Single-gender classes remain popular option, support increases statewide

COLUMBIA (SCDOE) – A growing number of students, parents and teachers across the state say single-gender classes have a positive effect on attitudes and academic performance, according to a survey released Tuesday by the South Carolina Department of Education.
About 7,000 students in South Carolina's single-gender programs, 1,120 of their parents and 760 teachers responded to the annual 2010 survey conducted by the agency. 
Two-thirds of the students indicated that single-gender classes had increased their classroom performance and attitudes. And parents and teachers said that single-gender classes had increased students' self-confidence, motivation, effort with school work, participation, good behavior and academic achievement.
"We've said all along that when it comes to learning, one size does not fit all," said State Superintendent of Education Rex. "These results show that the single-gender option works for a lot of students and their families. These classes continue to be a popular option where they are offered." 
But Rex said that despite single-gender's growing popularity among parents, students and teachers, severe state funding cuts had caused schools to reduce the number of single-gender classes. Although South Carolina's 125 schools offering the option remains the highest of any state, that's down dramatically from 214 just two years ago.
"Single-gender classes are basically an add-on option because federal law requires every school to offer co-ed classes," Rex said. "When a school loses teaching positions to budget cuts, it can lose the scheduling flexibility to offer add-ons. If a school has two-fifth grade classes, for example, one of them is required to be co-ed so that school can't offer single-gender."
The Education Department estimates that local school districts have eliminated 3,000-4,000 teaching positions over the past two years, resulting in fewer classes and larger class sizes.
Expanding curriculum choices within public schools has been a priority for Rex during his four-year tenure as state superintendent. He created the Office of Public School Choice at the Education Department and hired the nation's first single-gender coordinator to help local districts introduce the concept and make it operate effectively. That office also has experts in Montessori and charter school development to help spur those innovations.
This year's survey asked new questions about the students' likelihood of completing high school and about the effort students put forth in their school work. Eighty-three percent of students responded that they were more likely to finish high school, while 94 percent of their parents said that their children were more likely to graduate. Eighty-five percent of teachers saw increases in effort with school work, and 79 percent of students reported increases in effort.
Current curriculum choices across South Carolina include magnet programs, schools-within-schools, alternative schools, virtual schools and charter schools. Some of the state's public school choice programs include single-gender initiatives, middle college/early college, Montessori education, charter schools, evening high school, language immersion, academic academies, arts integration and international baccalaureate programs.
Study highlights
  • Girls tended to indicate increases across all categories (self-confidence, participation, motivation, etc.) at a higher percentage than boys (58-98 percent and 44-99 percent).
  • At the lower elementary level, girls indicated increased enjoyment of reading (98 percent), desire to follow class and school rules (98 percent), positive self-image (96 percent) and enjoyment of school (96 percent).
  • At the upper elementary level, girls indicated increased likelihood of completing high school (93 percent), effort with school work (92 percent) and positive self-image (91 percent).
  • At the middle/high level, girls' biggest increases were 83 percent in likelihood of finishing high school, 79 percent in positive self-image and 78 percent in effort with school work and self confidence, respectively.
  • At the lower elementary level, boys indicated increased enjoyment of school (99 percent), enjoyment of reading (98 percent) and positive self image (95 percent).
  • At the upper elementary level, boys indicated increased likelihood of completing high school (90 percent), effort with school work (88 percent) and positive self-image (87 percent).
  • At the middle/high level, increases in the likelihood of finishing high school was 83 percent for girls and 71 percent for boys; positive self-image was 79 percent for girls and 65 percent for boys.
  • Among ethnic groups, African-Americans and Asian-Americans had the highest percentage levels of increases in all categories.
  • More than 80 percent of parents said single-gender classes were a factor in their child's improvement, with parents of girls giving "increase" responses (89 to 96 percent) and parents of boys giving "increase" responses (85 to 93 percent).
  • Across all questions and ethnic groups, African-American and Hispanic parents gave the highest percentages of "increase' responses (86 to 95 percent and 83 to 100 percent, respectively).
  • Across all ethnic groups, the likelihood of completing high school received the highest percentage of "increase" responses (94 percent).
  • Categories receiving the next highest percentages of "increase" responses were self-confidence (91 percent), positive self-image (91 percent) and independence (91 percent).
  • Though the difference was small, parents of girls consistently gave "increase" responses at a higher percentage (response averages ranging from 89 to 96 percent) than parents of boys (averages ranging from 85 to 93 percent).
  • The highest categories of increases were noted by teachers of girls (84 to 97 percent), compared to teachers of boys (71 to 89 percent).
  • Teachers of girls noted increases in student self-confidence (97 percent), class participation (95 percent), academic achievement (93 percent) and motivation (92 percent).
  • Teachers of boys noted the highest increases in class participation (89 percent), self-confidence (89 percent) and collaboration (87 percent).
  • Across all grades, teachers indicated increases with a response average of at least 70 percent for each of the survey question topics.
  • English language arts and science teachers gave "increase" responses at the highest percentage levels, with averages ranging from 80 to 90 percent.
  • Math teachers gave "increase" responses at levels ranging from 70 to 90 percent.
  • Social studies teachers gave "increase" responses at levels ranging from 60 to 80 percent.