Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Case for Middle Schools

I recently came across a discussion in Linked-in dealing with the issue of whether we should continue to utilize middle schools or more greatly advocate the use of a different model.  While I did respond to that forum, I decided to include my thoughts here.  This is an age-old discussion. There are those that advocate for the K-8 model, some advocate for the 6-12 model, while still others agree with the current configuration of K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. From a curriculum continuum standpoint, the K-8 and/or 6-12 models seem to make sense. By having teachers and students in the same building it is possible for collaboration not only within the grade, but among the entire building. Teachers on a particular grade level will be able to discuss curriculum with teachers a grade level below or above them to better set their plans and expectations. Families will understand not only what their students need to know at the current grade level, but what they will need to know at the next level and how this will prepare them for that. In school districts that are small enough, this can be accomplished even though they employ the K-5, 6-8, 9-12 configuration.

However, there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration when dealing with the middle level child. It goes without saying that you need to address every aspect of every child - academic, emotional, social, physical - and this becomes even more apparent with the middle level student. This student is a completely different creature. He is truly a "middle child". The youngest child (K-5) receives the most attention. Parents/guardians are extremely involved in the lives of these students, often walking them to and from school, attending parent-teacher conferences, etc. The oldest child (9-12) has the most freedom. Parents tend to trust these students with more responsibility and give them more privileges. The middle child (6-8) is torn. He wants the attention of his younger sibling, but at the same time he wants the freedom of the older. Add to the mix the hormonal changes and the adolescent need for acceptance among her peers, and you truly have a challenge. For this reason, it becomes necessary to have a specialization for middle school. State licensing may need to reflect this as well. Currently, most states have K-6 and 7-12 licensure. Since 6th grade is not necessarily elementary school and grades 7-8 are not necessarily high school, it may become necessary to create a license that reflects addressing the specific needs of the middle level student.

As for the behavioral problems associated with this age level, this is usually more prevalent in the larger school districts that don't have the same level of oversight that smaller districts do. When you allow for students to attend who are out of district/area, you eliminate the sense of community that is so important. If students and parents have to travel long distances, their level of participation will be reduced as will their stake in the progress and achievement of the school overall. Another concern that needs to be raised with these models is the grouping of the ages. It makes people uncomfortable to know that there are 17-18 year olds in the same building, utilizing the same spaces as a 12-13 year old (6-12 model) or even a 13-14 year old sharing space with a 5-7 year old (K-8 model). It is more comfortable to have students who are all within a 3 or 4 years of each other rather than 6 or 7 years.

The middle level student is a challenge, perhaps the most challenging group of the three, and needs to have specific needs addressed that cannot be addressed in the K-8 or 6-12 models. Additionally, this age group needs more parental involvement/supervision rather than less, which is usually the case. It isn't that middle schools do not work, a different approach to how they are structured and staffed needs to be addressed.

1 comment:

  1. This is excellent. I always saw middle school/junior high school as a bridge between the formative years of elementary and the pre-adult/college social developmental years of high school.

    I'm currently working with 9th graders at South Cobb HS and they have, what they call a 9th grade academy. I had never heard of such a thing but spending most of my teaching career on a college campus, I've not had to focus much of my attention on the 9th grade. Here, in Atlanta, the 9th grade academy is used in a number of high schools where in an effort to transition the students into high school, they separate them out. Now, this impresses and baffles me at the same time. It's impressive that these students will get the focus that will help them academically so they can better prepare themselves for college. That's a clear mission of the academy. The baffling part is to integrate, the school chooses to segregate. So now these 9th graders, who do not interact with upperclassmen at all, have no sense of the social experience of being a freshman in high school. There isn't that experience of learning how to handle yourself in a new environment with people are your peers, but nearly grown. The experience of negotiating relationships outside your grade is stalled for a year. It's like the Waldorf model or even a bit like home-schooling but on a public school campus: protected, sheltered, and isolated. These 9th graders run their own yard!! LOL. That sort of "we run this" pours into the classroom and it's incredibly odd to witness. A good portion of the high school experience is existing within a social environment that will prepare you for your adult life as much as the academic experience.

    Getting back to the middle school discussion then, I think there is a social experience that eases children into adulthood rather effectively. I don't know if I'd want a kindergarden child in the same school as a 7th or 8th grader who are starting to develop their adult self, nor would I want a 6th grader in school with juniors and seniors, prepping to go on to college or careers. The focus' are widely and wildly different. two cents.

    Great post KBH!