Stuck in the Middle

Education Next Issue Cover

How and why middle schools harm student achievement

By Jonah E. Rockoff and Benjamin B. Lockwood

27 Comments | Print | PDF |

Fall 2010 / Vol. 10, No. 4

Podcast: Jonah Rockoff talks with Education Next.

An unabridged version of this article is available here.

Middle school. The very words are enough to make many Americans shudder with memories of social anxiety, peer pressure, bad haircuts, and acne. But could middle schools also be bad for student learning? Could something as simple as changing the grade configuration of schools improve academic outcomes? That’s what some educators have come to believe.

States and school districts across the country are reevaluating the practice of educating young adolescents in stand-alone middle schools, which typically span grades 6 through 8 or 5 through 8, rather than keeping them in K–8 schools. The middle-school model began to be widely adopted almost 40 years ago. Now, reformers in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Maryland, and New York, and the large urban districts of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, are challenging the notion that grouping students in the middle grades in their own school buildings is the right approach.

Why the turn against middle schools? For more than three decades, American public education embraced this organizational model. Between 1970 and 2000, the number of public middle schools in the U.S. grew more than sevenfold, from just over 1,500 to 11,500. These new middle schools displaced both traditional K–8 primary schools and junior high schools (which first appeared a century  ago and served grades 7–8 or 7–9). From 1987 to 2007, the percentage of public-school 6th graders in K–6 schools fell from roughly 45 percent to 20 percent.

Neither the middle school nor the junior high has ever been popular among private schools, which educated only 2 percent of their 6th and 7th graders in these types of schools in 2007. And maybe the private schools have had it right all along. For the last two decades, education researchers and developmental psychologists have been documenting changes in attitudes and motivation as children enter adolescence, changes that some hypothesize are exacerbated by middle-school curricula and practices.

These findings are cause for concern, but there is reason to doubt their conclusions. Because the studies use data from a single school year to contrast students in middle schools and K–8 schools, most of the available research cannot reject the possibility that differences between the groups of students, rather than in the grade configuration of their schools, are actually responsible for the differences in behavior and achievement.

To provide more rigorous evidence on the effect of middle schools on student achievement, we turned to a richly detailed administrative dataset from New York City that allowed us to follow students from grade 3 through grade 8. Some of these children attended middle schools and some did not. Because we could follow the same children over a period of time, we could do a better job of ruling out the role of influences other than middle-school attendance on educational outcomes.

What we found bolsters the case for middle-school reform: in the specific year when students move to a middle school (or to a junior high), their academic achievement, as measured by standardized tests, falls substantially in both math and English relative to that of their counterparts who continue to attend a K–8 elementary school. What’s more, their achievement continues to decline throughout middle school. This negative effect persists at least through 8th grade, the highest grade for which we could obtain test scores.

We found that the middle-school achievement gap cannot be explained by a scarcity of financial resources for the schools. Instead, the cause is more likely to be related to other school characteristics, especially the fact that middle schools in New York City educate far more students in each grade. Although our conclusions about the reasons for the middle-school gap are tentative, we are quite confident that the evidence shows that middle schools are not the best way to educate students—at least in places like New York City.

Data and Methods

Our study was based on data for New York City school children who were in grades 3 though 8 during the 1998–99 through 2007–08 school years. We were able to follow students who entered 3rd grade between the fall of 1998 and the fall of 2002 for six years, until most had completed the 8th grade. We have data about the grade configuration and other characteristics of their schools, individual academic achievement as measured by annual standardized test scores in math and English, and a variety of personal characteristics. In particular, we know each student’s gender, ethnicity, whether they received free or reduced-price lunch through the federal lunch program, whether they were English language learners or received special education services, and their record of suspensions and absences from school.

Elementary schools in New York City typically serve students until grade 5 or grade 6, while a smaller portion of elementary schools run through grade 8. This means that most students move to a middle school in either grade 6 or grade 7, while some never move to a middle school. Of the 3rd graders in our initial sample of students, 62 percent were in a K–5 school, 24 percent were in a K–6 school, and 7 percent were enrolled in a K–8 school. The small fraction of remaining students attended K–3, K–4, or K–7 schools and are excluded from our analysis.

