Do parochial schools want to be progressive?
Then they shouldn't get rid of their Kindergarten-Eighth Grade configuration.
Middle schools are under fire by public school advocates, who are beginning to realize that the entire middle school experiment hasn't been a good thing.
Although middle schools still dominate the public education model, school systems all over the country are beginning to use K-8 schools: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, suburban Boston, Baltimore, Oklahoma City are doing it, according to a 2002 issue of School Administrator, “Revival of the K-8 School: Criticism of middle schools fuels renewed interest in a school configuration of yesteryear” by Priscilla Pardini.
It's important to realize that School Administrator is the publication of the American Association of School Administrators. The AASA is an organization, according to its website, that is “dedicated to the highest quality public education”; its “major focus is standing up for public education.”
Middle schools are the product of public school innovation, whereas K-8 education is the stronghold of religious schools. That public school advocates are attacking the middle school concept, is significant.
So what are public school folks saying about middle schools compared to K-8 schools?
• According to Pardini, “the middle school's star clearly has fallen.”
• According to Marc Tucker and Judy Codding of the National Center on Education and the Economy, America's middle schools are “the wasteland of our primary and secondary landscape.”
• William Moloney, commissioner of the Colorado Department of Education, says K-8 is the “next big idea” in school reform.
K-8, however, isn't a new idea. Until the middle of the twentieth century, most American students attended K-8 schools and still do in religious and secular private schools. They are also the norm throughout the world. “The United States is virtually the only nation where elementary school students spend time in a middle or junior high school before entering high school,” according to Pardini. And though they're calling K-8 an “idea,” it's really just common sense.
What happens when older kids are around younger kids?
They don't grow up as fast; their extremes are tempered by the presence of little kids; they become leaders and role models and more responsible, no longer segregated to frenzy off each other's hormones. Their attitudes improve as they're thrust into positions of leadership and their attendance and academic performance improves with it.
It's not hard to believe. It rings true.
And it's been backed by researchers. According to Kay Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, middle schools force kids to grow up too fast. K-8 schools “are in a better position to remind us all…that these are still children and should be treated as such.” Hymowitz also says K-8 fosters leadership in young adolescents: “Why not put them in a place where they can learn to be more responsible?”
In Fayetteville, Tennessee, the K-8 “innovation” has stimulated leadership qualities in the older children. In Oklahoma City, another K-8 innovator, school administrators discovered that the middle school kids cleaned up their language. “It was an unintended consequence, but part of the impact of being around younger children,” said their superintendent. Despite this growing and common-sensical support for K-8 education, many parochial schools are having troubles attracting children to their upper grades.
I can't answer that. K-8 is the cutting edge and progressive wave of education, yet it's also the common sense, traditional, and world-wide preferred alternative. A parent can have it both ways: cutting edge and common sense; progressive and traditional.
It's waiting for them in parochial schools.
And so is Christ.
Eric Scheske is a freelance writer, a Contributing Editor of Godspy, and the former editor of Gilbert Magazine. You can view his work at www.ericscheske.com.