Whether our children are in elementary, middle or high school, we want to make sure they get the best possible education.

We hope they will be happy at school, excited about learning and challenged to study a wide range of subjects. We hope they will do well and will learn to respect and work effectively with others. We hope our children will fit in and make friends. We hope their experiences in school will make them feel good about themselves, and we hope school will teach our children what they will need to know to become successful adults.

When we consider the educational options for our children, we may wonder whether it is better to send my child to a single-sex or a coed school?"

There is no easy answer to this question. Even research comparing single-sex and coed schools has not resulted in definitive answers about which is better for children.

Knowing the advantages of each might help us decide.

Typical Arguments Supporting Single-sex Education:

  • Boys and girls differ in the way they act, how they learn and their interests and abilities. They need an educational environment tailored to meet their unique needs. In general, boys are more physically active, assertive and comfortable learning in a more chaotic environment than girls. Girls are able to sit still and prefer a quiet, focused and orderly classroom.

  • In single-sex schools, the curriculum and course offerings provide advanced work in areas of the children's greatest interests and natural abilities (e.g., the outdated thinking that math and science are for boys, humanities and the arts for girls).

  • Single-sex education encourages children to take risks in expressing themselves as they learn without the fear of embarrassing themselves in front of the opposite sex.

  • Students feel the freedom to take classes (when available) usually associated with the opposite sex (e.g. girls taking higher level math; boys taking chorus).

  • Without boys in their classes, girls are more likely to be leaders and reach higher levels of achievement, which leads to greater self-confidence and higher professional aspirations.

  • In middle and high school, single-sex education removes the distraction of the opposite sex, allowing students to focus more seriously on their schoolwork.

Typical Arguments Supporting Coed Education:

  • Teachers are more likely to attend to individual learning needs rather than assuming that all boys learn in one way and all girls learn in another.

  • Coed schools offer a diverse curriculum that is available to all students, deemphasizing gender-linked stereotypes related to coursework. Coed schools encourage all children to explore a broad range of learning opportunities.

  • Coed schools provide opportunities for girls and boys to interact together meaningfully as they learn. Boys and girls learn to respect one another and cooperate as equals.

  • Coed schools can offer both boys and girls a more extensive range of extracurricular activities where they can either participate separately or together (e.g. athletics, theater, music, clubs).

It's true that research findings fail to provide direct evidence about whether a single-sex or coed school is better, but research has produced findings about school quality. These suggest that whether single-sex or coed, the quality of the school is linked to how the teachers teach, the breadth of the curriculum and the culture of the school (including priorities, learning environment, and parental and community involvement).

With the available information, it may still be hard to make the decision between a single-sex or coed school. So how do you choose the right school for your child? First of all, remember you are choosing a school for your child. "How does my child like to learn? What interests him/her-both in and out of school? What opportunities does my child have to get to know the opposite sex?" Think of your expectations, too. What do you think your child should get out of school? Then, with these ideas in mind, visit the schools you are considering to see which one best matches your child's needs and your expectations. From your visit, you should be able to learn the school's priorities, see how the teachers teach and discern the academic and social environments.

When you visit the school, meet with the principal or the head of school and discuss the curriculum, learning opportunities and environment and available extracurricular activities. Observe a classroom to see how the teachers encourage and support learning. Notice how the students relate to each other. This information should help you determine whether a school is a good match for your child.

Whether you choose a single-sex or coed school, it's important to remember that no school provides everything. Whether it's learning to get along with the opposite sex, taking advanced music classes or having a chance to play soccer, you'll probably look for other resources to provide your child opportunities not available through the school.

Choosing a single-sex or coed school for your child is only one, but probably one of the most important, of the many choices you will make in helping your child become a well-rounded and successful person.