Wednesday, February 8, 2012

K-8 Schools are better for students than separate middle schools.

Debates over grade configurations surrounding middle school have gone on for as long as middle schools have existed.  That issue is moving beyond the debate stage.

July 2011 Harvard University study documented the damage being done in middle schools. Parents need to read it. This detailed and extensive research concluded (page 23): "Taken as a whole, these results suggest that structural school transitions lower student achievement but that middle schools in particular have adverse consequences for American students."  If parents agree, they must demand change, especially here in Dallas due to the publicly acknowledged issues with our DISD middle schools.

The Harvard study showed that in virtually all subjects the scores on standardized test were lower in middle schools than in K-8 elementary schools. Parents and teachers familiar with both settings will rarely be surprised by these findings.

This past November a powerful editorial was published by CNN giving a simple message: "By all accounts, middle schools are a weak link in the chain of public education."

The K-8 response to this "weak link" is gaining momentum. The number of  K-8 schools has almost doubled in the US since 2000 while over 1,000 middle schools have disappeared or been re-purposed as K-8. Google news for K-8 and middle school.  You will find reports of school districts closing middle schools and changing them to K-8 elementary schools with very few exceptions. The reason is as simple as the statement a decade ago by William Moloney, then the Education Commissioner of Colorado: "K-8s are the place where everybody knows your name."

What better place to endure the uncertainties of the changes of puberty?

This past April the National Middle School Association changed it's name to the Association for Middle Level Education. They saw middle schools being closed in the US, and realized such separate institutions do not exist in the highest achieving school systems in the world, such as Finland.  In such countries the elimination of the middle school transfer trauma appears to help in far exceeding US academic achievement while at the same time investing significantly fewer classroom hours. The name change reflected a more authentic focus on educating students ages 10 to 15. Will Texas public schools see what is happening?

In Cincinnati Ohio the change to K-8 schools happened in the 1990's. It was a positive change. Now Cincinnati wants more improvement and is exploring a K-6, 7-12 configuration.  They are finding better initial results. The jury is still out and questions remain. See this 12-26-11 news report on explorations all school districts should be making.

We must continue to study the growing research. Google "middle school," "K-8," "7-12," "research," and related search combinations, to find such research.  Below is a chronological listing of relevant articles, a list that will continue to grow:

  1. K-8 Schools: An Idea for the New Millenium?, Published 1999, updated 2010 Education World
  2. Revival of the K-8 School: Criticism of middle schools fuels renewed interest in a school configuration of yesteryear , March 2002, Priscilly Pardini, in The School Administrator
  3. Mayhem in the Middle: Why We Should Shift to K–8, April 2006, Cheri Pierson Yecke, ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)
  4. K-8 or middle school? Which is better?,  2008, The Arizona Republic
  5. K-8 beats middle school in study,  2010, JoanneJacobs blog
  6. Study Finds Students in K-8 Schools Do Better than Students in Stand-Alone Middle Schools,  2010, EducationNext
  7. How and why middle schools harm student achievement, Fall 2010, Rockoff & Lockwood, Columbia University
  8. The Middle School Mess, Winter 2011, EducationNex
  9. Why Pre-K - 8?, list of reasons collected by an Atlanta Georgia school.
  10. No middle ground: Middle school may harm achievement, 11/29/11 Silicon Valley Education Foundation: Thoughts on Public Education
  11. Impact of Alternative Grade Configurations on Student Outcomes through Middle and High School, July 15, 2011, Schwerdt & West, Harvard University 
  12. How Grade Level Configurations Affect Student Achievement,  July 2011, Elizabeth Dhuey, University of Toronto
  13. Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments, September 2011, Jacob & Rockoff, The Hamilton Project, Brookings Inst.
  14. Finnishing School: The world's top school system gives pointers , 1/20/12, Kathryn Baron, Silicon Valley Education Foundation, Thoughts on Public Education (Note: Finland has no middle schools separate from their 1-9 basic schools.)
  15. Finnish far ahead of U.S. schools. The education system in Finland — one of the world’s best — focuses on the students first.  2-19-12, The Register Guard, Eugene, Oregon.
  16. In Finland, Students Win When Teachers Compete. 2-18-12, Heartlander, The Heartland Institute, Chicago, Illinois. 
  17.  The Middle School Plunge. Spring 2012, EducationNex. An update on the research with some meaningful comments.
  18. The Middle-School Cliff. 3-12-12, Society for Quality Education, a discussion of the issue in Ontario.
  19. On 2-16-13 there was a powerful conference on the crisis of black male students dropping out on the pathway to prison.  It was called "The Urgency of Now" and was at Friendship West Baptist Church in South Dallas. The following chart was part of the presentation by Kevin Monday related to his decade+ of work.  It clearly shows the damage of middle school with one plus.  It shows what happened in Dallas ISD from 2005/06 to 2006/07 when DISD moved about 60% of 6th graders from elementary schools into middle schools. Notice how disciplinary actions increase over 130%!: 
Click on the above chart to see the rest of the damage done in middle school! Remember, most of our dropouts never made it into the 10th grade until about 2011 when graduation rate progress pushed that 50% marker into 10th grade for DISD.

The rest of the story on the chart above is the terrible 440% increase in discipline problems from 5th graders to 6th graders the first semester of 2012/13 school year in Dallas.  See the following chart.  It is accurate but still being ignored by DISD!
It is from

Below is a erratic listing of articles, gathered as time is available, about school districts now in the process of moving to a K-8 configured system:
  1. Lakewood, New Jersey, 2-17-12 K-8 is proposed but apparently with inadequate information based on comments on page.
  2. Corning, California, 2-17-12
  3. Toledo, Ohio, 3-2-12, a successful transition to K-8 for Toledo Public Schools.
  4. Lakewood, New Jersey, 3-2-12, example of K-8 transition that was rejected in a community with a 50-year middle school tradition.  The battle does not need to end.  A community awareness of the research is needed.
  5. Corning, California, 3-2-12,  Article includes quotes from administrator familiar with k-8, and the research, as this district makes the transition. 
  6. Elizabeth, New Jersey, 3-28-12,  "all six middle schools replaced by reconfigured K-8 elementary schools"
  7. Mariposa Middle School to close, District cites potential budget deficit; K-6 schools will be K-8, 4-3-12, Merced, CA, middle school closing so as to create k-8 school
  8. York schools' middle school idea raises question: What grades should buildings serve?, 4-7-12,  York, PA, considering move to k-8 schools and closing all middle schools. 
  9. York District's planned move to a K-8 model instead of having separate elementary and middle schools will reduce the need for staff.  In Dallas this is NOT the reason to move to a K-8 model.  It is almost certain that as DISD moves to a more K-8 centered model that enrollment will go up as parents return their children to DISD and achievement goes up.  We will need more teachers!
  10. Comparing Achievement between K-8 & Middle Schools By Janie Andrich, of 21st Century Education, writes a good summary of the research and benefits of K-8 schools, July 10, 2012.
  11. New K-8 Schools opening in Colorado
  12. Due to the research on increased achievement, more K-8 schools are opening in Florida:
  13. Research in NYC showing that the worst and least productive configuration for schools is K-5/6-8, the exact configuration now dominating in Dallas ISD: 
  14. Do Middle Schools Make Sense?    Yes!
If anyone knows of any research that indicates K-8 schools have a negative affect on discipline or student achievement compared to K-5/6-8 or K-6/7-8 configuration, please email the links to me at and describe what you found.  Thank you.