School districts nationwide are taking a hard look at middle schools, acknowledging that they have become the weakest link in the educational system. Some districts are scrapping them.
Philadelphia’s school district, the eighth largest in the nation, is converting to a system of kindergarten-to-eighth-grade schools. Last year, the Stockton Unified School District completed a similar transition. All students in Stockton now stay in elementary school through eighth grade, then go straight to high school for ninth through 12th.
The Los Angeles school board asked Supt. David Brewer in July 2007 to deliver a report within four months that would assess “the appropriateness and feasibility of transforming elementary and middle schools into K-8 schools.” School officials did not respond last week to requests for a copy of any such report, but said that in the last year, 14 elementary schools have decided to add sixth grade.
The middle grades have always been a difficult time, educators say. Students are just reaching puberty, and sometimes seem to rock their classrooms with physical and emotional earthquakes.
Junior high schools were a creation of the early 20th century, offering specialized instruction similar to high school classes to children in grades seven through nine. Beginning in the 1950s, school districts began adopting the idea of “middle school” for grades six to eight, saying those grades more neatly coincided with students’ emotional and intellectual transition.
Yet many people now believe that middle schools aren’t working. In a recent report on the “serious crisis in our middle schools,” the United Way of Greater Los Angeles found that 70% of L.A. middle schools that serve high numbers of low-income students are failing federal education standards, compared with 44% of high schools and 32% of elementary schools.
One solution has been the K-8 school.
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