I recently had dinner with a friend who has two small kids. She was talking about where she plans to send her oldest to Kindergarden. We were discussing the difference between districts that offer K-8 schools vs. K-5/middle school. Her perspective was interesting. She thought that getting to stay in the same school for K-8 was better because it was less moving schools and I'm guessing she felt it would establish more of a community.
Her perspective was interesting to me because I hadn't thought of it that way. However, it doesn't change my mind that middle schools are best for grades 6-8. Ages 11-14 are a unique time and requires a unique team of adults that understand the needs of the students. A sense of community develops in middle schools because the age of our students and their needs are respected. My experience during my first year of teaching was at a K-8 school where my 8th graders were expected to walk in quiet lines in the hallways just like the little ones. They were constantly compared to kids half their age which was simply unfair and unreasonable.
As Thomas Armstrong says in his book, The Best Schools, "Middle schools, or something very much like them, are needed to provide students in early adolescence with an environment that can help them negotiate the impact of puberty on their intellectual, social, and emotional lives. Educators need to understand the developmental needs of young adolescents, and in particular their neurological, social, emotional, and metacognitive growth."
In addition, the content at the middle grades is at a level that requires teachers to be more specialized in their subject area. While it might be feasible for an elementary school teacher to teach multiple subjects, there is just no way that a middle school teacher can be proficient (or an expert!) at math, science, social studies, language art, etc!
Finally, I want to make the distinction between middle school and junior high. Grades 6-8 should not simply be a mini high school. The middle school philosophy allows for a culture that meets the social and emotional needs of the students. With pressures of high stakes testing and mandating intervention periods, it might seem impossible to hang on to the middle school model, but it is important to preserve it. As my school looks at changing the schedule for next school year to include more time for interventions, I stand firm (and continue to be vocal) that the middle school model needs to stay.
Our students deserve a great education and that includes an education that addresses their social and emotional learning too.