All-Girls Schools: From a Male Perspective

When working in girls’ schools we are often asked how an all-girls educational environment can prepare girls for the “real world”— a world that’s coed. This question infers that opportunities for cooperative, positive interactions between girls and boys are not available for students attending all-girls schools. What the inquirer is not considering, however, are the numerous healthy, constructive co-curricular opportunities available to the girls, such as joint service programs, choirs, theater productions, debates, school dances, field trips, etc. The question also glosses over the male role models in the girls’ lives, both in their schools—faculty, administrators, coaches—and personal lives—fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, and friends.

As a leading advocate, NCGS seeks to engage the power of many voices to strengthen our schools, communities, and world. We are a coalition of educators—women and men—with a shared commitment to the education and healthy development of girls. With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to hear directly from male voices in our girls’ school community.

I had the pleasure of hearing from Paul Burke, Vice President of the NCGS Board of Trustees and Head of The Nightingale-Bamford School, along with Jamie O’Donnell, a current Nightingale parent. Paul and Jaime shared perspectives from their unique vantage points: the male head of an all-girls institution and as fathers who selected an all-girls education for their daughters.

MEGAN MURPHY: How do you respond when you are asked what it’s like being a male head of an all-girls school?

PAUL BURKE: I typically offer a two-part response. First, I hearken back to my decision to apply for the Nightingale Head of School post in 2011. Nightingale initially hired me in 2008 as a division head, and I did not think at the time I would become Head of School, primarily because of my gender. The school never had a male Head of School.

Ultimately, I decided to apply because I felt a genuine connection to the mission of the school. I also believed that girls need to know there are men, as well as women, who are so invested in their success they are willing to dedicate their professional lives to them. A recent Harvard Business Review piece entitled “The Men Who Mentor Women” makes several key points along these lines. According to their study of Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations, male champions “have learned that gender inclusiveness means involving both men and women in advancing women’s leadership.”

NCGS advocates for girls’ schools because it believes an all-girls environment is the best way to educate girls, and in doing so we give them a better chance to overcome institutional and cultural biases. A good girls’ school also tells its graduates they never walk alone. The bonds the girls form at girls’ schools are as lasting as they are distinct. They exist within the sisterhood of peers, but also across generational lines with teachers—female and male—many of whom are there for them for life.

Second, over time I have come to realize my leadership of Nightingale has had an unanticipated and unplanned benefit. Namely, it is not about me.

The girls are our school’s most important leaders.

Every year I host the seniors for a leadership retreat where this message is made clear and real. I have changed several of our key assemblies to amplify their voices. Our school’s convocation used to have an address from the Head of School as its cornerstone. Now we have four speakers: a fourth grader, an eighth grader, a senior, and an alumna. The girls are reminded that it is their school. When Madeleine Albright visited Nightingale, she was introduced by a middle school girl and interviewed by upper school girls. This decision was an obvious one. When the first female Secretary of State comes to a girls’ school, she should be talking with girls. My guess, however, is that if I were leading a co-ed or a boys’ school, I would have happily played a more prominent role, when my most useful position is really to the side and comfortably off-stage.

Leading a girls’ school obligates me to be more thoughtful in these moments and I think ultimately gives me a better chance of doing the job of leading others in the service of girls’ education.

MEGAN: Do you consider yourself a feminist, and if so, what does that term mean to you?

PAUL: I am with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who wrote We Should All Be Feminists. (Check out her TED Talk if you have not seen it yet. We showed it to our middle and upper school students this fall. It is well worth your time.)

Teachers and school leaders forsake the incentives other professions may bring. In the case of girls’ school educators it has to be—in part at least—about making the world fairer for women. As Adichie says, “For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem acknowledge that.”

In this sense, girls’ schools are an outgrowth of the culture that surrounds us: we divide human beings into two groups—boys who can’t come and girls who can. Step inside our schoolhouse doors, however, and you see an environment that is decidedly countercultural. These girls at Nightingale are not only included, they are celebrated and embraced—sometimes literally, always metaphorically.

As the cliché goes, when it comes to inclusivity and learning, we are all on a journey. This is humbling stuff, and teachable moments occur in the Head’s office as much as they do in kindergarten classrooms and every space in between. I have much to learn from my colleagues. Nightingale’s very best teachers craft lessons and utilize pedagogy that promote gender equity. Sometimes it is what they teach. Other times it is how they teach. At all times, it is who they are. They are fully on board, and the girls know it.

