Girls Get Lost in Co-ed Middle School

The older little girls get, the less confidence they have.

A six-year-old girl is often robust and full of confidence, eagerly speaking up in her classroom, and full of energy and health on the playground. Girls in early elementary school not only earn better grades but also obtain higher scores on national tests like the Stanford-Binet than boys do.

According to a survey reported by author Gayle Kimball, about sixty percent of elementary school-age girls believe “I’m happy the way I am.” Another 66% reports “I’m good at math.” All this falls apart when girls reach middle school.

“Seventh grade is the most dangerous age for girls,” declares Trudy Hammer, author of The Gender Gap in Schools. And most researchers would agree.

By high school, only 29% of girls are “happy with the way I am” and less than half report they’re good at math. Girls actually lose over ten IQ points between grammar school and high school, and gifted girls lose more. In a famous long-range study of gifted children begun in 1920 by Dr. Louis Terman in California, all the promising writers and artists were little girls. By the time the children were adults, the only writers and artists left were men.

Girls in co-educational high schools often decide they are too dumb to take “hard male subjects.” They drop out of high-level science and math courses like physics, calculus, and chemistry. Thus they disqualify themselves for college-level courses and high-paying careers in traditionally male fields.

The older girls get, the worse they perform on standardized tests, especially if they were educated in co-ed schools. Boys’ scores improve, even though girls continue to earn better grades, as reported in the American Association of University Women study. By high school, girls are about 40 points behind boys on the SAT college exams. In AP science and math exams, girls score 50 to 80 points below boys even though they may have earned better grades in the courses.

By age 22, female college graduates score 125 points behind men on Graduate Record Exams. Many feminists believe SAT, GRE, and AP tests are unfair to women and do not accurately predict future academic success.

Boys tend to get more of the highest scores on the SAT and PSAT, which are currently being challenged in gender discrimination lawsuits. Since National Merit Scholarship money is doled out on the basis of the PSAT test, boys have in the past earned as much as two times the scholarship money based on this test as girls. Last year boys took 60% of these scholarships.

Girls consistently earn better grades than boys in all school years including college, regardless of their social-economic status. Yet even girls with excellent marks perceive themselves as less smart than boys with average grades. If a girl fails a math course, she thinks of herself as not good in math and will refuse to take more courses. She will often consider herself a failure and disappointment to adults. Boys, on the other hand, attribute any failure to external factors such as the course was too hard. This is the paradox: A straight-A girl believes she is just a hard worker who overcame her stupidity while the B-student boy thinks he’s brilliant.

Girls go through puberty between ages eleven and fourteen, whereas most boys don’t start maturing until two to three years later. As a girl’s hips and breasts fill out in a culture that values slimness, she may begin to dislike her body for the first time. At any given time, well over half the girls over age nine years are on reducing diets, and 15% are on extreme starvation diets. As they start to receive sexual attention, they become more critical of their bodies.

Mary Pipher in her classic book, Reviving Orphelia, wrote, “When you lose confidence in your body, you lose confidence in yourself.” Middle school girls are six times more likely to give up on athletics at this point in their lives: indeed, 72% drop all sports by age 14. The Harvard Project on the Psychology of Women and Development of Girls reports “the little girl who showed the striking capacity for self-confidence and courage and resistance to female norms now becomes tentative and self-conflicted (as a pre-teen).”

Middle school girls not only give up on athletics, but they also give up their dreams of becoming astronauts and United States Senators. The famous feminist Simone de Beauvoir wrote: “Adolescence is the time girls realize boys have all the power.” Girls put an emphasis on popularity and good looks and it is no longer “cool” to be smart. One of the few female winners of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search described the middle school as “a torture chamber for smart girls.”

This free fall in achievement and ambition does not happen when girls are enrolled in all-girls’ schools.


American Association of University Women. How Schools Shortchange Girls. Published by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation and Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, 1992.

Hammer, Trudy. The Gender Gap in Schools. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc. 1996.

Kimball, Gayle. The Teen Trip. Chico, CA: Equality Press, 1996.

Lamb, Sharon. The Secret Lives of Girls. New York, NY: Free Press, 2001.

Pipher, Mary. Reviving Orphelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. New York, NY: Grosset/Putnam, 1994.


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