never want to send our children the message that they are incapable of living without us.

If we want to lead schools of excellence and guide children into lives of purpose, we must build a close and mutually respectful partnership with parents. It is one thing to create policies and procedures and publish them in handbooks; it is quite another thing to empathize, link arms, and offer strategies and tools. Parenting is not for the faint of heart, and we must do our unpaid job with great intention and skill. As Gibran concludes in On Children, “We are the bows from which our children as living arrows are sent forth.” I’m ditching my firefighter gear, picking up my bow, and shooting for the stars.

Suggested Reading:

How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims

Permission to Parent by Robin Berman

The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey

Wanda Holland Greene, Head of School, The Hamlin School and Trustee, NAIS

 Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on “Independent Ideas: The Independent School Magazine Blog” a publication of NAIS and is used with permission.

concentrated serious girl carefully arrange coins on the table

Girls’ Schools: Uniquely Positioned to Help Close the Gender Gap

In “The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap,” released this fall from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), women are now earning $0.79 to $1.00 earned by their male counterparts. While this figure is $0.02 more than the often cited $0.77 statistic, the AAUW predicts, “At the current rate, the gap won’t close for more than 100 years.” The pay gap is even greater for women of color—the AAUW reports Latinas earn $0.54, Native American women earn $0.59, and African-American women earn $0.63 for every $1.00 that a full-time, white male earns.

In the last thirty years, women have closed the wage gap by $0.20, largely because of increased access to higher education. Now, with more women in college than men, the question persists: where is the missing $0.21? Even though higher education has the capacity to increase a woman’s earning power over her lifetime, the answer is in part linked to how our culture defines what is socially acceptable behavior for women.

In her recent essay “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars,” actor Jennifer Lawrence writes that when she discovered the wage gap between her and her male co-stars, “I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early… But if I’m honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’ At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled.’”

To people who work in an all-girls school, Lawrence’s admission came as no surprise, because we are attuned to how our culture persistently undermines female authority, and because this undermining begins early. In The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence, author Rachel Simmons writes, “Our culture of teaching girls to embrace a model of selfhood that sharply curtails their power and potential. In particular, the pressure to be ‘Good’—unerringly nice, polite, modest, and selfless—diminishes girls’ authenticity and personal authority.” In return, girls are rewarded with praise from adults and the acceptance of her peers, all of which are conditional on her continued compliance to the social codes, which keep her from being her authentic self. The internalized pressure to behave in ways that undercuts one’s personal power is pervasive and has real costs. Specifically, it can cost a woman $0.21 on every $1.00 that is rightfully hers.

Certainly, we all have an interest and responsibility in retrieving that money and closing the wage gap, and girls’ schools are uniquely positioned to make real strides towards that goal.

Beyond offering cutting-edge academic programs, girls’ schools understand that emotional and social coaching is key to girls’ success in the world at large. Explicitly designing experiences and pedagogy that coach girls to negotiate and advocate for themselves gives an emotional and social advantage for what lies ahead. In other words, we have the chance to do more than prepare girls academically for the next steps. In a similar vein to the missions at so many girls’ schools, part of our mission at Miss Hall’s School is to “encourage each girl to pursue the highest standard of learning and character; to contribute boldly and creatively to the common good.” To that end we encourage girls to be the own architects of an inner steel core that will keep her steady and resolute when facing adversity.

At Miss Hall’s, we think hard about that $0.21. To guide our programming and curriculum, we have outlined four competencies that form the core of our leadership ethos: vision, voice, interpersonal efficacy, and gumption. Vision helps a girl maintain focus and clarity of purpose, and developing voice allows her to explicitly learn to advocate, negotiate, and set boundaries for herself and others. Girls are coached in interpersonal efficacy, which will help a girl to know herself and others while building alliances and networks. Finally, we frame our curriculum and programs toward developing a healthy sense of gumption, which keeps a girl emotionally and intellectually nimble no matter her surroundings. While each girl is on her own path towards developing these behaviors, each will contribute to her ability to be her own best resource at school and in the world.

We are proud of our work on behalf of girls, but girls’ schools are only one part of a larger group of people and institutions who are changing the lives of young women. Those of us who are passionate about this work know our schools have the capacity to boldly and creatively change the story about women in the workplace.

Anne Rubin, English Teacher, Miss Hall’s School

Foxcroft Girls2

Think Globally, Act Locally: Two Events Come Together to Improve Women’s Lives

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of welcoming several hundred people to Foxcroft School for the Middleburg Cherry Blossom Nanette’s Walk, Fun Run, and Pooch Prance for Breast Cancer. Since its inception nine years ago, the Cherry Blossom Breast Cancer Foundation (CBBCF) has helped local women gain access to breast health resources by raising funds and distributing grants to meet the goals of detection, treatment, education, and eradication of breast cancer.