MEGAN: In your tenure as a girls’ school educator, how have girls’ schools evolved as we continually learn more about how girls learn best?

PAUL: It is a thrilling time to be in education. Change is afoot. At our school, change is being led via a reconsideration of assessment. We made the decision to step away from AP exams last fall and are moving into a period when teachers in our Upper School, and indeed throughout our school, are reconsidering how best to assess girls’ understanding. Teachers are leaning into more collaboration with peers, across disciplines and divisions, and they are asking the same of the girls. Part of this is driven by broader trends in education, but part of it comes from more fully leveraging what we know about how girls learn best. Anecdotes and experience combined with research all indicate that girls love to learn together, and in partnership with a caring teacher. Simple to state, hard to enact.

A reconsideration of assessment obligates a reconsideration of the entire enterprise. This is not necessarily revolutionary, nor should it be, but it is decidedly evolutionary and very much in step with the times. Curricula for girls should have equal parts responsibility and adventure. We are responsible for preparing girls for what the world is asking of them. Providing girls with more team-based, “real-world” assessments not only works in the moment, but it prepares them for where they are going.

At the heart of the entire enterprise lies a relationship between a teacher and a student, which is central to any good education, but that much more critical in a girls’ school. Because this is so obviously true, I believe it goes unexplored and therefore untapped, or at least not fully realized. We turn then to the social-emotional benefits of being cared for and known in a classroom. This is vitally important, but incomplete. I think girls’ schools should lead the way in thinking about how a relationship between a teacher and her students advances learning and accomplishment for girls.

This is not new, of course. I believe Socrates had some thoughts on it. Still, the realities of life in 2017 should encourage us to return to this question with fresh eyes and armed with our knowledge of what works best for girls. Let’s consider this together.

MEGAN: How do you involve male role models, particularly fathers, in the life of a girls’ school?

PAUL: Honestly, I am not sure I think about this enough. Perhaps I should! I think more about providing the girls with female role models via a speaker series or in other positions of leadership in the school.

I do, however, think I can be helpful to Nightingale fathers, particularly since I am one. My daughter is in our second grade. I notice things, and reflect them back to fathers in ways that are hopefully useful. To give one small example that may prove the broader point:

I greet the girls in the morning by shaking their hands at the schoolhouse doors. In a wholly unscientific way, I noticed Nightingale fathers seemed to be less inclined to wear Nightingale paraphernalia—hats, sweatshirts, scarfs, etc.—than were mothers. At an address to Lower School parents I said I believe it is important for all parents to indicate their pride in their daughters’ school. Wear that Nightingale hat. Show up at our Homecoming game. Let her know that you are as invested in her school as any other in your life—whether it be your own alma mater or another child’s school.

Soon thereafter sales for male gear at our school store increased, which was not only good news for our Parent Association—it was significant for Nightingale girls to see evidence that fathers were fully involved in their life’s journey.

MEGAN: Why did you decide an all-girls school was right for your family?

JAMIE O’DONNELL: The first part of any school choice is to decide on a school that is both qualitatively excellent and offers the best fit for the student. In our daughter’s case, we discovered in Nightingale-Bamford a truly excellent school, one where the approach to education held by administrators, staff, and teachers fosters an ability to learn in a supportive and encouraging environment. This resonated strongly with us, and we felt the school would be a wonderful fit.

The “all-girls” part of the decision is of course significant in its own right. We concluded an all-girls environment for our daughter would enhance the strengths and approach to education Nightingale offers. We believed an all-girls environment would enable the girls and young women to focus on school—academics, arts, activities, social life, and sports—without the distractions that a coed education can bring. Participation, intellectual curiosity, confidence, friendship—all of these seem better able to develop and grow more fully in an all-girls school. Three years into our daughter’s girls’ school experience, we feel this part of the decision has absolutely proven correct.

MEGAN: How do you respond to fellow parents who say girls won’t be prepared for the real world, which is coed, if they attend an all-girls school?

