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CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters Life!) -- Single-gender classes in public schools have had a positive effect on students' performance, attitude and ambitions, according to a survey released Tuesday by the South Carolina Department of Education.
Two-thirds of about 7,000 students in South Carolina's single-gender programs who responded to the annual survey said the classes have improved their academic performance and classroom attitude, 79 percent reported increases in their classroom effort, and 83 percent said they were more likely to finish high school.
The survey also included responses from 1,120 of their parents and 760 teachers in 119 elementary, middle and high schools. Ninety-four percent of parents said their children were more likely to graduate from high school, and 85 percent of teachers saw increases in effort with school work.
South Carolina has the highest number of schools in the nation offering the single-sex option -- 125 schools, although that is down from 214 two years ago.
Severe state funding cuts have eliminated an estimated 3,000-4,000 teaching positions in the last two years, resulting in fewer classes and larger class sizes, the agency said.
"Single-gender classes are basically an add-on option because federal law requires every school to offer co-ed classes," Jim Rex, outgoing state superintendent of education and the only Democrat in statewide office, said in a statement.
"When a school loses teaching positions to budget cuts, it can lose the scheduling flexibility to offer add-ons."
Rex, an advocate of school choice but firm opponent of tax credits and vouchers for parents sending their children to private schools, created the Office of Public School Choice and hired the nation's first statewide single-gender education coordinator. That office also helps facilitate Montessori and charter school development.
The number of public schools in the United States that offer single-gender education is up from about a dozen in 2002 to 540 this year, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.
Advocates say boys and girls learn at different rates and in different ways, and single-sex education helps undo gender disparities. Critics say that's bunk and same-sex classes might reinforce gender stereotypes.
In October, the feminist magazine Ms. questioned if gender-segregated classes are "the new separate-but-equal." In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union said single-sex public education would weaken Title IX civil rights protections.
Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Jerry Norton