Yesterday was also International Day of the Girl Child. In 2011, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child in order to recognize girls’ rights and the special challenges that girls face around the world from access to education and economic inequalities to physical and sexual abuse and lack of health care.

As part of a week-long education initiative leading up to yesterday’s event, Foxcroft students have been learning about self-care, early breast cancer detection, and treatment. The week culminated with a special speaker, Caitlin Miles, a breast cancer survivor. At age 23, Ms. Miles detected a lump in her breast during a self-exam. Since her treatment and recovery, she has dedicated her professional career to supporting women with breast cancer by earning a doctorate in occupational therapy with a focus on breast cancer rehabilitation.

Caitlin is a great role model for the power of education to affect positive change and save lives. We are blessed here at Foxcroft to have a first-class education for girls.

Access to education, however, is one of the central issues affecting girls globally and preventing them from having better lives.

UNESCO reports that 66 million girls are out of school globally.

Only 30% of girls in the world are enrolled in secondary schools (Day of the Girl).

We know the power of even an elementary education to change girls’ lives around the world. Education improves health for young women and their children. If all mothers completed a primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by two-thirds, and if all women had a secondary education, child deaths would be cut in half, saving 3 million lives (EFA Global Monitoring Report; UNESCO Institute for Statistics). Education reduces childhood marriages and also death due to childbirth, which is the number one cause of death for girls, ages 15-19. Education can also improve women’s understanding of and detection of breast cancer, often in developing countries which might have socio/cultural attitudes that are barriers to health-care access and treatment. Breast cancer is the leading cancer killer among women aged 20–59 years worldwide (World Health Organization).

Education for girls is good for their families as well as their communities. Educated mothers are more than twice as likely to send their children to school (UNICEF) and a girl with an extra year of education can earn 20% more as an adult (The World Bank), improving her quality of life.

It seems fitting, therefore, that the CBBCF walk took place on October 11, 2015, the International Day of the Girl Child, at a girls’ school. How significant that so many young women are learning both through education and through direct action to be leaders for change? Girls learning to advocate locally to improve women’s lives will ultimately affect positive change around the world.

Cathy McGehee, Head of School, Foxcroft School


Voice and Vision: How Girls Learn to Lead and Resist Leading

Teaching girls to claim their voices is woven throughout our school’s history. From the essay writing contest from decades past to recitations to our contemporary rite of passage, the Senior Speech, Laurel School has, for more than 100 years, encouraged girls to speak up and speak out, to frame their thoughts, build an argument, and speak their minds. Yet, our longstanding emphasis on articulate expression is related to but not synonymous with voice. Voice is a fundamental component of confidence and is linked to leadership.

Claiming one’s voice is to leadership what steel beams are to construction—the beams support the structure. In the same way, the ability to imagine and convey one’s vision is essential for leaders.

I worry that in many school communities the term “leadership” has become a catch-all; I’d like us to deconstruct the term, to parse it so that girls understand there are many ways to lead. Perhaps one non-negotiable is that great leaders know how to communicate effectively. They also share a willingness to initiate, to inspire, to listen closely, and to follow through. At Laurel, we view school as a crucible in which girls develop voice, vision, and the ability to practice components of leadership.

Adults in our community encourage our girls to speak, to test their ideas, to substantiate a thesis persuasively. Laurel’s Center for Research on Girls has undertaken a recent study, led by researchers at the University of Michigan, on hedging—the tendency to soften or justify a comment by saying, “This may not be right, but . . . ” We are pleased to collaborate with the faculty at St. Ignatius, a nearby boys’ school, and with Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, MI as we investigate whether or not hedging is more common in young women than in young men. Why do we hedge? Maybe we do not want to appear too strident, too insistent. We want others to understand we are not arrogant, that we offer our ideas humbly. It is not uncommon for all of us to hedge from time to time. But thinking about this impulse, of which I, too, am sometimes guilty, has led me to reflect a bit more on the intersection of voice and vision.

We can all struggle with how to be understood; we can struggle with tone. Too often, we forget to practice. The simple act of rehearsing our ideas—out loud or in the early drafts of a paper—helps us clarify our thinking. We learn more about what we think by expressing ourselves and gauging the response offered by a listener or reader. It is when we listen to learn, rather than to talk, that our learning deepens.

The cultivation of voice is not all about talking. We must make space for those who do not participate volubly; they, too, are learning to claim their voices. Some of those girls in this community are our most eloquent on paper, our most effective leaders as they lead through example. Quiet girls know they are quiet. Susan Cain’s excellent book Quiet has much to teach us about expanding school culture so that those girls who are more reticent are still honored. Speaking often and loudly does not necessarily mean one is effective or understood. Claiming your voice, our Laurel girls tell me, has to do with authenticity, with courage and passion. Conviction and action earn respect. Speaking aloud is one strategy, but quiet or garrulous, follow through is essential for leaders to earn the respect of their peers.