JAMIE: It is easy to point to the research and anecdotal evidence supporting that an all-girls education develops individuals well-prepared to flourish outside of school and later in life. Single-sex education, whether for boys or girls, is not a vacuum. The students have plenty of opposite sex exposure in their lives, ranging from teachers in class to siblings at home. School is not 100% of their lives. But in the classroom and around the school, an all-girls experience enables the girls and young women to grow as individuals with wonderful amounts of confidence and curiosity. If that is the result, how can someone be ill-prepared for “the real world”?

MEGAN: What are the ways in which you think your daughter is benefiting from her all-girls experience?

JAMIE: Our daughter attended coed schools until Grade 5 when we moved to New York and discovered Nightingale. Coeducation was fine, and our daughter had and maintains close friendships with many boys who were her classmates. After entering an all-girls environment, however, we have noticed our daughter has an enhanced sense of self and sense of possibility—a feeling that she can try or tackle anything. Maybe this is in part to her growing a bit older, but we attribute it to being in all-girls environment where she is encouraged to believe she can achieve what she sets out to accomplish.

I believe our daughter has benefited greatly across a wide spectrum of facets—confidence to pursue her interests and develop intellectual curiosity; greater confidence to pursue a range of activities based on her own initiative (without parental pushing); greater confidence to engage in social settings whether with peers or adults; and confidence to form close friendships with many different girls in her class and around school. It is actually a long list of things! The common word is “confidence,” as I believe an all-girls environment has allowed her to develop this characteristic in herself, and this manifests itself in many ways. Much can be attributed to the excellent education and support Nightingale provides, and I do believe the all-girls environment is the wonderful underpinning that accelerated this growth.

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

The Extraordinary Relevance of Girls’ Schools: Educating the “Missing Million” and the First Female President

 “There has never been a better time to be female. —Terri McCullough, Director of No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project, a Clinton Foundation initiative led by former Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton

I am a product of a girls’ school. The year I graduated, Saturday Night Fever had just come out. As a member of the yearbook staff, we were allowed to stay overnight in the school library to celebrate the yearbook’s completion. When we laid out the last photo and copy, we cranked the music and danced our hearts out to “Staying Alive.” The Head of School lived upstairs, and that night she joined us, not to quiet us down, but to dance with us. Surely, we were dancing to celebrate finishing a yearbook, but we were also dancing to celebrate ourselves. In the eleven years I spent at the school, my teachers knew me, encouraged me, saw promise in me, and urged me to see my potential. It was there I learned to write, to explore a text, to sculpt, to skip on a balance beam, to sing, to dissect, to explore, and to find my voice. It was there I discovered the extraordinary relevance of a girls’ school. That was over thirty years ago, and though the mission of educating girls has always been important, it has never been more relevant or more urgent.

This past July, I attended the annual STEM Think Tank and Conference at Harpeth Hall in Nashville, where I heard Terri McCullough speak. As director of No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project, which tracks the progress of women and girls around the globe,  Ms. McCullough shared sobering statistics that point to a global gender “imagination gap.” Namely, that women around the globe are less able to imagine what they can truly achieve, and this is particularly evident in the fields of engineering, technology, and science. Women have even lost ground in those fields since the 1980s. According to the National Science Board report, Science & Engineering Indicators 2016, “Women remain underrepresented in the workforce, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences.” Per No Ceiling’s current estimates, there are “one million women” missing from science and engineering fields.

According to research outlined in the report Cracking the Gender Code, the problem “starts in the classroom…where too few girls are pursuing studies in computing and related subjects.” The report was produced jointly by the professional services company Accenture and Girls Who Code, an organization founded by 2015 NCGS Conference keynote speaker Reshma Saujani. Cracking the Gender Code includes data from the American Association of University Women noting that in recent years, “only 20 % of Advanced Placement (AP) computer science exam takers in high school have been female, compared to 48 % for calculus, 59 % for biology, and 34 % for physics,” The future is even more grim as the report goes on to state, “if nothing is done to change current trends, young women will lose the race for the high-value, high-productivity jobs at the heart of the digital economy.” Further, noted is the economic impact of the gender gap: “The shortage of females in computing is a fundamental economic challenge in the U.S. economy and our long term global competitiveness.” Moreover, when I asked Charles Fadel, co-author of 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times and a 2012 NCGS Conference keynote speaker, about the work needed to prepare girls for tech, he told me, “You better get on it!” Fortunately, in my work I have been able to see firsthand the impact girls’ schools  are having on correcting this gender gap.

