The debate over replacing middle schools with kindergarten through 8th grade schools continues, with urban areas such as Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Philadelphia and other places already having made the change in recent years. It is an often-debated issue regarding which school setup most benefits the students. Researchers continue to analyze test scores and student performance for proof that one or the other of the school configurations is best.
Some studies, including research conducted by EdSource and Stanford University in California, focus more on why some schools do better than others, some by far, even when student population is similar. One finding is that interventions at the middle school level get students back on a steady track if they have fallen away from being college or career-ready by that time. Judging by the practices of over 300 schools with students from both low and middle income households, the reasons for successes at these school had little to do with school or classroom configuration.
The practices that did help schools succeed in aiding students achieve good scholastic outcomes included holding adults accountable, using data and setting strong and realistic goals, communicating with parents and expecting participation from them, keeping state standards and instruction in line with one another, and identifying and intervening with at-risk students early in order to get them back on a good learning track.
Educators, in some cases, worry that too much emphasis is placed on structure of schools and classrooms, and that policies set forth by government are seized upon too rapidly without ample thought given to the more basic practices that are seen to be successful.
The above-mentioned studies would seem to show that it's not especially important how schools are structured, but that the all-important academic outcomes measured by test scores had much more to do with simple, common sense practices than eliminating middle schools in favor of K-8s.
But then, why are some schools districts and educators intent on making the change? What are the advantages? Sarah Carr, writing in the Journal Sentinal in 2007, highlighted some advantages and disadvantages, and found advocates for each school structure.
K-8 advantages included:
* Role modeling for younger students when all are grouped in the same school
* Perception of greater safety and a more family-oriented atmosphere
* Greater rapport with teachers when students are in the same building for so many years
Middle school advantages included:
* More flexibility of programs, such as trades, technology, the arts (some middle schools cater to a specific life direction, such as the arts.)
* The middle school experience prepares students for high school in ways the K-8 cannot. Moving class-to-class, using lockers, etc. are similar to high school activities.
* Specialized teaching - teachers are used to working with the middle school age group of 11-14, approximately.
City schools have taken up the debate and made the switch to K-8s more quickly due to the inner city environment. Their reasoning is that the setting is more nurturing for the younger children and safer all the way around. Philadelphia has been phasing out middle schools entirely in favor of K-8 structuring.
In big city settings, the switch is happening, although across the U.S., middle schools still outnumber K-8 configuration.
If school enrollment figures in, more districts will phase out middle schools and combine kindergarten to 8th grade. Improved test scores and attendance will most likely speed up the change to K-8s. Analysis shows both of these positive results with K-8 configurations.
What do kids and parents say?
Some children are disappointed they are not going to a middle school and will instead be staying in or newly attending a K-8 school. Some students comment that they were looking forward to having their own locker in middle school, having more teachers they could go to with specific concerns, and being more independent. There was a general excitement about independence.
Classes and activities are age-appropriate in middle schools, according to the children who attend them. Events are geared to their particular ages. They also enjoy the change of surroundings in the middle school environment.
Still others report being just as glad to stay in a K-8, especially when they have younger siblings in the same building where they attend. Some cite less aggression and tension because there are small children around, and the "gentler" atmosphere spreads throughout the building and affects everyone, not just the small children.
Parents in favor of K-8 schools express a certain amount of satisfaction and comfort knowing their children are grouped in the same building. In families where several grades are represented, life is simpler for the entire family.
Those who attended school many years ago, families whose children attend parochial schools, and those in the Amish community have known this for many years, as K-8 has been a traditional school configuration.