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Removing Middle Schools in Cleveland:  Will Students Want to Accept the Change?

Tuesday, August 22, 2000 at 3:40 PM

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As school begins this year, 14 schools in the Cleveland district won't be letting go of their sixth graders. Instead, students will be staying in their elementary schools. It's part of a district-wide K-through-8 expansion program. Administrators say the program solves two problems. It reduces the number of students in Cleveland middle schools, so that fewer pupils share the resources, and also helps those children that stay in elementary school to learn better. But some students don't want to be a part of the program. 90.3's Janet Babin reports.

Janet Babin- Stop for a moment and try to remember back to sixth grade. It’s the first leap toward adulthood most remember, from elementary to middle school. A new schedule, a different routine. You finally have a reason to carry a book bag, or a hand bag, and change classrooms. You meet kids from all parts of the city, expanding your crush options. There are different teachers and new subjects, more responsibility. And, some educators say, more of a chance to fail.

Denis Doyle is chief academic officer for schoolnet.com, an online company that sells management tools to schools. Doyle also spent ten years as an education consultant to the California state legislature. Doyle says middle school kids are at a very difficult age for them, teachers and parents, because of the wide range of maturation that differs from child to child.

Denis Doyle- In seventh grade a teacher will experience an enormous range of developmental activity amongst kids - girls reaching puberty earlier (and) maturing more rapidly, than boys, emotionally socially intellectually boys still not clear in their minds what their interests are, whether they’d rather play with girls or play baseball.

JB- Doyle says middle school is dated - intellectually and academically unsure of its mission.

DD- The short history of middle school or junior high school movement is that it was 50 years ago in its infancy a sorting machine, at which point kids would be tracked into academic or vocational. That function has pretty much disappeared. Most kids are now tracked into a comprehensive high school so vocational offerings are not very widely available in most communities.

JB- The Cleveland municipal school district agrees that middle schools here aren’t working. So the district is expanding its pilot program to eliminate the middle school. Annette Knox is superintendent of district 3.

Annette Knox- Research proved that students have a number of psychological, social, emotional and academic problems in middle school because of the structure of middle schools. Also, ideally, there’s no more than 450 to 500 middle school students, but here in Cleveland our middle schools have a minimum if we’re lucky, 650 to as many as 1200 students in some of our middle schools.

JB- In a K-through-8 model, students will still have mainly one teacher, just like in elementary school, and they’ll remain in smaller classes with 19 to 25 students. Knox says smaller class size helps children to learn more effectively. Also, by keeping some students in elementary schools, the number of kids in existing middle schools are reduced, therefore eliminating some of the negative impacts of too many kids in middle school. But what if you’re a kid, eagerly awaiting that first step to prove you’re an adolescent, only to find out you’re not going.

Bobby- I don’t like that… I like 7th and 8th (grade) how it is.

JB- Bobby and his friend Matthew don’t want to stay in elementary school - its almost like they consider it the baby school.

Matthew- I’m excited because I can be with kids mature.

JB- Superintendent Knox says that while it’s very fascinating for kids to think about middle school, educators have an obligation to do what’s best for kids.

AK- We’ve all experienced it. We wanna be older to have the freedoms that we believe exist at each level of our education experience, but it is for parents and educators to determine the kind of experience that our children will have, especially if they think it will be better.

JB- A few middle school teachers in the school district, who asked not to be identified, wonder whether the pilot program is a good idea. A special ed teacher we’ll call “Sara” says the elimination of middle school won’t make much difference in grades.

Sara- I think that middle school’s a good stepping stone for high school so I hope they figure out a way to still prepare them to walk into 9th grade or 10th grade, and be the young one, and just cause the schedules are so different, having five teachers instead of one.

JB- But Superintendent Knox says the numbers prove the pilot program is a success. She says last year’s results from middle school age children who stayed in elementary schools for sixth grade and took the Ohio proficiencey test are outstanding.

AK- We found that the data was outstanding - they performed better than all other six grade students in the city. It was overwhelming.

JB- Knox says the pilot program will likely continue to expand in coming years, but she calls it unrealistic to expect the total eradication of all middle schools. That will probably make 14-year-old Christine, very happy.

Christine- They gonna put us and elementary? What kind of mess is that? I’m going to ninth grade next year...!

JB- In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3 WCPN 90.3 FM.

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