To isolate the impact of attending a middle school from the many other factors that influence student achievement, we combined two basic strategies. Most importantly, we tracked the performance of individual students over time to see how their performance evolved relative to that of their peers as they progressed from grades 3 to 8, in essence, using each student as his or her own control group. This step alone provides much stronger grounds for conclusions about the effects of attending a middle school than previous research.

A lingering concern, however, is the possibility that different types of students choose to attend middle schools than choose to continue in a K–8 school. If students do sort themselves into middle schools because of some unobserved characteristic that causes changes in academic achievement over time, we would incorrectly attribute differences in achievement to the middle schools instead of to characteristics of the students themselves. We reduced the likelihood of making this mistake by using a statistical technique that effectively takes the choice to switch schools out of the students’ (or parents’) hands. Specifically, we ran a statistical model that used the last grade served by the school that a student attended in grade 3 to predict whether the student attended a middle school. We then used that prediction to place each student into one of the two groups we are comparing, that is, students who attend middle schools and those who do not. Our key assumption in taking this approach is that there are no unobservable factors that cause a drop in student achievement at precisely the same time as students must leave the elementary schools they attended in grade 3. While we cannot definitively rule out the existence of such factors, we do not know of any plausible alternatives that would explain our findings.

The Middle-School Disadvantage

What determines a student’s level of academic achievement is complex. But the simple fact is that students who enter public middle schools in New York City fall behind their peers in K–8 schools.  This is true both for math and English achievement. Even more troubling, the middle-school disadvantage grows larger over the course of the middle-school years. With the transition into a middle school, students set out on a trajectory of lower achievement gains.

The achievement gap between middle-school students and K–8 students is put in stark relief in Figure 1, which displays our estimates of the impact of attending a middle school on student achievement as measured by standardized tests in math and English Language Arts. The graphs show how well students who attend a middle school perform relative to how we would expect them to perform if they attended a K–8 school. We report those differences, in standard deviations of student achievement in math and reading, for the 3rd through 8th grades. We separate students who enter a middle school in grade 6 from those students who enter a year later, in grade 7.

No matter whether students enter a middle school in the 6th or the 7th grade, middle-school students experience, on average, a large initial drop in their test scores. Even after accounting for a host of other factors that influence student achievement, students who eventually attend middle schools go from scoring better than their counterparts in K–8 schools in the year prior to transitioning to middle school to scoring below where we would expect if they were not attending a middle school. Math achievement for 6th graders transitioning to middle school falls by 0.18 standard deviations, and English achievement falls by 0.16 standard deviations. Contrast that decline with the 6th-grade test scores for students who will enter middle school the following year, in the 7th grade. Their test scores in both subjects continue to improve relative to their peers in K–8 schools. When these 6th graders move to a middle school in the 7th grade, however, we see the same dramatic fall in academic achievement: math scores decline by 0.17 standard deviations and English achievement falls by 0.14 standard deviations. Just how large are these effects? Consider that decrease in achievement associated with middle school entry—between 0.14 and 0.18 standard deviations—is roughly 20 to 25 percent of the achievement gap between poor and non-poor students (as measured by free lunch receipt) in New York City (about 0.7 standard deviations).

Moreover, these are not temporary dips followed by rebounds in learning. Throughout the middle-school years, students fall further behind. After two years in a middle school, on average a student who entered in the 7th grade will score 0.10 standard deviations in math and 0.09 standard deviations in English below what we would expect if he had gone to a K–8 school. After three years in a middle school, a student who entered in the 6th grade will underperform on 8th-grade assessments by 0.17 standard deviations in math and by 0.14 standard deviations in English.

