Will Single-Sex Schools Bring More Girls Into STEM Fields?


A growing number of all-girl schools around the world are dealing with the gender gap currently seen in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects through the creation of all-girls public STEM schools.

One network of such schools exists in New York City in the form of five schools looked on as a model for STEM schools throughout the country.  High school senior Geraldine Agredo currently attends one of the schools in the network, The Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria (TYWLS), and says it has been of great help.

Before starting at TYWLS in sixth grade, she says, “there were times [in class] when I would be about to say something, and I would stop and be like, ‘Hmm, what would the guys say?’ ” Here, instead of worrying about how her hair or uniform looks, she says, “we just come as we come. It gives us that freedom.”

Advocates of the schools say they offer more choice to low-income girls living in an urban setting that was previously only available to wealthier students.  They add that the schools create a culture of sisterhood and prepare students so well for college that girls who attend the schools graduate feeling empowered and ready to handle positions in fields that they have been underrepresented in for so long, reports Stacy Teicher Khadaroo for The Christian Science Monitor.

Meanwhile, critics of the movement argue that there is no proof that the creation of single-sex schools provides improved outcomes for their students, and suggest that doing so only further supports gender stereotypes.  Instead, they would like to see efforts made to close the gender gap within coed settings because educational resources are already limited.

Despite this, the movement has seen growth in the past few years.  When TYWLS opened in 1996 it was the only all-girl public school to open in the United States in 30 years.  Now, the network reports somewhere around 100 girls’ schools run by school districts across the country, and 75 all-girl charter schools.

A study from Goodman Research Group found that students who graduate from all-girl schools are six times more likely to major in STEM subjects when they reach the postsecondary level as are their peers who attended a coed school.

In a separate study performed by the University of California, Los Angeles, and commissioned by the U.S.-based National Coalition of Girls’ Schools, graduates from all-girl schools were found to be three times more likely than girls who had attended coed schools to seek out a career in engineering, writes Paul Attfield for The Globe and Mail.

And that trend is continuing around the world.  Diocesan School for Girls principal Heather McRae said results from the NCEA show that girls who attend the school had the highest opportunity to gain top academic results, with 55.9% of girls who took the NCEA level one at the school in 2014 receiving excellent marks, while the national average for excellence is 17.7%.

In addition, 34.2% of all girls who attended single-sex schools were found to receive excellent marks at level 1, while just 24.1% of girls who attended coed schools received the same score.

“In a learning environment that is free from gender discrimination, girls achieve greater academic success, are more confident and assertive and are more likely to study science, technology and mathematics (STEM) subjects and participate in physical education,” said McRae.