“Claiming your voice means that what you says matters, that you shouldn’t back down if someone disagrees,” points out a 6th grader. This willingness to stand apart from the pack, to offer an unpopular comment, is a theme girls cite often and admire. Courage is required in this willingness to disagree. Other girls mention that our all-girls environment makes it feel safer to speak—there are no boys to roll their eyes.

This last thought interests me. I have taught long enough to know that Laurel is not Utopia. Girls, gloriously flawed like the adults who teach them, do judge other girls, whether I like it or not. Still, I am happy that Laurel still feels like a safer environment in which many girls can articulate what they think or believe or feel.

When I press the girls to examine the link between voice and vision and to talk with me about the relationship between claiming one’s voice and leadership, they note:

People who use their voices well inspire others to follow—voice becomes synonymous with persuasion, conviction, purpose. Leaders articulate a vision that invites participation. Leadership depends on a leader’s ability to reach her vision through collaborative, organized efforts. Leaders, they explain, take charge of how they feel about certain issues and are willing to take action to effect change. Leaders are not afraid to embrace their unique voices and to use them in enlisting others to help make change happen. Leaders at Laurel are brave and bold.

At the end of lunch one afternoon, a group of girls visit my office to select a piece of candy from the jar I keep stocked for them. If I’m there, they have to speak with me for a minute. This tradition, now a decade old, allows me a quick way to take the pulse of the student community, to make connections over Tootsie Rolls. It’s often my favorite 15 minutes of the day. One Wednesday, a group of girls riff with me about what skills help girls and young women learn to lead.

“We all want to lead,” says a junior, “but though we want the position, we don’t always want the responsibility.” I commend her candor and ask to elaborate. Soon, other voices chime in.

“Leadership takes guts, doing what needs to be done.” “Good leaders are confident, not power-hungry like Macbeth.” Effective leaders, the girls underscore, are not necessarily bossy—that would be a dictator. The best leaders are flexible, accepting other people’s ideas and suggestions and not needing to take credit for every idea. They also apologize when they make mistakes. I ask, “Are good leaders humble?”

“Absolutely. Confident but humble.”

Leading does not mean, they tell me emphatically, that you have to be elected or in charge of a club or activity. There are lots of ways to lead. Hierarchy, one senior patiently explains, is overrated and gendered. Many Laurel girls are more interested in collaboration, in joining together without a single leader prescribing the course of action. Those leaders girls admire stand up for their beliefs, guiding, advising. Inspiration is key. Leaders translate enthusiasm into action, mobilizing social media to draw attention to an issue, thinking about many-pronged solutions instead of one quick fix . Cynical about those who are elected or appointed only to revel in the glory of the position and its prominence on a college transcript, the girls, nonetheless, acknowledge that it can be uncomfortable to hold peers accountable.

This tension between the desire many girls feel to acquire a leadership position and the reluctance they feel in taking responsibility for anyone other than themselves is real and persistent. In our collaborative culture, girls uphold our social contract because they want to be at Laurel; most value their relationships with their teachers, and most do the right thing most of the time. But the majority tend to resist holding their peers accountable when someone chooses to break the social contract; that piece, sitting in judgment and calling out a friend, feels uncomfortable.

Some girls struggle with selflessness, believing that the best leaders put the needs of the whole ahead of personal needs, an ideal that can be hard to live every day in the context of school life, an idea that is in direct contrast with what we know about self-care as a component of resilience. There is more nuance to discover in the absolutes some girls use in describing leadership. One girl closes, saying, “Look, Ms. Klotz, it’s simple. Leaders build consensus and move forward, collect more ideas, and then move towards feasible solutions and compromise.” Seems simple, easy to do. Yet, they recognize the gap between what they know good leadership looks like and the challenges inherent in leading. Most of them understand that they will continue to develop skills that help them lead. And, they admit there’s some pressure braided into leadership roles. They feel the heft of the expectation that they be good role models, not disappoint, to manage the feeling that others are judging their actions.

Finally, conversations circle back to voice. Leaders must be willing to speak up even if no one else listens or follows, to stick their necks out in ways that may be unpopular. They must be expert communicators, skillful at tone, conscious of audience, aware of a group’s capacity for change. Good leaders are collaborative, not power-hungry, idealistic, and reflective. They accept the consequences when decisions don’t go well and they find, within, the resources to keep moving forward, with the greater good more important than their own egos.

At the end of my first decade leading Laurel, I am grateful to our girls for their insights and candor. Claiming our voice is not something that we can check off a box; it is a process that continues throughout our lives. Articulating a vision, scaffolding the tasks that must be accomplished to achieve that vision, galvanizing others to join us in our work — this is the work we do forever. It is the work of inspiring girls to fulfill their promise and better the world. I feel fortunate to have voice and vision as my muses as I work with our faculty and staff on behalf of our girls.

Ann Klotz, NCGS Trustee and Head of School, Laurel School 

Editor’s note: This article originally ran in “Community Works Journal” a publication of Community Works Institute and is used with permission.