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Fate of middle schools - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Fate of middle schools
I'm reading about the great middle school debate.

Apparently, the current common pattern of separate schools serving grades K-5 (starting age 5-10), 6-8(age 11-13), and 9-12 (age 14-17) is under examination, as high school freshman are coming in somewhat unprepared (and probably, to be honest, because it's better than flailing around). The options seem to be to go down to two schools--either old-fashioned K-8 (grammar school) followed by high school (9-12), or elementary school (K-5) followed by extended high school (6-12).

Having grown up in a small town, it didn't matter at all to me. I think they've rearranged since my stint, when the town had a K-6 and a 7-12, but you're with the same kids, more or less, from the time you enter school, no matter how the buildings are set up. The only changes come if students move in or out of town. The same people I was playing with in third grade, I was graduating with at the end of twelfth. That's going to be the same if they have a middle school, or a K-8/9-12, or a K-5/6-12. The only change is the address.

But in the cities, it's different. Elementary schools tend to be smaller and neighborhood based, middle-schools slightly less so, and high schools often gigantic and based on a system that's not geographical. (There are advantages and disadvantages to this.) Even in suburban areas, you tend to go from local elementaries up to regional high schools. So the question matters for a majority of American students, and I can see the intellectual arguments on both sides, but with my personal experiences being totally alien to the argument, I don't have a real feel for it.

The argument in favor of the grammar school/high school split seems to be a chance to keep them in the smaller, local school, where they feel safe, and are focused on the more basic tasks of getting a broad-based education before high school. There's not a lot of pressure to choose a future, and when the oldest kids are 13-14, it's not rushing them toward a lot of social pressures that are on older kids.

The argument in favor of the elementary/expanded high school split seems to be that a more continuous experience would have more controls in place to see to it that they mastered the material they'd need for their particular high school. Kids would have more exposure to reaching for future goals (like college) and have older students to look up to.

What do you all think? Any thoughts on the subject at all?
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victorialupin From: victorialupin Date: February 26th, 2007 08:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I do think that just having two schools would work well, but honestly I don't see much of a difference. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but neither seems to address the problem: that kids are coming to high school unprepared?

This solution would be great if they meant unprepared socially, but I'm assuming that it refers to academics. Shouldn't they be concentrating more on the actual curriculum than how to break-up the schools? :\
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 26th, 2007 08:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Shouldn't they be concentrating more on the actual curriculum than how to break-up the schools? :\

Oh, but making sure that they understand the multiplication table and how to parse a sentence is so much less fun than trying to engineer their social lives! :eyeroll:

To some extent, there's a question involved on what the academics should be. The K-8ers seem to favor layered-on general education for a few more years, while the K-5ers want to start focusing on particular things earlier. I think.
tdu000 From: tdu000 Date: February 26th, 2007 08:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
K-6 Grammar Schools! That explains why I read a fic that had Snape leaving Grammar School to go to Hogwarts. In the UK they're age 11 - 18 selective high schools.
mamadeb From: mamadeb Date: February 26th, 2007 08:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes. In the US, grammar school is a synonym for elementary school, which is usually K-6, but sometimes K-5. (Also note: kindergarten is not preschool, precisely. It's the year before first grade, and is considered an essential part of elementary school.)
luminousmarble From: luminousmarble Date: February 26th, 2007 08:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I went K-6, 7-8, and 9-12. I think this worked; we had continuity through elementary school, were isolated in our immaturity but had a space of our own for two years, and had good continuity through high school, minus the fact that only a handful of teachers from my freshman year were still teaching during my senior year. I think it was advantageous to have big chunks of time at a single school.

I worked in a district that had (generally) a k-5, 6-8, and 9-12 plan. K-5 was okay, but in that setup, 5th graders were *very* problematic. (I also knew of some K-3 schools, which I thought was pretty cool, though what that does to 4th grade, I dunno.)

I went mainly to k-8 after that, with a separate area of the school for 6-8. In that setup, it meant that kids had a home base for 9 years. 4t and 5th grade, as the middle of the pack, didn't seem to show the aggressive, hormonal tendencies common in other setups, the 6th graders were really sweet and excited to be in a "new" part of the school, and the 7th and 8th graders seemed to have a safe space to show off the angst without the peculiarities of pressure from upper grades. It was a mixed school--local upper-class kids and kids mixed in from poorer neighborhoods, but didn't have the problems one might expect. Having 4 or so classes of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders meant that they all knew their teachers and their teachers knew them, and they were really involved in the school culture.

Downside for them? Fewer potential boyfriends and girlfriends (social), and greater difficulty in scheduling electives, especially for things like band, choir, and theatre, which a larger school can more easily support in practical student-teacher ratios.

