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It's all about the girls: The essence of the single -sex school

Kathleen M. Donahue Carstensen, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Single-sex schools are struggling for survival. If the option of single-sex education for girls is something to be preserved, it must be understood more completely. All-girls schools have been criticized as unnatural social settings and too costly to maintain. However, a small but growing body of research is demonstrating that single-sex education is a viable approach to achieving equitable learning opportunities and environments for girls. Positive identity-development, self-confidence, leadership, academic achievement, and attitudes to learning, career, and family are the researched outcomes of single-sex schools. These outcomes—the “what” of single-sex education—are known. The “how” is not yet fully evident. ^ The purpose of this study was to discover the essence of the all-girls school experience. Using a phenomenological design, themes and patterns within this environment were identified through observations and interviews with students and teachers at two all-girls secondary schools in Hawaii during the 1997–1999 school years. Seven students in grades 9 through 12 and seven teachers from the core academic subjects participated in this study. ^ The analysis of the interviews and observation revealed four essential themes to the experiences of students and teachers in the all-girls schools. The themes, in turn, revealed something of the nature of how these schools work—an experience that, according to the literature, generally yields positive outcomes. The themes of “I'm not afraid”, “Female Energy,” “The Real World,” and “It's all about the girls,” emerged from the common threads of freedom, respect for individuality, caring for community, a student-centered focus on teaching and learning, and empowerment. ^ This study found validity in the single-sex school environment for girls and for their teachers. For the young women in this study, the essence of their all-girls school experience gave them invaluable opportunities to develop the confidence, competency, and connectedness that defined their identities and prepared them for the real world. For the teachers in this study, the essence of the all-girls school experience afforded them the freedom, connectedness, and purpose that defined their identities as teaching professionals. ^

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Education, Administration|Education, Secondary

Recommended Citation

Carstensen, Kathleen M. Donahue, "It's all about the girls: The essence of the single -sex school" (1999). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9951285.