'Sex-Equality Audit' Developed for Coed Girls

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Pittsburgh--To advance its goal of "making schools more responsive to the needs of women and girls," the Council for Women in Independent Schools (cwis) is developing a survey instrument intended to help independent schools measure their progress in providing "equity" for their students and employees.

Called an "equity audit," the council circulated an early draft of the project at a session here of the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), of which the council is a part.

Intended for a school's internal and voluntary use, the audit is designed to encourage schools to examine and correct disparities in the way they treat women and girls and men and boys in "the total school environment," said Marcia K. Sharp, who formerly headed the council and is a member of the board of directors of nais

The council hopes the audit material will be completed and made available to schools within the year.

Aimed primarily but not solely at the scores of independent schools that have become coeducational within the last 15 years, the audit is being developed in response to widespread concern that women and girls in relatively new coeducational settings experience "real, subtle, but unconscious, discrimination," said Julia A. Williams, head of The Collegiate School for Girls in Virginia and of the cwis group.

Three Questionnaires

The audit takes the form of three questionnaires. The answers to them should provide "a snapshot or a profile of the institution in relation to women and girls," said Ms. Sharp, whose Washington educational-consulting firm is developing the audit.

Despite "impressive change in the last 10 years," she continued, "we know that boys and girls do not come out of the educational system the same." The same school envi-ronment, she said, can affect students and employees differently depending on their sex.

"The audit is a nonthreatening way to get people to ask questions and to begin to face the cumulative, and sometimes differential, effects of a school's mission, traditions, and programs--academic, extracurricular, and athletic," she added.

The audit should show, the draft states, "where boys and girls, and men and women, are present throughout the total school environment.... Like a more conventional audit, the Equity Audit is itself non-judgmental in its presentation of findings. But presumably, it leads to judgments and then to action."

"Even in single-sex schools the audit may show what an extraordinarily male environment exists," said one council member. "Do we really want a boy--or a girl--to graduate from 12th grade never having been exposed to a woman commencement speaker, a woman administrator, or a course dealing with the perspectives of women?"

"There is an expressed need to do something," she added, "but it is sometimes hard to talk to heads and boards of directors. Rather than make uncomfortable conversation about why women don't feel comfortable, the audit can serve as a mechanism for discussion."

The first and most detailed of the questionnaires includes questions that ascertain the sex of students and school personnel in academic and administrative leadership roles and of commencement speakers and other "distinguished citizens" invited to, or honored by, the school.

It poses questions concerning a school's professed mission, the means by which the school provides for the academic and "developmental needs" of boys and girls, and the kinds of professional and personal benefits available to men and women.

The second, intended for faculty members, examines counseling and "mentoring" relationships between students and faculty members and the presence of women's experience and perspectives in the curriculum. The third collects data on salaries and benefits for men and women.

If the audit instrument is successful, said Ms. Sharp, her firm, which has specialized in working with women's colleges, may try to adapt it for use in the public schools.

But independent schools, she said, have a chance to "move ahead quickly. They are small enough to be responsive and used to controlling the environment to get certain outcomes. They justly pride themselves for emphasizing the student."

If the audit shows that the outcomes for girls are not what a school imagined they were, she suggested, they are likely to respond.

But "institutional change is painful," she added.

Many on the council agree. "The audit," said Ms. Williams, "will give a picture--I'm not sure it will give an answer. Will the school even perceive the significance of the numbers of noes and yeses?"

Several council members said they hope the audit in its final form will offer "strategies for change."

Commenting on the draft, John Ratte, head of the Loomis Chaffee School--the product of a merger between a boys' and a girls' school--said: "I think it's excellent. It's so factual and value-neutral--a way of saying, 'Have you thought about these things?' If the faculty wanted it, I would use it."

Vol. 01, Issue 24

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