I tend to think that the biggest reason for isolating 9-12 and 10-12 has more to do with access to cars, alcohol, and sexual issues than anything.
bwinter From: bwinter Date: February 26th, 2007 08:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was in 8 years of primary school followed by 4 years of "liceum" and I have to say I'm in favour of the model - it let us get through the bird-brained tween years safely (in the same group where dynamics have been setting since age 7) and assured we had a modicum of maturity by the time we had to pick a liceum and decide at least partly about our future, since they all had different primary subjects and specialties.

Right now Poland changed to the 6-3-3 model and it's a mess. Middle school is a hotbed of bullying, since hormone-crazed 13-year-olds get dropped in it with strangers, and 3 years of high school with the same four-year programme mean that standards are dropping across the board. Personally I think they'll go back soon enough.
a_t_rain From: a_t_rain Date: February 26th, 2007 08:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Middle school is a hotbed of bullying, since hormone-crazed 13-year-olds get dropped in it with strangers...

That was my experience with the 6-2-4 model, too, and one of the reasons why I think kids should stay in smaller neighborhood schools through grade 8. I can see some advantages to bigger schools at the high school level, when kids start taking lots of electives and getting involved in extracurricular activities, but a pack of 12- and 13-year-olds thrown into a big warehouse of a school and cut off from older role models or younger kids who look up to them is just a recipe for brutality.

Actually, if I ever have children, I'm going to give serious thought to home-schooling them for the middle school years, because my own experiences were so horrific.
mamadeb From: mamadeb Date: February 26th, 2007 08:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
I went to a 7-9 and to a 6-8 Junior High School (we moved between 7th and 8th grades). I taught in a 6-8 junior high school that was just the last three years of K-8 elementary school - the three of us organized things independently, the students moved from classroom to classroom for different subjects (I was social studies and English, and 8th grade homeroom) and the kids wore different uniforms (this was a Catholic school.) I also subbed in a 7-8 "Intermediate" school.

From all of this - I'm not terribly sure how much kids actually learn at 12 and 13. I'm serious - the hormones are flowing and the bodies are changing, and the minds are fairly self-absorbed. I don't mean this in a bad way - they're changing so rapidly that they don't have room for "inconsequentials" like math.

There are times I believe that instead of school, 7th and 8th graders should be doing volunteer work or out in the fields or something.

That said, the Catholic school kids loved that they got extra responsibility and were good with the elementary school grades, which I would argue was good for them.
rikibeth From: rikibeth Date: February 26th, 2007 08:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
From all of this - I'm not terribly sure how much kids actually learn at 12 and 13. I'm serious - the hormones are flowing and the bodies are changing, and the minds are fairly self-absorbed. I don't mean this in a bad way - they're changing so rapidly that they don't have room for "inconsequentials" like math.


You have just described my 11-year-old, throes-of-puberty daughter. The one who started her period last month and is nearing my height and is wearing my shoe size. The one who can spend hours recording a spoken tape for her friends, but can't seem to get it together to turn in homework (even if she's DONE it).

There are times I believe that instead of school, 7th and 8th graders should be doing volunteer work or out in the fields or something.

I am RIGHT WITH YOU. Let her come back to math and history in a couple of years when her body's settled down and she has a BRAIN again. For now, let her read stories to the little kids at the children's hospital, or stock the shelves in a food pantry, or something.

She'd be SO much easier to deal with!
alchemine From: alchemine Date: February 26th, 2007 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Our school zone is K-3, 4-6 and 7-12. I like the K-3 part of it a lot because it means smaller classes and more focus on the needs of the younger kids, and I don't think 4-6 will be a problem, although it is sort of a weird place to break. However, I am vehemently opposed to the 7-12 setup. My daughter already looks older than she is and appears to be headed for an early puberty, and it just seems like it'll be courting disaster to send her off to school with 16-year-olds when she's 13.

There's a huge debate raging right now between the school district and other parents who feel the same way, and no one knows yet how it's going to end up. Most of the parents are pushing for either K-5, 6-8 and 9-12, or K-8 and 9-12, and I'd be okay with either of those. If they end up keeping the 7-12 setup, then we'll either be moving, or she'll be going to private school for 7th and 8th grade. Luckily, we've still got 4 years to work it out.
rikibeth From: rikibeth Date: February 26th, 2007 09:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Lucky you! melovechocolate was a flower girl two weekends ago, and the adult bridesmaids all thought my 11-year-old was SIXTEEN! Which mean s she must have been on her good behavior and acting reasonably mature... to my eyes, she looks thirteen at most, but it's a toss-up whether she acts sixteen or SIX.

Oh, and that thing with TC and the roller skating and the skirt? Gotta warn you, that sort of stubborn doesn't dissipate at ALL by eleven. I was reading it going "oh yeah, me too."

