Friday, July 13, 2012

How K-8 Schools Lessen Middle School Problems

Fifty years ago, as the existence of separate middle schools and junior high schools became normal, there was virtually no research into the value of that division. The logic used to form these separate schools was based on the value of the separation of younger children from teenagers enduring the changes of puberty, but there was no research. There was especially no research following current academic standards to justify the value of this separation.

The most basic question now regarding the K-8 idea is “How would you address the concerns of the older, pubescent students being around the younger students?” This question relates to a much larger question regarding the intense behavioral issues that usually present themselves in current middle schools. The answer relates to a multitude of issues created by having separate middle schools:
  1. Well managed elementary schools are comfortable and safe locations for students. When 5th graders are forced to leave at the end of the year they are going into a strange school, usually more distant from their home.
  2. This middle school transition happens as the movement to puberty begins. They leave to go to an often much larger school where all the students are making the same unsettling transition through puberty.
  3. They must re-establish themselves in the new school and too often act out in the process. They are often victimized by other students going through the same process. To continue this process in their elementary school allows them to remain in familiar surroundings, familiar people, and not have to re-establish their status in a new, strange institution.
Due to all three of these reasons there are fewer behavioral problems in a K-8 school where the upper class students fall into the status of being the “older” or “senior” students on campus, often falling into a mentoring role. Normal precautions must be taken to keep them separate from unrelated younger students, but this is not a normally documented issue in the thousands of K-8 schools in the US.  There is also almost always a value in older siblings remaining in the same school as their younger siblings.
In Dallas ISD, if many elementary schools were to decide to follow Rosemont Elementary and embrace the transition to becoming a K-8 school it could eventually lead to the re-dedication of some middle schools into becoming K-8 schools themselves.  In could constrict the attendance areas of elementary schools so that less travel is needed and more students can walk to school. 
Dallas births fell from 24,242 in 2007 to 21,444 in 2010, a drop of over 11.5%. This indicates a similar drop in DISD enrollment should be planned for. This is a perfect time to plan for the re-purposing of middle schools into K-8 schools as elementary schools with adequate space can evolve into K-8 schools instead of being closed due to enrollments below capacity.
Questions about this issue are welcomed. Please study the research at . The most recent of that research is a July 2011 Harvard University study that has emphasized the urgency of an improvement for our public schools. This extensive research concluded (page 23): "Taken as a whole, these results suggest that structural school transitions lower student achievement but that middle schools in particular have adverse consequences for American students." If parents agree, they must demand change, especially here in Dallas due to the publicly acknowledged issues with our DISD middle schools.