Milwaukee innovates

Students learn more and behave better in K-8 schools than in middle schools, according to a report by the Milwaukee school district.

• Average annual attendance was nearly 4 percentage points higher for eighth-graders in the K-8s than in the middle schools.

• The average chronic suspension rate was nearly 9 percentage points higher for seventh-graders in the middle schools than in the K-8s.

• In the eighth grade, K-8 students perform almost 9 scale score points better than middle school students on a standardized reading exam, where the range is typically between 600 and 700.

These results held up even when the author of the study factored in such student characteristics as poverty, English-language abilities and prior academic achievement.

Milwaukee is opening 11 small specialty schools, many of them charters. Alliance is designed for students, gay and otherwise, who felt bullied or harassed at their old schools. Another school will teach American Sign Language, and expects one quarter of students will be deaf or hard of hearing.

The Maasai Institute will use the culture and philosophy of an African tribe to shape its approach, and The Inland Seas School of Expeditionary Learning will focus its curriculum on “sea education,” including fieldwork on the Great Lakes.

Milwaukee is competing with voucher schools for students. They seem to be trying harder. Whether they’re trying smarter is another question.

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Comments

  1. Milwaukee is opening 11 small specialty schools, many of them charters.

    This is a step in the right direction, towards providing education to fit the individual student’s vocation and personality.

    Alliance has attracted considerable attention in Milwaukee and nationally because of the distinctive nature of its focus and approach. The school is open to all students, but the emphasis is on those who have been struggling socially or academically because of bullying or harassment.

    It’s about time that such a school existed! I wish it the greatest of luck.

    Hines, who helped with some recruiting, said he worked hard to persuade students that Alliance is not just for gay teens. “A lot of kids thought it was going to be an all-gay school and I said, ‘No, that’s why we call ourselves Alliance.’ “

    It will probably also attract many kids labelled as “autistic”.

    Milwaukee Academy of Aviation, Science & Technology, which will integrate technology throughout its curriculum, particularly through its focus on aviation, aerospace and aeronautics

    Too bad this couldn’t be combined with the Alliance school, and sent back in time, so that I could have attended!

  2. Odd.

    Milwaukee, along with Cleveland, have the two longest-running voucher programs in the country. I wonder what part that played in the decision to go all-K8?

  3. In my district, parents would freak out at having big 8th graders in the same building as 1st graders.

  4. Tom West says:

    I have always thought that separating out grade 7 and 8 students from either younger students or older students was a deliberate act of someone who wanted students to misbehave in the worst possible way by removing any sane, stable context for the student’s lives. Younger children tend to bring out responsibility in most young people (most children have enough of a sense of responsibility that they don’t want to act like idiots in front of youngsters). Older students are also often a calming influence on this age group.

    The only excuse I can think of for the existence of Junior High was one that had never occurred to me, but I read on the net. Junior High exists to reduce sexual predation on younger students. Ick!

    Still, I have a hard time believing the such horrible incidents would be common enough to warrant guaranteeing 2 years of purgatory for most students. (Not that K-8 is any guarantee. I’m pretty sure grades 7-8 are rough going for students no matter how you slice it. It just seems that JH is an attempt to make certain *nobody* survives emotionally unscathed.

  5. Do you have a source for that explanation?

    The reason I ask is that, given the commoness of middle schools, it would have had to have been a very widely observed problem, at least back when the concept of a middle school was being established.

    A better explanation, I feel, is that at one point in the development of public schools the need for education beyond sixth grade wasn’t widely supported.

    When that changed, and high school was seen as the basic level of education, there was probably a transition period when more education was seen as worthwhile but perhaps not the need for education beyond eighth grade. Hence the middle school; distinct from the elementry school but not quite high school.

    Then high schools came along but the existance of the middle school continued because, well, why not?

  6. In my district, middle school was born out of overcrowding, not any studies that proved its effectiveness. We had three K-6 schools, a 7-9 jr. high, and a 10-12 high school. When the 3 elementary schools and jr. high got overcrowded, they built a new jr. high for grades 8-9, and moved 5-6 in with the 7th graders at the old building. Presto! 5th-7th middle school. It is HORRIBLE. As a teenager I was shocked when I heard this plan. 10 and 11-year-olds with 13-year-olds? That is emotionally one of the largest two-year gaps. The result has been that 11-year olds-are being exposed to all the drama and angst of jr. high much earlier.

  7. “A better explanation, I feel, is that at one point in the development of public schools the need for education beyond sixth grade wasn’t widely supported.” In Michigan and Iowa at least, 8th grade, not 6th, was once considered the end-point of education for the masses. E.g., my father went to a two-room school in rural Iowa for 1-8. Then his less academically inclined classmates went off to farm or to vocational training, while he moved in with relatives in the county seat for high school. Back before social promotion, etc., 7th and 8th grade was when students would learn enough math to do the bookkeeping for a farm or small business, and enough history to understand the requirements of a citizen.

    Nor can I believe sexual predation was the reason J-high/middle schools began. These schools existed (in large enough school districts) long before that was on anyone’s radar. It might be a reason to not abolish them now – except I am in considerable doubt as to whether kindergartners are in any more danger from 8th graders than 6th graders and small 7th graders are…

    I think the main reason was a desire for an earlier switchover from the elementary school model of one teacher, one classroom, one class, all day, to the high school model of teachers who are subject specialists so each student sees about six teachers a day. It’s not strictly necessary to move the kids to a different building to do this, but it does make the administration easier.

  8. I think the main reason was a desire for an earlier switchover from the elementary school model of one teacher, one classroom, one class, all day, to the high school model of teachers who are subject specialists so each student sees about six teachers a day. It’s not strictly necessary to move the kids to a different building to do this, but it does make the administration easier.

    Then why couldn’t middle/junior school be grouped with high school? They are structurally similar, more so than M/J and elementary.

  9. markm wrote:

    In Michigan and Iowa at least, 8th grade, not 6th, was once considered the end-point of education for the masses.

    Do you have some links for that? I remember reading, although I probably wouldn’t be able to find the article again if my life depended on it, that 6th grade was the end-point ouside urban areas earlier in the development of public education and that started changing around the time of the Great Depression.