A particularly distressing finding from our study is that students with lower initial levels of academic achievement fare especially poorly in middle school. To investigate the possibility of different effects on students with higher and lower initial achievement levels, we separated students into two groups: one group had grade 3 test scores above the citywide median, the other group scored below the median. Although we found substantial drops in achievement during middle school for both groups of students, the first-year drop and cumulative deficit were, respectively, 50 percent and more than 200 percent greater for students who start at the lower end of the achievement distribution.

We also found evidence that student absence rates increased when students entered middle schools and were significantly higher in grade 8 than for students who never entered a middle school (see Figure 2). More specifically, our estimates indicate that students were missing almost two additional days of school per year than would have been the case had they attended a K–8 school. Thus, increased absences may be one mechanism through which middle schools lower student achievement. There is little chance, however, that absences could explain a large share of the overall effect of attending a middle school.

To be sure, the population of public school children in New York City is different from that of many other school districts around the country. These differences might mean that middle-school attendance would have smaller or larger effects on other students than we estimate it to have on New York City’s public school children. For example, students with fewer educational resources at home may be more strongly affected by changes in their school environment. If that is the case, studying New York City students, who arguably come from less advantaged backgrounds than, say, the students in New York City suburbs, may have led us to find a larger middle-school effect than had we followed a more-affluent student population. While we encourage readers to be cautious about applying our findings without qualification to all public schools, we also encourage school districts to support research that can identify middle-school effects in other settings, especially since we find the consequences of attending a middle school for student achievement to be substantial and troubling.

Explaining the Trouble with Middle Schools

Why might New York City’s middle schools be detrimental to academic achievement? We find little support for the notion that differences in resources, such as per-pupil expenditures and class size, could explain the middle-school achievement gap. In middle schools serving grades 6–8 and grades 7–8, average per-pupil expenditures were $10,094 and $11,082, respectively, while per-pupil expenditures in K–8 schools were roughly equivalent, at $10,950. Nor do students experience a large decline in per-pupil spending when they move to a middle school. Average per-pupil expenditure in K–5 schools was $10,144 (compared to the $10,094 for grade 6–8 middle schools) and $9,680 in K–6 schools (compared to $11,082 in grade 7–8 middle schools).

Nor can we attribute the disparity we see to differences in class size. The average class size is slightly smaller for 5th graders in K–5 schools than for 6th graders in 6–8 schools (24 vs. 25 students); students in K–8 schools see similar growth in class size between grades 5 and 6. Class size is actually larger for grade 6 students in K–6 schools than for grade 7 students in 7–8 schools (24 vs. 23 students).

What about the possibility that the relative age of students in a school, especially during adolescence, can influence how students learn? In other words, does being the youngest students in a school have negative effects on the educational experience of those students? We could not find evidence in our data to support this explanation for the initial drop in test scores upon transitioning to a middle school. In our study sample, about one-third of new 7th graders moved out of a school serving grades K–6 and entered a middle school for 7th and 8th graders, becoming the youngest cohort in the school, while roughly half of new 7th graders entered a grade 6–8 middle school as part of the school’s middle cohort of students. We find that the effect of entering a middle school was essentially the same for both of these groups.

At least part of the problem with middle schools may be that they usually combine students from multiple elementary schools. In the New York City schools we studied, the average cohort size was 75 students in K–8 schools, 100 students in K–5 and K–6 schools, and over 200 students in middle schools for grades 6–8 and 7–8 (see Figure 3). We went back to our data and analyzed the effect of these cohort size differences on test scores. What we found was that cohort size has a pronounced influence on student achievement during these school years. We estimate that an 8th grader who attends school with 200 other 8th-grade students will score 0.04 standard deviations lower in both math and English than he would if he attended a school with 75 other 8th graders, the average cohort size for a K–8 school. This 0.04 standard deviation deficit represents roughly one-quarter of the largest test-score declines we attribute to middle-school attendance.

