K-8 and 5-8 or 6-8 Grade Configuration: Does it Matter? Prepared for New England League of Middle Schools (NELMS) by Robert C. Spear Ed.D. Executive Director 460 Boston Street #4, Topsfield MA, 01983, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.nelms.org From Programs and Practices in K-8 Schools: Do They Meet the Educational Needs of Young Adolescents? By C. Kenneth McEwin, Thomas S. Dickinson, and Michael G. Jacobson (2004, National Middle School Association, Westerville, Ohio):
Core Curricular Offerings • K-8 schools reported offering language arts at an average of 16 minutes more per day than did middle schools. • Young adolescents enrolled in K-8 schools are likely to spend more time in core subjects and less time in elective classes.
Interest Class-Minicourse Programs • 27% of K-8 schools and 49% of middle schools reported having interest class or minicourse programs.
Interdisciplinary Team Organization • 33% of K-8 schools utilized • interdisciplinary teaming as compared • with 77% of middle schools. • Teaming is utilized by • 27% of rural K-8 schools • 48% of urban K-8 schools • 88% of suburban K-8 schools.
Interdisciplinary Team Organization (con’t) • Teachers in K-8 schools are also much less • likely to have common planning periods • with other teachers on their teams • Teachers in K-8 schools are muchless likely to have ten planning periods per week (94%) than those teaching in middle schools (41% of schools).
Interdisciplinary Team Organization (con’t) • The percentage of K-8 and middle schools providing five common planning periods per week are almost identical (39% and 40% respectively) • K-8 schools were more likely than middle schools to have smaller teams at all grade levels.
Advisory Programs • 29% of respondents from K-8 schools and 48% from middle schools indicated having advisory programs • suburban schools (56%) • rural schools (29%) • urban schools (29%).
Interscholastic Sports • K-8 schools and middle schools have same percentage of interscholastic sports programs • Middle schools offered a wider variety of sports.
Ideal Grade Organization Patterns • 73% of respondents from K-8 schools • believed that the best grade organization • is either a 6-8 middle school (59%) or a • 5-8 middle school (14%) • Only 16% of K-8 schools respondents • believed that the ideal grade organization • is K-8
Why it is a good idea to have the middle grades in a M S ? • Fewer disturbances for grades K-5 • Scheduling improved • Students in 5-8 require more time and attention • Middle school students cannot be given the best • opportunity to succeed in a school that is focused • on the early elementary model • Fewer negative influences on younger students • Too much difference in K-5 and 6-8 teaching • philosophy • Detachment from elementary is crucial
Why it is not a good idea to have the middle grades in a M S ? • Interaction with K-5 students is a positive • Being affiliated with K-5 keeps instruction more • student focused and less subject focused • A small school is too small to separate out the • middle grades • Not enough students for a middle school to work • All grades levels should be integrated • Keeps the eighth-graders “younger” • Older students serve as excellent mentors • Mixing older kids with younger kids allows for • community
Advantages of having the middle grades housed in K-8 • K-5 students learn from 6-8 students • Student behavior is better • Cross-age tutoring and mentoring is a plus • Develop a better sense of community • Stay immature a little longer • Transition to the middle grades is easier • Teachers know students over a longer • period of time
Disadvantages of having the middle grades housed in K-8 • Different socially, emotionally, and academically • Schedule options are severely limited • Being an instructional leader more difficult • Middle grade students sometimes harass • younger students • K-8 doesn’t promote responsibility for upper • grade students
Disadvantages of having the middle grades housed in K-8 • (con’t) • K-8 doesn’t help students develop realistic • expectations about high school • Older students are more mature and display • inappropriate behavior • Fewer elective options than a middle school • Don’t get to experience advanced activities
Analysis of Key Issues • 99% of MS principals selected grade organization patterns that included separately organized elementary, middle, and senior high schools. (2000 study) • 84% indicated that they believed young • adolescents are best served in separately • organized middle level schools (K-8 principals)
Organization Trends • There were 5,552 public K-8 schools • in 1988 and 3,170 in 2001. • The numbers demonstrate that the • majority of educators, policy-makers • and other stakeholders favor the • tri-level plan of elementary school, • middle school, and high school
Grade Organization and Student Achievement • One grade configuration over another has long been debated, large-scale studies examining the relationship between grade configuration and student achievement have not been conducted ... • The question of which grade organization is associated with the highest achievement scores remains unanswered at this point.
Developmentally Responsive Programs and Practices • Programs and practices considered to be • essential for effective middle level • education were more frequently found • in middle schools than in K-8 schools.
School-to-School Transitions • “Students in the P/K/1 to eighth-grade structure do worse than other students once the effects of public versus private school are controlled.” (Lord and Midgley (1991) • “largely inconsistent and inconclusive.” (Eccles, Lord, and Midgley (1991) • far too inconclusive to abandon separately organized middle schools
Other Reasons Given • Parents are looking for an elementary-like • environment for their children ... however, • all schools can and should be safe and • nurturing. • Less expensive to operate K-8 schools... • However they often do not serve young • adolescents well.
Summary and Conclusions Grade organization per se may not make the difference.
Conclusions • Major reorganization decisions are to often being made based primarily on anecdotal information and a very limited research base... …instead of school districts doing the difficult and crucial work of making middle schools what they could and should be.
Conclusions “This is another attempt at a magic bullet, which is much easier than getting down to the really hard work of preparing teachers to work with this age group, having strong curricula for this age group, and having personalized schools that hold high expectations for all kids and also meet their developmental needs.” Joan Lipsitz
Conclusions “The positive results from research offer clear direction for how to improve middle schools. Rather than abandoning them for a different organization that seems less likely to serve young adolescents well, educators should stay with [fully] implementing the middle school concept.”
Conclusions Only 16% of K-8 principals believed that the K-8 organization they were currently heading was ideal for young adolescents, while 84% favored separately organized middle schools.
Conclusions The degree of implementation of interdisciplinary team organization at schools enrolling young adolescents is important because of the high correlation between the use of this organizational plan and student achievement.
Conclusions The bottom line is that nothing surfaced in this study to lend support to moving young adolescents from middle schools to K-8 schools.