At eleven, though, they're maybe a little more swayed by the argument that someone might see their underwear.
charmling From: charmling Date: February 26th, 2007 08:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
My school district growing up was such a disorganized mess as far as buildings went. Two separate K-2 elementary schools, 3-5 Intermediate School, 6-7 Middle School, 8-12 High School. However, they tried to separate the 8th graders from the rest of the school as much as they could, which really just made 8th grade an even more awkward and hard time than it already was. The only benefit to it was that we got to start languages a year earlier.
rikibeth From: rikibeth Date: February 26th, 2007 08:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
My daughter just shifted schools this year from an elementary school that went K-8 to a different school that runs 6-12. Both were magnet schools -- the K-8 had a "character development" curriculum, while the 6-12 is the Classical Magnet -- Latin and supposedly rigorous academics. I'll give them this, she's in pre-algebra in sixth grade, but I still don't know how good a job they're doing at teaching English grammar.

It's been a rough transition for her, although that may have more to do with external factors like the divorce. Socially she's enjoying it... she definitely has more friends at this school than at the previous one. On the other hand, some of her friends are older, and WOW, has my eleven-year-old become a teenager. (I'm fine with the music and the fashion. If she wants to dye her bangs red and purple and wear Tripp pants below her uniform shirt, that's okay. Just PLEASE let her not go boy crazy yet!)

Academically -- I think she is surprised that these teachers actually expect her to complete assignments to specifications and on time.

I guess it's best that she work it out NOW so that by the time she's in the 9-12 grades, she's got it under control.
ratcreature From: ratcreature Date: February 26th, 2007 08:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Here it's split into elementary school (grades 1-4, starting at age 6, though a year of preschool often done at the same place) and the secondary school of grades 5-9/10/13 depending on which kind of school you qualify for after elementary school (you get evaluated again after grade 6 whether you stay in that kind of school or have to switch), and I liked to be together with the same people and get familiar with all the teachers, but then my school, while in a big city, was not that large, only about 500-600 students in grades 5-13, and my year was particularly small (about 65 or so in grade 5 and about 40 in grade 13). There weren't a lot of truly problematic students in my secondary school, since most students were middle class and it had the option to shunt all academically underperforming or problematic students into one of the other school forms (which is why for example it didn't offer a school psychologist or any kind of counselling), which is evident from the declining number of people in my year. Obviously this kind of system puts elementary school students under considerable pressure though, because it is always harder to change upwards in school forms than to be kicked downwards, even though in theory changes in both directions are allowed.
singingtopsy From: singingtopsy Date: February 26th, 2007 09:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
My school district had K-6 elementary schools, 7-9 junior highs, and a 10-12 high school, and I think that works fine. I'm particularly in favor of having a three-year high school, though I understand that there are real disadvantages to that system. But personally, I'm glad I wasn't thrown to the wolves as a ninth grader, and there was more continuity for me than if I had gone to a two-year junior high. I know there's some concern about putting relatively older freshman in with the seventh graders, but I don't remember being hassled by ninth graders as a seventh grader, and I certainly didn't mess with or even really associate with seventh graders as a ninth grader. Most drama came from within my own class :).
As for academics, I can't really say, since my town had an excellent public school system and the freshman didn't suffer for lack of good classes at the junior high level (we had AP and honors Spanish at the junior high level, though they're changing that now, and advanced math in addition to GATE and advanced English, social studies, etc), which is probably not the norm for most districts.
I felt that both of my secondary schools seemed more cohesive and less threatening than the 6-8, 9-12 model and I'm in favor of it.
matril From: matril Date: February 26th, 2007 09:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I went to a K-6, 7-9 and 10-12 setup, though by the time I was senior they were shifting it to a K-5, 6-8, 9-12 system. *shrugs* It worked pretty well for me. My junior high school years were fairly miserable, but that was mostly because all my friends from elementary school went to the other junior high - it was an issue of geography more than anything else. We were all reunited in high school. I didn't feel particularly unprepared, socially or otherwise. I was an ultra-geek with a tiny group of friends, but I can't imagine that being any different if they had divided the grades differently. ;) Academically I was fine.

At this point in my life, though, I'm having trouble summoning up much anxiety for how they reorganize the various grades into schools unless it has an enormous impact on special ed. My son's going to have trouble fitting in no matter what, so unless a 7-12 system miraculously cures his autism, it's all kind of meh to me. Personal bias, of course. :)
petitecrivan From: petitecrivan Date: February 26th, 2007 09:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
While the two school idea seems good on paper, I don't think it would work too well in an actual school. Imagine sticking angst-filled 13-year-olds who are trying to adjust to this strange new level of hormones in their body in the same school as little 5-year-olds who are terrified to be in a Big Kid School. I can't see it working. Then imagine putting those angst-filled 13-year-olds in the same school as 18-year-olds who are getting ready to go to college...who find 14-year-old freshman freaking annoying. Again...it would not end well.