At the Harpeth Hall conference, I met three young women, all under age thirty, who had started their own tech companies. After their talk, I spoke to one who, while completing her undergraduate studies, created an app that “propagates generosity.” I asked her what students need to know as they enter the world beyond high school and college. She replied, “Girls need to have or develop an undying curiosity for and about the world out there.” She then smiled and said, “Honestly, it’s so that they can achieve what the world has not yet imagined.”

But the data is hard to ignore, and the statistics are just as concerning for women entering the political arena. Indeed, the funnel of female candidates going into politics is just as meager as it is for STEM sector jobs. The recent NCGS article, “Helping Girls Find Their Political Voice” shared statistics from IGNITE: women make up 51% of the U.S. population, but hold only 22% of the 500,000 elected offices. That’s only 12% of our nation’s governors, 18% of mayors, 19% of congress, and 24% of state legislators. In order to have equal representation at every level of government, we need 140,000 more women in office. And, as the world knows well, the United States has yet to elect a women to the highest office in our country’s 240-year history.

To compound the issue, girls’ schools today are faced with even greater competition from coed and for-profit institutions as we are continually asked to explain what makes our schools not only unique but also relevant. Yet, when looking at the research about girls’ school graduates’ attitudes toward STEM and politics, this relevance is irrefutable:

  • Girls’ school grads 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.
  • Girls’ school grads are also 12% more likely than their peers from coed schools to have a political discussion with friends. They also find it essential to keep current with the political scene.

So how, armed with this data, can we measure the value proposition of girls’ schools?

At Miss Hall’s School it comes down to mission. Founded in 1898, when young men were much more likely to have access to college preparatory education, Miss Mira Hall did something radical: she founded a school dedicated to ensuring girls would receive the same high-quality education as their male peers. Even when her school burned to the ground in 1923, she believed so strongly in her mission to educate girls that she raised the school from the ashes.

Those of us who work at girls’ schools live that mission every day. Through the Miss Hall’s core competencies of voice, vision, gumption, and interpersonal efficacy, we can frame conversations with students in ways that provide them with skills not only for their years at Miss Hall’s, but also to sustain them throughout their lives. Language about the core competencies is embedded both in admission and advancement materials, and more specifically, these principles guide all that we do—in syllabi, assessments, advising, grade level meetings, and graduation requirements. Using these principles to ground students in specific actions, we put language around the metrics of leadership and provide the critical tools toward empowerment.

Although in 1898 Mira Hall could not have imagined Hillary Clinton running for President of the United States, I am guessing she would agree with Clinton that “women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world.” As Michelle Obama stated in her speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, her daughters “now live in a world where it is taken for granted that a woman could be President.” We did not see the first woman President elected this fall, but our mission has never been more important to ensure our students see this in their lifetime.

There are 161 million women and girls in the United States and 3.52 billion across the globe. Students at Miss Hall’s and girls’ schools around the world are part of this group, often dancing at morning meetings or assemblies to celebrate themselves and their potential to be agents of change in the world. Guided by our mission to educate future female leaders, we encourage girls to approach learning with courage, to invite them to become members of this missing million, to empower them to run for office, and to imagine and achieve what the world has never seen.

Elizabeth F. Cleary, Dean of Academics and Faculty, Miss Hall’s School

Women in the Philanthropic Driver’s Seat

“It’s not just about being able to write a check. It’s being able to touch somebody’s life.”  – Oprah Winfrey, founder of NCGS member school, Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (South Africa)

During the month of November when we recognize National Philanthropy Day (November 15) and #GivingTuesday (November 29), let’s reflect on how women today are driving philanthropy in unprecedented ways.

In the U.S., women already control just over half (51%) of all personal wealth in the nation ($14 trillion) and are poised, through inheritances from spouses and parents, along with ever-growing earnings, to control an estimated $22 trillion by 2020. The ongoing long-term trend of women achieving, on average, higher levels of education than men, should also continue increasing women’s share of personal wealth for decades to come.

Women are exercising a burgeoning leadership not just in family philanthropy, but also in large-scale philanthropic donations. This is critical to fundraising because women are nearly twice as likely as men to say giving to charity is the most satisfying aspect of having wealth. Additionally, in growing numbers, women are leveraging their philanthropic influence in collaborative ways with one another by networking and creating giving circles to deepen their philanthropic impact.