Given the data we have, we can only speculate about why it is harder to educate middle school–aged students in large groups. Developmental psychologists have shown that adolescent children commonly exhibit traits such as negativity, low self-esteem, and an inability to judge the risks and consequences of their actions, which may make them especially difficult to educate in large groups. The combining of multiple elementary schools and their students also disrupts a student’s immediate peer group. And middle schools often serve a more diverse student population than many students encountered in elementary school. Yet while it seems plausible that these changes in environment would matter, we could not find any evidence in our data that any one hypothesis can explain the drop in learning among students moving to middle schools.

Even though a full explanation of the middle-school achievement gap eludes us, there does seem to be a consensus among New York City students and their parents that educational quality in the city’s public middle schools is lower than in the boroughs’ K–8 schools. We reached this conclusion after examining responses to a citywide survey of parents of children in grades K–8 and students in grades 6 and higher, which was conducted at the end of the 2006–07 and 2007–08 school years as a part of the city’s new school accountability system.

On average, New York City parents of students in middle schools gave their schools lower marks on measures related to education quality than parents whose children attend K–8 schools. Figure 4 shows that parent evaluations of school safety, academic rigor, and overall educational quality was much lower among those whose children attended middle schools than among parents with children in K–5, K–6, and K–8 schools. It is important to note that this is not simply a product of the challenges of educating adolescents. There is little perceptible decline in satisfaction among parents in K–8 schools as their children age, a consistency we would not expect if educational quality simply cannot withstand the onslaught of puberty.

The students’ opinions are consistent with their parents’ assessments, although the lack of data on students below grade 6 prohibits us from more direct measurement of the degradation of education quality in middle schools. The clearest pattern that emerges from student reports is that 6th and 7th graders in middle schools think their schools have less academic rigor, less mature social behavior among the students, are less safe, and provide lower-quality education than do 6th graders in K–6 or K–8 schools.

The Longer View

We don’t yet know whether the troubling slide in test scores for middle-school students persists through the end of high school, a question that is certainly worth studying. Unfortunately, our data do not allow us to follow the students in our study further than grade 8. If the decline does continue, middle schools not only hurt student achievement in the short term but set students up for unnecessary longer-term disadvantages.

Of course, it is possible that transitioning to high school could be more difficult for students who come from K–8 schools than for middle school students. If K–8 students experience a larger drop in achievement upon entering high school, that could bring the two groups of adolescents back into parity. But it is hard to recommend closing the middle-school achievement gap by bringing everybody down. The better option is to address the trouble with middle schools—or do away with them altogether.

Jonah E. Rockoff is associate professor of business at the Columbia Graduate School of Business. Benjamin B. Lockwood is research coordinator at the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate at the Columbia Graduate School of Business.

Comment on this article
  • Clay Boggess says:

    I’m not sure if I would want an 8th grader in the same school as a 1st grader. Middle school-aged students are dealing with issues that these younger students simply cannot relate to, nor should they.

    Clay Boggess

  • john thompson says:

    Great, great article. When we passed a bipartisan tax increase and school reform agenda in Oklahoma City, a key was reducing the critical mass of middle school students through k-8th schools. The plan was killed by politics and the claim that we were closing elementary schools. Our advisors said that k-8th schools should be designed to separate younger and older students, but we were also told the same about 6 to 12th grade schools, which we got. And they’ve been a disaster.

    I’ve got to believe that its a combination of peer effects with rational expectations that drive them down. And failure breeds failure as central offices demand more nonstop test prep in middle school. They do so in panic because nothing else has worked. Combine peer effects, family’s choices where people who can excercise choice get out of middle schools, the resulting rational expectation that behavior will be deplorable, and then the next rational expectation that central offices will refuuse to allow middle schools to enforce their rules for fear of suspending too many, and you have a disaster.

    I have little evidence for my other theory, but with the breakdown of the family and the lack of adult mentorship, too many children mature more slowly in terms of self-control even if they “mature” quicker in terms of sex and drugs. So, kids need community schools where they are taught to be students, but instead they’ve gotten the stone of standardized testing.

