Trick Question – Middle School Configuration: What Works?

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There are as many opinions about what the best school configuration is for 10-14 year old students as there are different grade configurations in Maine. A recent online article from Village Soup http://knox.villagesoup.com/news/story/middle-school-size-matters/375510 shared some opinions about what seems to work best for young adolescents. Cases have been made in favor of different configurations, 6-8, K-8, 5-8, 7-9, 7-12, etc.

So just a disclaimer…The following opinions represent my own thoughts, observations and experiences and do not reflect the opinions or policies of anyone or group connected with Bright Futures. I’m interested in what Bright Futures readers have to say about this topic, so my post is intended to be a bit controversial. AND, No disrespect to the many hard working, skilled, and dedicated colleagues working in our schools is intended! You have chosen to work in the Middle so you have my utmost respect!

It’s pretty much established that young adolescence is a unique developmental stage ranging from ages 10-14. The professional literature clearly identifies distinct intellectual, physical, social, and emotional characteristics of this group. It seems that if these students have unique characteristics, they must have needs specific to them.  So, why would educators, town officials, and policy makers advocate for anything other than schools lead by professionals knowledgeable about and designed specifically for this group of students? It seems to me that anything other than having this age group together in the same educational setting is a compromise. When middle grades are mixed in with elementary students the focus tends to be on the elementary grades. Key academic, exploratory, and extracurricular programs specifically for middle grades are shortchanged or compromised. The physical plant, scheduling, and level of funding tend to reflect elementary school needs. When the middle grades are mixed in with secondary students the focus is on the high school students, with the middle school programing feeling more like  the old junior high “get the kids ready for high school” focus. If middle school students are doing well in these grade combinations, I think it’s often in spite of the pressures of the combination. It is also because there are leaders in those schools that understand the needs and are able to advocate effectively for the middle grades. I understand that grade configuration decisions are often determined by economics, physical plant, tradition, and even political considerations. The primary considerations should be educational and based on the needs of the students.  Anything less should be acknowledged as compromising the success of middle grades students. Yes, there are side benefits to having other developmental stages mixed in with elementary, middle, and high school students, but they are just that, side benefits, and not the key determinants of effective middle level programming. So what do you all think?

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4 Responses to “Trick Question – Middle School Configuration: What Works?”

  1. Tweets that mention Trick Question – Middle School Configuration: What Works? « Bright Futures -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by James Forde, Chris Toy. Chris Toy said: Trick Question – Middle School Configuration: What Works?: http://wp.me/pVzFP-fg […]

  2. Catherine Ring Says:

    I agree, Chris. So many schools and existing school structures are built around the limitations of the budget, or needs (or preferences) of teachers, or tradition, rather than built around the needs of this particular age group. We need to put the students first!

  3. Kimberly Bell Says:

    Budget restraints do have too much influence in this area. Fortunately I work in a middle school with a teaming concept and feel it is extremely effective. Joining middle level students with elementary or high school students puts them literally “in the middle” which can unintentionally neglect some of the middle level students’ needs. I agree that we have schools in Maine who make this work. Kudos to those staff who make a less than ideal situation work!

    • Chris Toy Says:

      Hi Kimberly! You hit the nail on the head. With the number of federal and state requirements it must be quite a challenge to focus evenly on a wide range of very different student developmental needs found in schools with grade spans beyond one developmental stage.

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