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Summary: Middle Schools vs. K-8 Schools

A recent survey found that U.S. middle schoolers have the most negative views of the climate of their schools and peer culture. While not many studies directly compare K-8 schools with middle schools, those that do suggest that young teens do better both academically and socially in K-8 schools.

  • According to an article written by Time Magazine, middle schools have been the educational setting for roughly two-thirds of students in Grades 6 through 8 for the past decade. But increasingly, communities and questioning whether they really are the best choice for this volatile age group. The most comprehensive report on middle schools, a review of 20 years of educational research, was released in 2004 by the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research group in Santa Monica, CA. This report found that: More than half of eight-graders fail to achieve expected levels of proficiency in reading, math and science on national tests; in international ratings of math achievement, U.S. students rank about average--ninth out of 17--at Grade 4, but sink to 12th place by Grade 8, setting the stage for further slippage in high school; reported levels of emotional and physical problems are higher among U.S. middle school students than among their peers in all 11 other countries surveyed by the World Health Organization. The same “health behavior” survey found that U.S. middle schoolers have the most negative views of the climate of their schools and peer culture. The report also found that crime takes off in middle school. Statistics from 1996-1997 show that while 45% of public elementary schools reported one or more incidents to the police, the figure jumps to 74% for middle schools--almost as high as high schools (77%). Lastly, the report found that while not many studies directly compare K-8 schools with middle schools, those that do suggest that young teens do better both academically and socially in K-8 schools. Jaana Juvonen, a UCLA psychologist who spent more than 18 months collecting data for this report, believe that 11- and 12-year-olds are already dealing with so many changes that it makes little sense to add on a change in schools as well. A 2002 study found that eight-graders in Philadelphia’s K-8 schools typically scored 50 points higher on state tests than peers who attend middle schools. In 2003, this particular district began downsizing their number of middle schools from 46 to 8 by the year 2008. At the same time, they will be increasing their K-8 schools from 10 to 120. According to this article, K-8 schools are in some ways better positioned to implement the ideas of the middle school movement. Not only do these more intimate schools tend to foster strong teacher-student relationships, but they often put their older students in positions where they can exercise judgment and leadership.1

1Is Middle School Bad for Kids?, Time Magazine, August 1, 2005, pp. 1-6.

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