  • Bonnie Erica says:

    I am a former Charter School Principal and mother of 3 children that attended private schools that were K-8. I have never been fond of the Middle School Model and I believe it is flawed in terms of truly addressing the needs of pre-teen students. K-8 building can and do work! The division of grades at my particular school allowed for the traditional K-5 curriculum and instruction, while allowing for a different module schedule for the upper grades. It worked perfect and we were even able to include mentoring and a Big Brother / Big Sister approach to intergrate the school.

  • Bill Ivey says:

    Thanks for an interesting and helpful article. My understanding from the work of the National Middle School Association has been that school configuration (K-8, 6-8, etc.) tends to matter less than what is happening within classrooms. Their document “This We Believe” enumerates the 16 characteristics of schools that educate young adolescents successfully. It would be interesting to examine the schools used for this study in light of that work.

  • bc says:

    While not a fan of middle schools, my interpretation of this data is that these results suggest a return to the Junior High School Model. I agree with Clay Boggess-not a good idea for first and eighth graders to share the same campus.

    There a lack of concrete data actually supporting the k-8 model. Instead of concrete data we have predicted scores using standard deviation “scores”, very atypical. I am disappointed the only “real” k-8 data used is attendance.

  • […] With demolition of the Doctors Hospital site about to begin, a new study by a pair of Columbia University researchers was released today showing that students who enter middle schools in New York City fall behind their peers in K-8 schools in Math and English achievement. To read the detailed study, titled “Stuck in the Middle: How and why middle schools harm student achievement,” by Jonah E. Rockoff and Benjamin B. Lockwood, please see […]

  • Tariq Akmal says:

    The conclusion of the study suggests dramatic action is required–let’s do away with middle schools or fix the trouble with them! These are certainly provocative statements in this age of a polarized popular press. Before I accept this study’s findings as the significant, though, I’d need some questions answered and I hope others would as well. How is a middle school defined besides by grade configuration? Does grade configuration tell us anything about what is taught within that school? What kinds of educational practices and organizational structures actually exist in those schools? How effective and experienced are those teachers? Per pupil expenditures indicate that roughly the same amount of money is spent on students in K-6/K-8 schools as on middle school students. But how much is spent and how it is spent are two different things. No information on statistical analysis was provided and test scores are used to make comparisons without effect sizes. The data sets are just that, data sets, without any context. What are the demographics of the schools that were compared? How many students are we comparing? Are we comparing suburban K-6/K-8 schools with urban middle schools? Or urban K-6/K-8 schools with suburban middle schools? We are being asked to trust that these findings are valid without being given enough background information.

    Furthermore, it would be helpful to know if the schools that are “middle schools “are following the concept and structures of what is recommended by the National Middle School Association’s “This we Believe.” Many middle schools are middle schools in grade configuration only–and participate in practices that are not supportive of this age group, nor aligned with the research on the developmental needs of this age group. Similarly, some junior high schools are actually middle schools in practice. For us to conclude that middle schools are failing simply because they are middle schools, without investigating the many other factors that affect student performance is a very limited approach.

    I would hesitate to draw any conclusions from this study that middle schools are failing and, instead, would seek to find out what is actually occurring in those schools.

  • Pablo says:

    As a teacher with experience in both middle schools and K-8 schools, I must say there is no comparison. The middle school is an incredibly ineffective model. The only debate that can be engaged in is how to transition from middle schools to K-8 buildings. There is a facilities issue and a phase in issue. The facilites issue is that there needs to be size appropriate restrooms, space for age separation, recess and playground areas available. The phase in is important because it is better to add a grade to existing buidings one year at a time until the students can be serviced properly without drastically changing the culture of a building, ex K-5 then K-6, K-7, K-8 thus allowing the middle school to phase out of existence and the building to be converted accordingly or adding 5-8, 4-8, 3-8, 2-8 and so on. The building I worked at made an abrupt and poorly planned change in one year which did not benefit the students or staff initially.