Among NCGS’s principles is to “prepare girls for lives of commitment, confidence, contribution, and fulfillment.” In our unique position working with girls, we have the responsibility to introduce students to financial literacy, which includes philanthropic understanding, early in their lives. This helps lay a foundation for women to manage and donate money—a habit that continues for a lifetime.

The NCGS principle of self-efficacy, one’s belief in her ability to succeed and accomplish tasks, plays a role in how goals and challenges are approached. Women have the power to be agents of change through their philanthropic support and decisions. Women are beginning to exert this power by making larger gifts and engaging in more substantive ways with the organizations they support.

In addition to helping mold future generations of philanthropists, NCGS wants to help change perceptions within our member school communities about who is philanthropic and why

According to U.S. Trust, “women want to use their wealth in ways that will have a positive social impact, particularly when it comes to companies and causes in which they invest time and money.” And yet, giving to their alma maters routinely falls down women’s list of giving priorities. So what do our advancement and development teams need to do differently to encourage women to thrive as donors to our girls’ schools?

Partnering with the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, NCGS is addressing this question by focusing on current trends in women’s philanthropy. We are offering a variety of programs that will highlight how girls’ schools are blazing new trails in women’s philanthropy, giving our members practical action steps to implement at their own institutions.

I hope you will take advantage of these NCGS resources to further advance philanthropy within our schools:

  • I am facilitating a featured panel session at the CASE-NAIS Independent Schools Conference in Austin, Texas, on January 22-24, 2017. Women in the Philanthropic Driver’s Seat: How to Steer Funds to Your School will include Kathleen Loehr, Principal of Kathleen Loehr & Associates; Andrea Pactor, Associate Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy; and Elizabeth Zeigler of Graham-Pelton. These industry experts will offer their perspectives on women’s philanthropy globally and share research findings that account for various trends.
  • On January 23, 2017, Graham-Pelton is generously sponsoring a reception at the JW Marriott in Austin, TX, for representatives of NCGS member schools. Connect with girls’ school heads and advancement officers as well as gain further valuable insight from Graham-Pelton, a global fundraising consulting firm. To attend this complimentary evening exclusive for NCGS member schools, please contact Eliza McGehee.
  • The Women’s Philanthropy Institute is hosting DARE. DO. Women, Philanthropy, and Civil Society on March 14-15, 2017, in downtown Chicago. This two-day symposium will be a mix of interviews, panel discussions, breakout sessions, and networking. The symposium will focus more on the “why” than the “how-to” of women’s philanthropy. Topics covered will include continuity and change—how organizations can reframe messaging through new language and bolder thinking to stay vibrant and relevant; creativity—reimagining ways to maximize impact; community—how networks contribute to deepening women’s civic literacy and engagement; and collaboration—leveraging partnerships and amplifying voices. Click here for more information and to register.

NCGS is also hosting numerous upcoming professional development gatherings that will include sessions and pre-conference workshops dedicated to women’s philanthropy:

  • February 22, 2017: Educating Girls Symposium, School Communities: The Power of Many Voices in New York at The Nightingale-Bamford School.
  • June 25-27, 2017: NCGS Conference, Education Innovation: Building Cultures of Creativity in Washington, DC at the Marriott Wardman Park. At a pre-conference workshop, dive deeper into current research and trends in women’s philanthropy and how girls’ schools can put this knowledge to work in innovative ways.
  • October 23, 2017: Educating Girls Symposium, School Communities: The Power of Many Voices in Los Angeles at Westridge School.
  • April 2018: Philanthropic Round Table in New York, NY, hosted by Miss Hall’s School. NCGS will partner with Miss Hall’s to raise the level of discourse about women and philanthropy. Learn more about the history and outcomes of this event in our November PEP Talks episode, “Innovations in Women’s Philanthropy”.
  • June 18-20, 2018: Global Forum on Girls’ Education II in Washington, DC, at the Marriott Wardman Park will offer opportunities to engage in international dialogues about charitable giving.

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

Helping Girls Find Their Political Voice

On November 8, 2016, thousands of young women currently attending or recently graduated from girls’ schools across the country will be a part of history in more ways than one. They will be of eligible voting age for the first time, giving them the opportunity to help elect the next president of the United States. These young women will see a woman’s name listed on the ballot as a major party candidate for the first time in U.S. history.

