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.