  • Wendy says:

    I agree we need more information then merely grade transfiguration. However, I do believe that that in of itself can matter. If all the students in one school are middle school age, that is an age of insecurity an low self-esteem, and they are dealing with many more peers in their same age group (combining multiple elementary schools to this middle school). That is a social upset getting to know so many kids in the same grade and disrupting previous circles of friendships. I also think that without older kids to aspire to, high school, and without younger kids to be role models to, elementary kids, there is less motivation to good behavior. With either older or younger kids in the same building, they may be motivated to be better students and role models. With just those grades, where is the older model student, or the younger ones to look up to you.

    I would also like a similar study done where the school goes from K-6 school to 7-12. That is a different way of not having a Middle School. I grew up in rural Minnesota where most school districts were configurred that way. It helped 6th graders to grow-up to be the big kids of the elementary. It helped 7th graders to grow-up to navigate the separate teacher for each grade and module schedule and be with older kids. Even though junior and senior high can be separated for things, senior high students were almost always a role model for junior high students in sports, academics, music, theatre… There also can be a mentoring relationship between more mature junior and senior students and the junior high.

    Junior high is completely different then elementary kids and may not be good role models for them. I venture to guess that the best system is elementary schools for k-5 or k-6 and junior and senior high schools for 7-12 or 6-12.
    Junior high kids probably most benefit from being with older kids that they can look up to that help them grow-up and be better academically, and in any extracircular.

  • Christine Rogliano says:

    I believe that the repeated conerns about the “middle school students “not being good role models for younger students” actually IS a good reason toreturn to the K-8 model. These students have in years passed served as role models, should be role models and CAN be role models. K-8 education gives them that opportunity. It reduces the “pack” mentallity and is one positive step towards increasing students ownership of their behavior and takes the focus off of them being “teens” before their time.

  • James Cruikshank says:

    The trouble isn’t with middle schools. It’s with middle schools that have not effectively implemented the Essential Elements of a Standards-Based middle-level program. Every middle school that has gone through the Schools to Watch program (and effectively implemented these Elements) are successful.

    In the 80’s, there was a huge push to do away with Jr. High’s as they didn’t address the needs specific to kids ages 10-14. So, as a result, the tore down the Jr. High sign and put up a middle school sign. But that isn’t enough. Whether it’s a Jr. High, Middle School, or a K-8; there must be an attempt to address the special needs of kids ages 10-14. A true middle-level philosophy is the way to go. Let’s look at the data from the Schools to Watch program.

  • Eric says:

    After having read this, I can’t agree more. I have taught in both middle and K-8 and see a huge difference in the attitudes and effort. We keep our k-4 students on the other side of the building and they don’t really see the older kids. but one advantage is that some of the older students have become mentors for the younger ones and help them understand their education better. Just another interesting point, one John Thompson, who commented earlier, was superintendent in Pittsburgh, left and Mark Roosevelt, from Harvard, came here, and started making some 6-12 schools. Shows the difference between an educator and a business man!

  • Anna Duff says:

    My local middle school has upwards of 900 students, a fact which has me considering much smaller private schools for my kids. The district has one magnet school, grades 6-12, with about 80 students per grade. That school has a waitlist of some 400 families. It offers an accelerated academic program, but I also wonder if the size appeals to many of the families. I’d really like to know what happens to these different cohorts when they hit high school, though.
    Anna Duff

  • Education Next says:

    The following was submitted as a letter to the editor:

    Thank you for the interesting and informative article “Stuck in the Middle” by Jonah E. Rockoff and Benjamin B. Lockwood. The authors found that in the specific year when students move to a middle school (or to a junior high), their academic achievement, as measured by standardized tests, falls substantially in both math and English relative to that of their counterparts who continue to attend a K–8 elementary school.

    I am glad to see the findings of their research. When I was with the New York City Department of Education and responsible for our secondary-school reform strategy, we created models of 6–12 and K–8, where this was feasible. Our own research indicated that having fewer transitions would benefit high-need students.