In 2020, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted American women the right to vote. When we celebrate this milestone, it is possible we will have a woman in the White House as president.

As historic as this election is, we still have a long way to go. Women make up 51% of the population, but hold only 22% of the 500,000 elected offices in the United States. In order to have equal representation at every level of government, we need 140,000 more women in office.

Girls’ schools help girls develop their voices. In particular, their political voices. In fact, girls’ school graduates are 12% more likely than their peers from coed schools to have a political discussion with friends. They also find it essential to keep current with the political scene. Girls’ schools are in a prime position to help plug the leaky political pipeline just as they are doing for women in STEAM.

Like girls’ schools around the world, IGNITE is an organization dedicated to helping young women develop and use their political voice. I recently had the opportunity to speak with IGNITE’s founder and president Anne Moses, who is an alumna of The Nightingale-Bamford School and an adjunct faculty member at the women’s college Mills.


Anne Moses, Founder and President of IGNITE

Q:  Tell me a little bit more about IGNITE. What is the organization’s mission?

A:  IGNITE is building a national movement of young women who are ready and eager to become the next generation of political leaders. We have programs for high school girls and college women that provide civic education, exposure to women in civic and political leadership, hands-on training opportunities, and a peer network of women who support and nurture each other’s aspirations. We are also working to shift the culture to one that’s more actively encouraging young women to declare their political ambitions. We just launched a very successful social campaign called #DeclareYourAmbition and our kick-off PSA, ‘We All Belong Here’ has received so much positive attention online in an otherwise nasty political season for women and girls.

Q:  What inspired you to start IGNITE?

A:  In 1991 I was 23 years old, applying to grad school, working as a waitress by night.  I was at home a lot during the day watching the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings during which Anita Hill got publicly humiliated on TV by the Senate Judiciary Committee—all men—who denied her experience of having been sexually harassed in her workplace. I remember screaming at the television when I saw the vote go down. We all know what happened next—the year of the woman in 1992, when four women were elected to the U.S. Senate. Fifteen years later, I had held leadership positions in some of the top women’s political organizations in the country and the number of women in federal office had only inched up. I realized, if we wanted to elect many more women in office, at the federal, state, and local levels, we needed to start building political ambition in young women, when they were in high school and college. Somebody had to do that work, so I started IGNITE.

Q:  Girls’ schools help young women build self-confidence, develop leadership skills, and set higher aspirations. How did your girls’ school experience influence the work you do today?

A:  I was fortunate to have a girls’ school education, so I know what it’s like to have a network of peers and a group of adult role models who have your back and are actively promoting your success. I think attending a girls’ school is one of the best ways to prepare a young woman to run for public office because girls’ schools are all about setting high aspirations. IGNITE wants young women to actively declare their ambitions and to embrace their innate leadership capabilities—all the things for which a girls’ school education stands.

Q:  Why is it important for women, especially young women, to get involved in the political process?

A:  Politics is really about governance; about who gets to make the policy decisions impacting your life. There are so many policy issues that our local, state, and federal elected leaders determine. Issues like who can access what kinds of healthcare and how our colleges or military should handle cases of sexual assault. Young women need to weigh in on these issues so they can ensure their interests are reflected and represented at the local, state, and federal levels. Half our population is made up of women. It’s common sense that half our policymakers ought to be women as well. This is more than an issue of equity. It’s a matter of good governance.

Q:  What role can young women play in the upcoming presidential election?

A:  Obviously, young women who can vote should exercise that hard won right. Those who are too young to vote can still voice their opinions and encourage their friends and family members to vote—and in many cases, they can facilitate that process by finding out where the requisite polling stations are and educating their peers and family about the importance of political participation. Civic education is only taught in 29 states across the U.S. (and not taught very well in many of those 29). This is one of the reasons we have such low voter turnout. If you are a young woman who feels passionately about the issues being put forth in this election and the candidates espousing those issues, use your voice to influence others. Also, we encourage young women to go to the IGNITE website to take the #DeclareYourAmbition pledge.

Q:  What would you say to a young woman who thinks her one vote won’t make a difference?

