The middle school model was conceived in the 70s and implemented throughout the 70s and 80s across the nation. It was thought that middle schools would provide a nurturing bridge between the early elementary school experience and high school. Unfortunately, many education experts now consider the experiment a failure with their poor performance and uprooting children twice during their turbulent and challenging adolescent years. Middle schools now are being viewed as the weak link in the educational chain by many.
Prior to the implementation of middle schools, these grades were either part of the elementary school experience or an expanded high school environment. Now, education leaders across the nation (including the Boston schools) are looking to return to those earlier models.
Kindergarten through Eighth Grade Model
With this model, Boston district would expand their elementary levels to include kindergarten through eighth grade. Many educators believe this would deliver a supportive structure that would foster longer-term relationships between the teachers and their students. The thought is to use the earlier school experience to extend the nurturing that the middle school model was suppose to provide but hasn’t.
The push to integrate the middle schools with the elementary levels is gaining momentum. Parents are especially in favor of the K-8 model, wary of sending their children to the current middle school environment — especially within the urban areas.
Many educators are familiar with the middle school struggle to raise achievement levels. They believe the K-8 model will keep the students and their families not only involved with the Boston District but also connected on a more positive level.
Upper Grades Model
Others support the upper grades model of integrating the middle schools with the secondary levels. The largest proponents of this model are the high school teachers, especially those teaching ninth graders. These Boston schools teachers currently must hustle to get new ninth graders, who are not prepared, up to par for the high school experience. They would like to have these students earlier.
Many educators believe the upper grades model creates a consistent environment from seventh through twelfth grade and more accountability for student outcomes. This potential model for the Boston schools emulates some of the elite private and public schools, offering the best opportunity for students from lower income families where college is not generally presumed. With a rigorous six-year curriculum and encouragement, more of these students are hoped to continue their education at a college or university.
The upper grades model is currently gaining more traction than the K-8 for the Boston schools, since some schools are expressing interest in expanding their schools to include both middle and high school grades. Two high schools that are considered to be the better achievers in the Boston District would like to include middle school grades under their roof and control. Additionally, a Boston middle school also has expressed interest in expanding its curriculum to include high school students.
The upper grades model is not new to the Boston schools, which has two such schools in operation for several years and are quite successful. Also, there are three competitive admission exam Boston schools that use the model, offering college preparatory curriculum for Boston’s top scoring students. One is the renowned Boston Latin School, whose students have the expectation that they will continue on to college or another higher form of education after graduation.
This only reinforces proponents’ belief that if it is good to focus on academic achievement from sixth through twelfth grades for the elite students within the Boston schools, then educators and parents should have the same high expectations for all students.
Whatever model is chosen by the Boston schools, the city is ready for the discussion. Last fall, the Boston schools named a 17 member Middle Grades Task Force. Their recommendations are expected to be delivered to the Boston schools leaders in the spring.
The middle school years are very difficult for Boston schools students at such sensitive ages of adjustment from children to young adults. Regardless of which model educators, leaders and parents back for the Boston schools’ students, they all agree that any transition should take place either before or after these years — not both.