Stuck In The Middle

One of the big trends in restructuring education these days seems to be eliminating the middle school.

Large systems like the ones in Boston and New York have embarked on plans to merge the former junior high/intermediate/middle school into either elementary or high school.

The dilemma in most cases is which one? Most have gone with the K-8 concept. Boston, however, may put the two grades into high school.

The K-8 movement is an effort to deliver a supportive structure that fosters longer-term relationships between school staff and students as they enter the challenging years of adolescence.

By contrast, the upper-grades model that joins middle and high school years is more explicitly aspirational, focused on academic achievement and instilling in urban students by sixth or seventh grade the expectation of continuing on to a four-year college or another form of higher education or training. Merging poorly performing middle schools and high schools may only compound problems. But when done right, advocates of the upper-grades model say it offers the best hope for dramatically ratcheting up expectations — and achievement — in urban districts.

I’m no expert on this subject (since when has that stopped a rant around here :-), other than having a college advisor who was and spending the first seven years of my career teaching in a 7-9 “intermediate” school.

But here’s another idea. How about implementing the middle school concept more closely to the way it was originally conceived?

This middle level should provide a true transition between that more nurturing environment with a “supportive structure” to the “aspirational, focused on academic achievement” model that is supposed to be high school.

For that to work the program needs to encompass more than just the traditional two years, possibly including 5th grade through 9th.

I have my doubts that keeping kids in elementary school for nine years makes much sense, especially with the incredibly repetitive curriculum used in most schools.

But tossing 12 and 18 year old kids together in the same mix of high school makes even less sense.

Is it possible that middle schools are “performing poorly” because we don’t actually build the educational structure and curriculum to reflect the unique transition through which kids are going at this age?

Just asking. As I said, I’m no expert.

middle school, boston, education