A:  It’s easy to assume a single vote won’t count given the millions of people who do vote. But more and more frequently, elections are decided by tiny margins. An example from the state of Washington: Senator Maria Cantwell and Governor Christine Gregoire both won statewide races by less than 250 votes. Likewise, local races for school board or city council seats are regularly decided by even smaller margins.

It’s also important to note young women (18-25) actually vote at higher rates than young men in every single election (typically by about 7%). But even in the most recent 2012 U.S. presidential election, only 44% of young women and 37% of young men actually voted! Imagine if every single eligible 18-25 year-old young woman voted? That group of young women would have the power to decide every election.

Q:  What are the biggest barriers stopping women from running for office?

A:  Young people are turned off by politics, and young women are turned off even more than young men. Given the political climate this year, it’s not at all surprising young women feel intimidated and completely disgusted by what they see as highly sexist treatment.

But more globally, I think young women who are interested in running feel like it’s too audacious to admit to political ambition. One of the things we often hear from college women is, ‘Well, I might be interested, but I don’t have enough experience to be qualified.’ You don’t need 20 years of experience to have a career goal! And certainly, the majority of male college students would never think they have to earn their ambition in the same way.

The research shows this all stems from the way we socialize young men and women—educators, parents, and other influencers don’t talk to women as much about politics and don’t actively encourage them to run for office or assume any kind of civic and political leadership. So political ambition is hindered from the get-go, and then young women who are interested feel isolated in their goals.

Q:  What advice would you give a young woman who is interested in getting involved in politics?


  1. Declare your ambition. Don’t be afraid to tell people this is what you want to do.
  2. Figure out which issue you care most about. Get involved in community efforts to address that issue and establish yourself as a go-to leader, someone who gets stuff done. 
  3. Find a candidate you like, volunteer on her campaign, do a great job, tell her you want to run for office some day, and ask her to mentor you. There’s nothing like working on a campaign to demystify the mechanics of running. And most women in office want to do right by the next generation.
  4. Be proactive about building and maintaining a network of people who can and will support you in all your endeavors. Do for others, do for your community, and be the kind of person you admire.

Q:  What work do you do with young women to make sure they have a political voice?

A:  Throughout all our programming, IGNITE gives young women a deeper understanding of an array of personally relevant policy issues. We don’t tell them what to think, we teach them how to think and critically analyze the issues in their communities and how they might solve them. We also teach them about voting—the history of the suffrage movement, and how to ensure they and their peers exercise that right. Last, we introduce our participants to elected women leaders from their home communities, who demystify the process of how to get elected, and give voice to the difference they make once in office. The combination of these factors helps young women see there are multiple ways to exercise their own political voice—as an advocate around policy issues, as a voter, and ultimately, as a legislator.

Q:  How can schools and students get involved with IGNITE programs?

A:  IGNITE has a high school curriculum that can be licensed by schools and teachers. College students can start an IGNITE Chapter on their campus or join an IGNITE Chapter, if one already exists. College professors can teach our class on Women & Politics.

Q:  Any programs for parents of girls?

A:  Yes! Elections provide a great opportunity for parents to engage their daughters in discussion around civic engagement and political leadership. IGNITE has a parent/daughter toolkit and discussion guides, complete with infographics and segmented by developmental stage.

Q:  Any final thoughts or words of advice you would like to share with the NCGS community?

A:  As educators, you have the power to encourage your students to step into political leadership. Tell a young woman to run for office in her school. Encourage a girl to consider political leadership for her career. Young women tend towards public service, but more typically in the non-profit or educational arenas. Elected leadership is the highest form of public service and has the capacity to change lives. We need more women in office, so ask a girl to run and see how it changes her outlook on what is possible.

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

How Do Girls Learn Best?

As a new school year begins, we’ve been thinking a lot about how girls learn best. In many ways, this question could be answered by describing what girls’ schools do best. This is because girls’ schools are dedicated to championing the educational and developmental needs of girls.

So how do girls learn best? Here are just a few elements that are critical for helping young women reach their full potential:

Role Models and Strong Mentoring:

Girls need role models to help them become their best selves. Research has found positive female role models are essential for girls to grow into confident women, especially as they choose college majors and career paths that are needed in today’s world.

