Single-gender education is thriving at Ashley Hall

The all-girl student body at Ashley Hall school gathered for the opening of the new library and science center in 2009.(Staff photo)

The question of single-gender education value was raised on the front page of The Post and Courier last week in an informative story by Paul Bowers entitled, “Single gender success?”

As the head of school for Ashley Hall, South Carolina’s only independent all girls’ school, I feel the overwhelming need to share not only my personal experience but persuasive evidence in support of single-gender education.

For more than a century, Ashley Hall’s mission to “produce educated women who are independent, ethically responsible, and prepared to meet the challenges of society with confidence” has served to keep us steadily on course, guiding us in designing curricula — at all grade levels — to encourage those methods of instruction conducive to the way studies have shown, time and again, girls learn best.

For example, we know that in the classroom girls prefer collaboration to competition therefore, working together in small groups that allow each member to make her own special contribution to the collective endeavor enhances the experience for the girls, both socially and pedagogically. At the same time, this “team” approach allows teachers to provide more carefully calibrated instruction and individualized attention, the sort of personal consideration girls tend to value.

Perhaps most importantly, in an all girls’ environment, girls hold every seat in the student government, every position on the athletic field, every leadership role in extracurricular activities. In these circumstances, self-confidence cannot help but grow, enabling young women to find their own authentic voices. (Similarly, as Mr. Bowers points out in his article, in an all boys’ environment, teaching techniques that incorporate physical activity are critical to ensuring the students’ engagement and concentration.)

Simply put, research proves that girls and boys learn and retain information differently and tend to experience greater success when taught in distinctive ways.

Concrete data gathered by the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools overwhelmingly confirm the benefits of single-gender education for young women. To take just three examples, graduates of all-girls’ schools are more than twice as likely to earn a doctoral degree (Goodman Research Group), compared to co-ed peers, girls’ school graduates are three times more likely to pursue careers in engineering (UCLA study), and from a recent Stanford University study, we learn that girls benefit from a single-sex school environment in terms of higher career aspirations. This last assertion might be illustrated by the careers of such beneficiaries of single-gender schooling as former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, authors Flannery O’Connor and Alice Walker, social commentator Cokie Roberts, actress Gwyneth Paltrow as well as Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton, both former United States Secretaries of State.

It might be worth noting, too, that 25 percent of the female members of the U.S. Congress have had experience with single-gender education.

I have the privilege and opportunity to experience the strength of the single-gender learning environment daily and see it beautifully realized through the Ashley Hall alumnae base. The evidence is clear that single-gender education does indeed work.

Jill S. Muti is head of school for Ashley Hall, where she has served since 2004. Her background includes experience in educational administration, teaching and fine arts education.