I spent all of my career teaching in a K-8 school (kindergarten to eighth grade). Although I have never been on the “other side of the desk” in a middle school, I did attend one as a student. As more families move out of major cities, governing bodies who run education are faced with financial decisions regarding what to do with the declining enrollment of middle schools. But this again leaves us in yet another pedagogical dilemma. What is the better model: K-8 vs Middle School?
The pros for the K-8 model
Teaching in a K-8 school comes with an equal share of the positives and negatives. I am strictly speaking about student excellence here and not about teacher ease. Because students are experiencing a continuous program from kindergarten to the eighth grade, they implicitly feel a synergy of learning that only becomes amputated in school settings where students leave at the end of 6th grade and enter middle school. This continuity of learning is beneficial for teachers and students. Most teachers who teach in K-8 schools know the majority of students and are better prepared for the diverse range of students they will teach each new year. That student a teacher gets in 8th grade has already built somewhat of a “reputation” in the school, allowing classroom synergy to occur at a much faster pace. The consistency of the spatial environment creates a sense of comfort and extinguishes some of the negative aspects that students may experience when shifting locations from elementary to middle school. Furthermore, because the K-8 model favors a majority of primary and junior learning environments, the learning seems more centered on a ground-up approach that facilitates more of an educational continuum that is useful in serving student needs. Lastly, because the school has such a wide range of ages, eighth graders have the opportunity to take on multiple roles of responsibility. In a middle school, students are grouped with students all close in age. In the K-8 model, because the age gap at times can encompass more than ten years, students are afforded the opportunity to show their “worth” in more ways than simply academics. Clubs, mentorship programs, and leadership roles help students build character, which often goes a lot further than some of the curriculum they are learning.
The pros for Middle School
The goal of intermediate education is to prepare students for high school. Rotary classes, sports and club try-outs, and tests – all of them beget competition. Competition breeds excellence. Middle school then essentially prepares students for the high school grounds they will inevitably navigate. There are certainly positives to this. In the middle school setting, teachers are preparing students for the “high school” years of their academic career. No more recess and house leagues, no more (or at least not to the extent of elementary school) “play days”. Middle school utilizes their short time to primarily prepare students for high school. That is their end goal. And contrary to elementary schools, the education is taught in top down style. There are no four-foot students walking the hallways. Everything is business in middle school, much like what will be awaiting students in high school. “Reading Buddies” is over. So are the fun and games to a certain extent. Thus, middle school indeed teaches many impressionable lessons that ultimately prepare students for their academic future. There is a shift that indeed occurs in terms of scholastic attitude as well as academic aptitude that is modeled through lessons, activities and overall schooling in the middle school environment. The middle school model teaches its students to be prepared for the next level of their academic career. Ultimately, their goal is preparation, and the middle school model does a good job of facilitating this intention.
The intention of this post is to stimulate dialogue that should ultimately get back to a conversation on what is best for students. Unless you have taken a class on the psychology of linguistic analysis (is that even a course?), I am certain that you have not analyzed my stance on the issue regarding which platform I think is better. Unfortunately, capitalistic realities of education are noosing the academic welfare of our children. In cities like Detroit, New York, Toronto, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, the educational model has dissolved from the middle school platform to a kindergarten to a grade eight (K-8) program. Whatever way our current academic climate spins us, the politics of academic accountability and seriously helping our students will inevitably determine which way is truly the right way.
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