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What About K-6 and 7-12?


Q. For a generation, we've had the grade school, middle school and high school concept in most public-school districts. But people aren't happy with what happens in the middle. They say it's a black hole, academically. Successful private schools usually don't have middle schools. Perhaps we should copy them. Should we get rid of middle schools and go back to the "grammar school" and "secondary school" structure?


Possibly. That might be a productive change, although there is evidence on both sides of the coin on whether it would pay off.


The "junior high" concept was intended to cushion young adolescents from the sometimes inappropriate pressures of being around older adolescents. But unfortunately, especially on the high end and low end of the achievement scale, the middle school concept seems to be counter-productive. It appears to have contributed to an epidemic of dropping out in the lower-income areas, and concerns in higher-income areas that it's just a "holding pen" until stronger students can get into high-school honors classes.


Most private schools offer an elementary track, usually K-8 but increasingly K-6, and/or a secondary track, which is usually Grades 9-12, but increasingly, Grades 7-12. It is thought that making one fewer transition to a new school, new peers, new teachers, new curriculum and new expectations is better than the grade school / middle school / high school model.


Those who support the middle-school concept counter that good teaching and a good school environment mean a lot more than what grades are clustered together in the same building.


However, secondary educators who focus on at-risk kids, and those at the upper levels of the academic ladder, appreciate a chance to work with students two years earlier in their schooling careers. They can begin grooming seventh-graders for challenging college-prep high school work, and mentor the stronger students so that they can achieve even more.


They say the vast majority of inner-city students have the same problem: they can't read very well. With a hyperfocus on reading and writing instruction, those same students can be brought up to speed and prepared for high school by the same education staff who then are responsible for preparing them for college.


That's especially a good idea for dropout prevention, educators in inner-city campuses say, since reading disability is the No. 1 correlate of dropping out. Simply giving kids hope that they can handle college-level work might be all the help they need.


For example, consider University Park Campus School in Worcester, Mass. It's a Grades 7-12 public school that has had extraordinary success with kids from working-class families. It demands that they take honors-level curriculum, and over the past several years, every single one of its graduates so far to college. Ninety-five percent of those graduates are the first ones in their families to achieve post-secondary education status.


Homework: Article, "Worcester's Wonder," CommonWealth Magazine, Spring '04, and for a perspective that is more positive for the middle-school concept, see


By Susan Darst Williams Ages and Stages 142 2008


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