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Can Single Sex Schools Shrink the Achievement Gap?


Four Girls Prep Girls Holding College Banner and Sweatshirt

Back in October of 2016, I asked: Do Single Sex Schools Hurt Or Help Students? I shared recent research on the subject which, like the majority of educational research, came down to… we’re not sure.

In this interview, Janelle Bradshaw, Superintendent of Public Prep Academies, explains what she believes are the benefits.

New York School Talk: How and why did you decide to open a network of all-girls schools?

Janelle Bradshaw: Girls Prep opened with the ideas of choice and equity in mind. We believe firmly that the option to select a single-sex education for your child should not be a privilege reserved for the affluent. Any family, regardless of zip code, should have access to a tuition-free, high-quality single-sex school for their children. Additionally, in examining the achievement gap in education and the economic and social corollaries of this gap, we identified developmental differences and learning styles among males and females as a challenge looming largely unaddressed by traditional public schools in large urban districts. The leadership of Girls Prep set out to level the playing field by offering a free, public, single-gender choice to every girl in New York City, irrespective of family income or background. In doing so, we aim to prove that, in a single-gender environment that nurtures and champions the gifts of every child, girls from disadvantaged urban backgrounds can compete and achieve at the same high levels as their more privileged and affluent peers.

NYST: What are the benefits of single-sex education for girls? What are some of the drawbacks?

JB: In our single-sex model, we place a large emphasis on character development and our core values of merit, responsibility, scholarship and sisterhood. Our girls are empowered to speak up and speak out with determination and confidence. They become empathetic leaders with bold intellect. The single-sex setting has also been linked to developing resilience and perseverance in young students.

On the academic front, the consequences of single-sex education appear to be significantly favorable for low-income and minority students. Disadvantaged students in single-sex schools, compared to their counterparts in coeducational schools, demonstrate higher achievement outcomes on standardized tests in mathematics, reading, science, and civics.

NYST: Where do your students end up going for high school and college, and how do you think your schools contributed to their success? Do they have any trouble adjusting to a co-ed setting?

JB: Girls Prep Lower East Side is now a premier feeder of talented young female scholars to leadership development programs that prepare and place outstanding elementary and middle school students in top, independent high schools and ultimately in prestigious colleges. This includes Prep for Prep, TEAK, the Oliver Scholars, and A Better Chance. Indeed, Girls Prep alumnae are either now attending or been accepted into an impressive array of private independent schools, including Phillips Exeter Academy, Riverdale Country Day School, Packer Collegiate Institute, The Hill School, Poly Prep Country Day School, and boarding schools including Deerfield, The Dublin School in New Hampshire, and Suffield Academy and The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut.

Since 2013, Girls Prep has had six graduating classes of 8th graders. There are about 400 Girls Prep alumnae now enrolled in grades nine through twelve. While a few have matriculated into single sex environments for their HS experience such as Cardinal Spellman, Cathedral HS, and Young Women’s Leadership Academy, the majority matriculate into co-educational high school environments.  Our alumnae and their families have reported that the leadership skills and strong academic preparation have contributed to them excelling in those environments as well. And ninety percent of the inaugural graduating classes of Girls Prep 8th graders from 2013 and 2014 are now, as freshmen and sophomores, attending or were accepted into some of the finest colleges and universities in the country, including Yale, Howard, Skidmore, Tufts, Cornell and Brandeis.

Starting in middle school, Girls Prep provides scholars with access to pre-college programs where they spend time living and learning on campuses across the country. These partnerships include opportunities at Smith College, Barnard University, Stephens College, Cornell University and Georgetown University. Many of our alumnae tell us it was these experiences that were formative in preparing them for a successful transition to college. We also have a Director of Alumni Engagement who provides support for our alumnae to ensure that they are on track to college and remain  on the path to on time graduation when they matriculate. 

NYST: Since public and charter schools need to be open to all, how are you legally able to operate single-sex schools? 

JB: Under the laws of New York State for admission to a public school, Girls Prep requires no tuition or admission tests and are open to any student who is eligible for the graders and gender served at the school. Admission to Girls Prep is also not limited on the basis of intellectual ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, athletic ability, disability, race, creed, national origin, religion, or any other ground that would be unlawful. We work closely with SUNY to ensure we are adhering to all legal requirements of operating our schools, including the regulations that allow for our single-sex model.

NYST: What grades are open to new students? How can families apply? Where can they learn more?

JB: Girls Prep accepts students in all grades, PreK-8th, as long as space is available. Families can apply by visiting our website at or calling our Admissions office at 212-346-6000 x117.