    Michele Cahill
    Vice President for National Programs and Director of Urban Education
    Carnegie Corporation

    (For more letters, please see

  • […] an advocacy group for urban public schools. Lastly, Columbia University researchers published “Stuck in the Middle,” which documents the existence of an achievement gap between students who attend New York City […]

  • Sara says:

    As a teacher at a school that is 4K – 12th grade, I must say that our school community benefits from having the different grade levels all being on the same campus. To see our 4K students looking with awe and adoration at the high school students who have come to their classroom to read stories to them is a truly joyous. In our middle school years, many of the teachers have the opportunity and privilege to teach the same children for 2, 3, or even 4 years in a row! Getting to know the kids and how they learn is amazing. I wish every school could have the same opportunities.

    Sara Wolter
    Middle School Spanish & Latin Teacher
    Spartanburg Day School
    Spartanburg, SC

  • Education Next says:

    The following was submitted as a letter to the editor:

    The two recent articles on middle schools (“The Middle School Mess,” features, Winter 2011, and “Stuck in the Middle,” research, Fall 2010) share an interesting characteristic: They treat the title “middle school” as if it represents a uniform, monolithic method and structure of schooling. I write to challenge the logical fallacy of the “straw man” middle school these articles depict and the negative effects associated with it.

    I’ll begin with grade configuration, the criteria used by the authors to define a middle school. National Center for Education Statistics 2005 data reveal that 6th, 7th, and/or 8th graders are found in schools with at least 60 different grade configurations. That statistic alone challenges the use of grade configuration as the defining factor for the straw man middle school. It’s also worth noting that the EdSource study (“Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better,” 2010) cited in “The Middle School Mess,” did not find grade configuration to be a factor in student performance.

    A broader definition of a middle-level or middle-grades school is a separate school that serves a group of young adolescents, ages 10–14, in one or more grades. Using that definition, what can the authors tell us about why such schools, in their view, are not successful? The answer is “not much.” For example, the articles do not address the professional preparation of the teachers in middle-grades schools compared to those in K–8 schools, although NCATE’s [National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education] recent report on teacher preparation highlights the critical connections between teacher preparation and student outcomes.

    The articles also do not take up what is happening inside the classrooms and in interactions between and among educators and young adolescents, nor the organizational structure of the schools, nor the policy and community contexts within which those schools reside. In describing middle schools as ineffective without addressing the variability represented among schools with those two words on the sign out front, the authors use a broad brush—some would argue a bucket of mud—to splatter aspersions on every school that educates young adolescents within a distinct structure. This approach seems illogical because, in fact, it is.

    Gayle Andrews
    National Forum to Accelerate ?Middle-Grades Reform

  • […] the researches couldn’t find a definitive answer, there are plenty of theories to choose from. The leading theory is that students of this age are particularly vulnerable to the difficulties […]

  • […] students. But what if some of the complications of teaching middle schoolers could be removed? Recent research suggests that by restructuring grade configuations in our schools, the middle school years can be a […]

  • Howard Gottlieb says:

    I can tell you from our perspective that kids do get lost in middle school. There is not as much parent involvement as there was in elementary school and the students have not developed into individuals as they will in high school.

    Howard Gottlieb

  • […] in the Middle ((A more “popular” version on Education Next here.)) Share this: […]

  • […] pioneering study of middle schools was published in 2010 by Columbia University researchers Jonah Rockoff and Benjamin Lockwood. They compared New York City students at middle schools and K-8 elementary schools. They found that […]

  • John says:

    Middle school often times creates more problems than it solves. Less parental involvement than in elementary at a time where they could use much more.

  • George Bridges says:

    As a former student I think the name Middle School stinks.

  • Richard D Kvies says:

    I entered Marine Park J.H.S. as a 7th grader in 1959. This was the school’s second year of operation and as such, only grades 7 and 8 had entered. All three grades would be in place the following year. Even at the age of 11, the abandonment of traditional K-8 made no sense considering the expense of a new building and an entire staff. I recall a certain look of surprise and than resentment when I asked my Social Studies teacher, Mr. Tannenbaum, about the change. He could offer no answer. I’ve asked educators that same question and received the same response since. It took some time, but experts finally began wondering about what an 11 year old, in Brooklyn, wondered about 50 years earlier.

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