there’s been a great sense of frustration growing over the apparent lack of success of the middle school model. the idea of creating an educational space that was specifically attentive to the developmental needs and uniquenesses of 11 – 14 year-olds seemed like a great idea. but it’s not working.
i’ve been a strong proponant of the middle school model in youth ministry, ever since i moved to a church working on that model and found so much to love about it. but after several years at it, i was finding negative aspects i hadn’t seen at first (that usually weren’t the negative aspects those who opposed middle schools would have predicted).
and that seems to be the case nationwide: schools are discovering that there are systemic implications (surprise!) that no one predicted. lots of schools are experimenting with going back to K – 8. time magazine reported on this in their special issue focused on 13 year-olds last year. and it’s mentioned at length in this article in the new york times. this article is critical reading for all youth workers and parents of young teens.
First, educators created junior high schools, believing preteens needed to be treated like adults. But those students weren’t ready to be treated as high school students, either. So reformers created the concept of middle schools, which were supposed to be a warm bath to ease the transition. Now, an increasing number of schools across the country, including in Baltimore and Philadelphia, are shifting the middle grades back to elementary school.
The move toward middle schools, after the push for junior high that started in the late 19th century, was supposed to create environments that were more serious than the story-hour life of elementary schools, though less impersonal and confidence-zapping than the controlled chaos of high schools.
While middle schools still have their defenders, they have fallen out of favor after various studies showed that they actually sapped self-esteem and fostered bullying. And academically, performance on standardized tests plummeted from fourth to eighth grades.
i’m not 100% sure where i land on this yet. but i have to say: my weeks-shy-of-13 year-old daughter is now in a private school that’s K-8 (which is not a christian school), and the difference in culture is night and day.
(ht to bob carlton)