I think 7th and 8th graders fit in their own school. There's really no way around it, in my opinion. These kids need to be stuck in one school together to get through all the crappy angst that they're going through, and they don't need to trouble 5-year-olds or 18-year-olds with it. The problem with my middle school is that we didn't learn anything. I spent 8th grade language arts class going to Barbie.com and watching Gone With the Wind over and over again. There's nothing academic that I learned in middle school that I've retained, except for maybe some basic first year French. However, I did learn a lot about myself and how to deal with other people, which is part of why I think students of this age should be kept by themselves instead of squashing them in with older or younger students. 12, 13, 14...it's a hard age to be.

Sorry if I seem ranty. Middle school was such a horrible experience for me that my brother was homeschooled.
From: octobersnow Date: February 26th, 2007 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Though if I had to choose one of the K-8/9-12 or K-5/6-12 set ups I would have to choose the K-8/9-12 dynamic.

The silliest set-up has to be what my district went to the year after I left; K-5/6-8/9/10-12, with all the 9th graders being in their own building, but doing all the extracurriculars with their respective high schools, of which there were two. I thought it was a recipe for disaster. (I could just imagine the days before the big North/South rivalry football game.) I need to go see what's gone on in those 8 years.
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: February 26th, 2007 09:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
In a perfect city, I'd like to see middle schoolers have the choice of staying at their elementary school for two more years (till the eighth), or moving to the high school at grade 7. I'll admit that I'm influenced in this by having worked next to the Rafael Hernandez, which lost a lot of its 6th grade to the exam schools, but still had classes for the 7th and 8th graders who chose to stay and pick a high school at grade 9. I think it would be nice for parents to be able to choose between wanting their kid to play mentor to younger kids or be sat on for their health by older ones.

Me, when I went to school it was K-6, 7-9, 10-12, but we moved before my ninth grade year to Omaha, where I had a choice between going one year to a middle school or starting highschool right away. My mom (and I) chose the high school, which meant I was in a small freshman class (most of the kids were either from Catholic elementary schools or had just moved to town) and I thrived on the stiffer academic standards of the teachers. But I can see where that wouldn't be true of everyone.
ladyvorkosigan From: ladyvorkosigan Date: February 26th, 2007 09:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
My understanding is that the other advantage of keeping middle school kids in elementary school is that elementary schools often have a sense of community (with parental involvement and the like) that middle schools lack, so they're hoping to keept that a big longer too.

I kind of like the idea; I would think it might be good for 12 and 13-year-olds to have a get a bit of responsibility and leadership as the oldest in the school instead of being thrown into a new, isolated angst factory with nothing to do but angst and create social drama. (On the other hand, I suppose it could manage to not have any effect other than to torment the younger kids with it).
springdove From: springdove Date: February 26th, 2007 10:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
The set up where I mostly grew up was K-4 (elementary school), 5-6 (intermediate school), 7-8 (junior high), 9-12 (high school). I actually rather liked that setup, as the number of people in the school was never overwhelming, but it increased bit by bit as you got older (and theoretically better able to deal with more people). (There were quite a few K-4 schools, only 3 or so 5-6 schools, one 7-8 school and one high school.) Now in the same town, the set up is K-3, 4-5, 6-8 (middle school), 9-12. *shrug* I think the strange break-up of grades is based on the actual capacity of the buildings to hold kids. The change to middle school occurred while I was in the 7-8/6-8 school. It was a junior high in 7th grade and a middle school in 8th. Now, granted, going through a change is always difficult, but having been in both the junior high and middle school atmosphere, I have to say I preferred the junior high atmosphere. I felt it was a better stepping stone to high school than middle school currently seems to be. I also think that 6th graders are just rather young to be thrown in with 7th and 8th graders who generally have raging hormones and just a different mode of being.

Personally, I'd like to see a setup that goes K-6, 7-9, and 10-12. I think it betters fits the way kids tend to learn and the maturity levels that you typically see in those ages. I appreciated having another year of "elementary school" in 6th grade where I had only a couple of teachers and more cohesive curriculum. I don't think I would have been socially ready for an environment like high school in 7th grade, though. I also liked having the junior high apart from the high school.

The extended high school idea sounds a little scary to me, as you might guess, because I'd rather see 6th graders have the opportunity to stay kids a while longer than make them jump up to that high school level so fast. I'd definitely lean toward the old-fashioned grammar school followed by high school idea. I worked in a charter school that was set up like that, and it worked rather well. Our kids were very bright and usually went on to do well in high school.

I hope this makes some sense. I feel rather muddle-brained at the moment.
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