Just the Facts, Ma’am: The Value of Research for Girls’ Schools

On March 9, the No Ceilings initiative of the Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released The Full Participation Report, a compilation of data collected from more than 190 countries over the last 20 years. The report highlights the gains girls and women have made since the 1995 U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women and the gaps that remain on the road to full participation.

Statistics such as the 850,000 data points included in the report and its corresponding website are vital to supporting the work we do in girls’ schools. The 1991 founding of the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS) was actually prompted by two different, yet related, studies conducted for the Coalition of Girls’ Boarding Schools and the Coalition of Girls’ Day Schools.

By coming together to research and promote girls’ schools, the two coalitions became leaders in the national dialogue on girls’ and women’s issues. Strengthened by their new data, they realized there was great power in collective action so ultimately merged to form the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools.

Nearly 25 years later, NCGS continues to conduct research on the unique benefits of girls’ schools like the recent report, Steeped in Learning: The Student Experience at All-Girls Schools, as well as cull existing studies on issues relating to girls and education conducted by external organizations.

Research findings can give our schools important talking points for advocacy outreach and marketing literature. More importantly, data allows us to situate the value of girls’ schools upon a theoretical and pedagogical base, which helps families better appreciate the positive outcomes of an all-girls education.

What The Full Participation Report shows us, as stated by Hillary Rodham Clinton at the report’s launch event, is “There are real gains to celebrate, including more laws protecting the rights of women, more girls going to primary school, and more mothers getting access to services that can keep them healthy. Yet despite this progress, significant gaps remain around the world, including in the United States, especially in the areas of security, economic opportunity, and leadership. The evidence is clear: When it comes to gender equality, we’re just not there yet.”

Highlights of the report include:

  • Female students are much less likely to graduate from college with a STEM degree than their male counterparts.

We know, however, that girls’ schools lead the way in graduating women who become our nation’s scientists, doctors, engineers, designers, and inventors. Research shows that girls’ school graduates are six times more likely to consider majoring in math, science, and technology and three times more likely to consider engineering careers compared to girls who attend coed schools.

  • Women remain underrepresented in leadership roles (political office, senior management positions).

Girls’ schools empower students to become bold leaders. Our students are more likely to take healthy risks than girls in coed settings. We know a girl’s environment plays an important role in explaining why she chooses not to compete, and girls from single-sex schools behave more competitively than girls at coed schools. Over 90% 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.

“We are taking a collective stand that full participation for women and girls anywhere and everywhere remains the unfinished business of the 21st century,” said Chelsea Clinton. “By knowing the facts and what has worked and hasn’t worked to advance gender equality, we can accelerate the pace of change for women and girls — both at home and around the world.”

At NCGS, we, too, believe there is much more work to be done to achieve gender equality. Yet, we are optimistic because of the potential we see everyday in our students. Our schools foster and develop girls’ talents, passions, and dreams, therefore playing a critical role toward advancing gender equality. We graduate confident, competent young women who are exceptionally well equipped to assume leadership roles that will chart the course to full participation for girls and women in the 21st century.

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

Girls Must See It To Be It… Beyond Women’s History Month

“Each time a girl opens a book and finds a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.”

This quote by Dr. Myra Pollack Sadker, a pioneer in the research of gender bias in America’s schools, gets a lot of attention each year during Women’s History Month. Perhaps more than ever, it resonates with educators of girls reflecting on this year’s theme, “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.”

We believe—and studies confirm—Girls Must See It To Be It. Seeing the women who came before them, made tough decisions, and pursued non-traditional roles will absolutely and positively influence their own paths in life. Throughout history, girls and women have been denied educations, occupations, and political roles. Despite the many obstacles, countless women broke through barriers to pursue their dreams and better not only their lives, but the lives of generations to come. Their stories are an inspiration today.

At girls’ schools, however, students see those stories throughout the school year, not just during a single month. We infuse women’s history into the curricula and various aspects of school life to help embolden our girls to achieve their full potential in whichever field they’re drawn to. How is the next generation of female leaders, however, going to “see it to be it” if there’s no evidence beyond the classrooms and campus walls of girls’ schools?

Women in America continue to be underrepresented in many areas from politics to finance to the boardroom and more. There’s perhaps no field clamoring more to close the gender gap though than the STEM industries—industries where the lack of female role models is widely reported to be part of the problem. Girls’ schools are successfully graduating young women who are six times more likely to consider majoring in math, science, and technology and three times more likely to consider engineering careers compared to girls who attend coed schools. Yet, this is not enough. We need girls graduating from coed schools to feel equally empowered to help shift the paradigm.

We teach girls about heroines like Amelia Earhart, but what about her contemporary E. Lillian Todd who was the first-ever woman airplane designer? Marie Curie is known worldwide as a scientific research pioneer, but how many know of Gladys Hobby who was part of the research team that determined penicillin could be used to help humans? Or that legendary actress, Hedy Lamarr, co-invented the technology that enables our use of cell phones and WiFi today?

Too often, women’s contributions and accomplishments have been overlooked and consequently omitted from mainstream culture.

While women account for 51% of our population, a review of mainstream American history begs the question, where were the women? Women account for only 10% of historical figures in our history textbooks. When girls don’t see themselves in textbooks they learn that to be female is to be invisible. Is it really any wonder that so many women are trying to learn how to “lean in?” If we had grown up knowing about the remarkable women who contributed so much to building this nation, we’d already BE in!

When girls learn about accomplished women in history they become more aware of the possibilities in their own lives. It’s as important for boys to see accomplished women in history so they are aware women were also integral in shaping our nation.

Clearly, teaching our youth about women’s history, showing them examples of high achieving women, and encouraging them to pursue their dreams regardless of gender is critical.

Education about the accomplishments and contributions made by women will enable both girls and boys to see that gender is not a factor in deciding what you can and can’t pursue in life.

To that end, the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS) supports the mission of the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) to educate, inspire, empower, and shape the future by integrating women’s distinctive history into the national narrative. One of the primary objectives of NWHM is to build a world-class national women’s history museum at the National Mall, which will serve to educate all Americans about the critical and indispensable role women have played in our history. A privately funded Congressional Commission is currently being assembled to study and report to Congress on the governance, organizational structure, fundraising, operations, and locations of the Museum. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, our organizations look forward to the day when all Americans will know and understand the enormous influence women have had in shaping this great nation.

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

Joan Wages, President & CEO, National Women’s History Museum