Gaining Ground in Middle School

Middle school teachers are the bravest of the brave. They deal with apathy, attitude and hormones on a daily basis, all while trying to teach important material to their students. But what if some of the complications of teaching middle schoolers could be removed? Recent research suggests that by restructuring grade configuations in our schools, the middle school years can be a less turbulent and more successful time for students.

Prior to the early 1970s, students typically attended the same school from kindergarten through the 8th grade, finally making one transition into high school in the 9th grade. Since then, stand-alone middle schools, serving only 6th, 7th and 8th graders, have become the norm. However, new studies suggest that sending students to a stand-alone middle school may actually disrupt their learning process and hinder their acheivement far into high school. Returning to a K-8th school configuration appears to be a successful way to keep student on track throughout their pre-high school years.

What is it about K-8th grade schools that make them a better place for 6th-8th graders to learn? Researchers believe that much of the success in those schools can be attributed to a smaller cohort size. Generally, when a student switches from an elementary to a middle school, the number of students at their grade level increases significantly. Since many elementary schools tend to feed into just one middle school, a student may go from a class of 75 to a class of 225, for instance. Remaining within a smaller cohort throughout the middle school years seems to be a strong factor in student success.

Many districts around the country are putting these new findings to work. In Brookline, Massachusetts and Cincinnati, Ohio, for example, nearly all public schools have returned to the K-8th grade format. While there are still roughly 8,000 stand-alone middle schools through the U.S., K-8th grade schools are slowly gaining on them (there’s about 6,000 K-8th grade schools, currently).

Are you a middle school teacher? Share your thoughts below on the benefits and disadvantages of stand-alone middle schools that serve only 6th-8th graders.

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