Regular Get Schooled readers know that I have doubts about the efficacy of the middle school model.
Despite decades of experimentation and refinement, middle school still doesn’t work in most places, leading me to conclude that the problem is not with the execution of the concept but with the concept itself.
In 2011, a Harvard study found that students moving from fifth grade to a middle school setting suffer a sharp drop in academic performance in reading and math, compared to peers who attend k-8 schools. The findings of the Harvard study confirmed an earlier Columbia University study.
Writing in Education Next, Harvard researchers Martin West and Guido Schwerdt explained:
Our results cast serious doubt on the wisdom of the middle-school experiment that has become such a prominent feature of American education. We find that moving to a middle school causes a substantial drop in student test scores (relative to that of students who remain in K–8 schools) the first year in which the transition takes place, not just in New York City but also in the big cities, suburbs, and small-town and rural areas of Florida.
Further, we find that the relative achievement of middle-school students continues to decline in the subsequent years they spend in such schools. Nor do we find any sign that the middle-school students catch up with those who remained in the K–8 environment once all of them have entered high school. On the contrary, students entering a middle school in grade 6 are more likely not to be enrolled in any Florida public school as 10th graders (despite having been enrolled in grade 9), a strong indication that they have dropped out of school by that time.
A local middle school teacher came to a similar conclusion about sending kids off to middle school after fifth grade. The teacher sent me this note asking how to start a discussion in the community about changing the grades configuration.
Here is her note. Let’s start that discussion:
<blockquote>I have been a middle school teacher for nearly 20 years and have gradually come to the conclusion that the middle school model does not work.
I’ve worked in DeKalb, Fulton and APS, and none of my schools used the true “teams” model with interdisciplinary themed units that we planned for in college.
I grew up in DeKalb in the 70s and have wonderful memories of my elementary school years and of staying there through the seventh grade. It is so sad now to see little sixth grade children in our building alongside, sometimes, 15-year-olds. They do not belong together.
I’ve looked at some of the research, and the majority seems to suggest that sixth grade students should be kept in elementary schools. Most of the studies cite discipline issues, but I feel that there is more to it: socially, it’s such an important age, as well as academically.
I wonder if there is a way to get people to start seriously rethinking the whole middle school concept, or at least the age groups within middle schools.</blockquote>
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog