Many school districts are moving away from middle schools, opting for K- 8 schools instead. The public arguments of superintendents and local boards of education in favor of K – 8 schools over middle schools is to provide continuity in the lives and education of young people, which is a good thing. The behind the scenes argument against the middle school concept is that middle schools are much more costly to operate. That is the reality. The very nature of a properly resourced middle school costs more per pupil than the way many districts run K – 8 schools presently. Superintendents and boards of education, wanting to save money, see the K – 8 model as using resources more efficiently, that is, more cost efficiently, not necessarily educationally effective and the appropriate way for young adoloescents.
Another argument of superintendents in favor of K -8s is that they offer parents the opportunity to have every child in one school, enticing parents to see this practical, time saving feature as an important part of the school choice decision. Again, a good argument if one is looking for efficiency over efficacy. Are parents asking the right questions about what their children’s schools are offering and what is the proper fit? Are parents engaged in discussions with their superintendents about whether to do away with middle schools in their districts, or are they invited into the process after the decision is made? Middle schools serve an important purpose.
What policy makers don’t tell you is that they are narrowing the curricular and extra curricular offerings for students in grades 6th through 8th, staffing the K – 8 school with a more efficient use of ancillary personnel and academic personnel, the people middle school principals rely on to develop programs and projects that challenge and engage their students. The people who are trained to work with this age group and, most importantly, who want to work with this age group. All of these people are necessary becasue the growing adolescent needs what they have to offer, engaging, relevant course offerings and programs that help students to grow intellectually, emotionally and physically.
Middle schools are designed to work with this very special stage in life, adolescence. They are designed to help young people deal with the stresses of growing from pre adolescent to young adult, while teaching them how to become independent, responsible and ready for high school, college, or the world or work. All of this takes place while providing an academic program that is challenging, relevant and engaging. You cannot do this on the cheap; it takes a comprehensive team of professionals and non-professionals who are trained to work with young adolscents and, most importantly, want to work with young adolescents. Their common pirpose is to build confident, reliable and knowledgeable students, with positive attitudes, who are ready for high school and beyond. Parents can read about many insightful collaborations between middle and hgih schools at the website of the National Association of Secondary Principals.
The right approach is to offer a comprehensive program for students that leaves out not one student; that each student is supported, and feels supported; that each student is appropriately leveled in academic classes; and, that each student has choices for electives and extra curricular activities. Often, people don’t see the value of offering a wide range of elective courses that teach responsibility, independence and motivate students to learn more . Drama, dance, consumer/family sciences, wood shop, metal shop. foreign languages, robotics and a host of before, during and after school programs have a very important place in the lives of middle level students; these courses afford the students the opportunity to explore their interests and learn to work in teams. They develop skills that are important for success in high school, college and on the job. In other words, it’s what every young adolescent needs and is entitled to have. Students of that age do not belong in the same school as their younger counterparts in K through 5 for a number of reasons:
- the age range from 5 to 13 or 14 years encompasses great differences in physical development
- the age range encompasses great differences in students’ emotional and social devleoment
- there is a bus safety concern soley on the basis of the wide range of body types within the 5 to 14 year old range; buses, especially, need extra care in avoiding injury or harassment
- the expectations are different for elementary and middle school students
When students report to high school for the first time, they receive orientations and a great deal of support to help the students make the transition to high school life. This would be true for any high school, today. Many high school principals see increasing numbers of freshman in need of the most basic skills, such as: getting to class on time, reading their schedule, planning and managing assigments, time management, attitudes and behavior. Students who are not given the opportunity to practice and develop these skills before arriving at the high school level are being short changed. Middle schools do serve an important purpose. Parents should explore and learn more about middle schools at the website of the Association for Middle Level Education.