According to Lucia Gilbert, PhD, at Santa Clara University, not only do female students need mentors, they particularly need female mentors who can model greater diversity in women’s lives today. Her research shows female students, more than males, rated the same-sex mentor’s lifestyle and values as highly important to their own professional development. Gilbert also stresses female students working with female mentors may provide an important antidote to some women’s socialization to defer to men. Rather than being in a relationship of unequal power, in female mentor-female protégé relationships students learn to mobilize their full energies, resources, and strengths.

When a school combines positive role models and strong female mentors, reduced gender stereotyping in the classroom, and abundant learning opportunities, girls thrive.

Girls’ schools send that message to girls every day. Not only do students have a wealth of avenues for self-exploration and development at girls’ schools, they have a wealth of female mentors and peer role models.

Seeing It To Be It:

In addition to mentors and role models, studies confirm girls need examples of female heroes throughout history. In other words, girls must “see it to be it.” Learning about the women who have shaped our world helps girls set their own paths in life. Seeing women’s historic contributions inspires today’s girls.

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 less visible.

At girls’ schools, students see stories of trailblazing women every day. Women’s history is infused 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. When girls learn about accomplished women in history they become more aware of the possibilities in their own lives.

Experiential Learning:

Girls are more engaged in learning the “how,” if they also learn the “why.” When trying new things and applying it to what they already know, girls can more clearly see how a particular subject area is relevant to their world and interests. Girls’ schools provide a variety of experiential learning opportunities ranging from internships to community service, study abroad to hands-on research.

Parents and employers are clamoring for an education that teaches students the competencies needed for success in the real world. While real world scenarios can be simulated in a classroom, experiential learning helps girls bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Experiential learning also provides the conditions that are optimal for girls to learn by engaging them in the learning process. The skills gained through experiential learning – having to problem solve in unfamiliar situations – help students develop into self-directed, life-long learners.

Girls’ schools don’t just offer equal opportunity, but every opportunity.


Girls’ schools focus on the development of teamwork, which research shows girls prefer, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). According to the Center for Research on Girls, studies have identified several benefits of collaboration for women in STEM: more confidence in their solutions, combating negative stereotypes that technical work is solitary and competitive, higher quality work produced in less time than when working alone, improved understanding of course material, improved performance on exams, and increased enjoyment of activities.

The world is desperately seeking to plug the leaky STEM pipeline from its shortage of women, and girls’ schools are playing a critical role. Girls’ schools lead the way in graduating women who become our nation’s scientists, doctors, engineers, designers, and inventors. 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. Why? Because girls’ schools support collaboration and all-girl classrooms foster female confidence and aspirations.

Developing a Growth Mindset:

The terms “fixed” and “growth mindset” relate to one’s belief in their abilities. According to Carol Dweck, PhD, students with a fixed mindset “believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.” Alternatively, in a growth mindset, students “believe their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.” It comes as no surprise that students with a growth mindset tend to academically outperform their peers with a fixed mindset.

Girls are more likely to have a fixed mindset, especially when it comes to math, which contributes to the persistent gender gap in girls’ interest in the subject. This gap emerges in the middle school years, but studies have shown girls’ schools mitigate the declining interest. This is due in part to classroom collaboration, but also because girls’ schools help students develop a “can do” attitude.  At girls’ schools, students are more likely to take healthy academic risks, learn through their mistakes, and build resilience.

Girls’ schools teach girls to think “even though I’m not able to do it yet, I’ll tackle the challenge.” The result is girls’ school alumnae go into the world with greater confidence in their academic and leadership skills knowing their goals are attainable.

Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment:

In addition to receiving standard written assessments (grades), girls also need to receive qualitative feedback and communication in order to reduce their anxiety. Girls are prone to perfectionism and have a fear of failure. Even when performing strongly in class, on homework, and tests, girls have a tendency to feel more threatened when being evaluated.

Teachers in girls’ schools are acutely aware of these specific anxieties and the need to support girls with one-on-one conversations related to their grades. This type of interaction is also vital to developing the student-teacher relationship and can often shine a light on how a student is relating to the subject matter. When too much emphasis is placed on just the quantitative grade, girls are inclined to equate that with their self-worth, which can diminish the love of learning.

To be successful, girls 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 than girls at coed schools.

By focusing on how girls learn best, girls’ schools are centered around girls’ unique learning styles. In so doing, girls’ schools successfully prepare young women for lives of commitment, confidence, contribution, and fulfillment.

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

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

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

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).