As with any issue, there are both pros and cons to the idea of replacing middle school with K-8 schools. In Ontario, there are two public school boards: one currently has middle schools and the other favours K-8 schools, so it is easy to see first hand the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Pro: Saves Money
K-8 schools save money. Housing a certain number of classrooms in one building is less expensive than if that same number were distributed among two. Having a larger number of students in one building rather than spread out over two can also save the cost of hiring an extra teacher: if there are 20 students in each class, but 210 in each school, those ten extra students from both schools can be combined into one class, instead of having two teachers teaching classes that aren’t full. Fewer buildings also means that the system would be better for the environment, as it takes less energy to heat the same number of classrooms if they are in one building instead of two.
Con: Culture Shock for the Kids
Not going to middle school prior to high school can create a culture shock for adolescents. Most K-8 schools treat grade 6, 7, and 8s the same way they treat K-5s: spending most of the day in one classroom, with one teacher, having two recesses and a lunch each day, shorter class periods, storage bins in the home classroom instead of lockers, etc. This can set young teenagers up for an awkward transition to high school, as they have not had the gentle transition to lockers, longer class lengths, more moving around from class-to-class, and the lack of recess in middle school.
Pro: Increased Opportunities for Leadership
K-8 schools can be full of oppoutunities for the older children. With younger classrooms in the same school, there are more opportunities for mentoring younger students. The 6-8s can spend time helping younger children to read or spell in a way that fosters patience and understanding in the older students, and gives role models to the younger students.
Con: Increased Potential for Bullying
The flip side to the opportunity to mentor younger students, however, is the potential for an increase in the frequency and severity of bullying. Bullies prey on the weak and small to feel powerful, and middle school years are the prime years for bullying. In a middle school, the largest age difference possible is three years, whereas in a K-8 school bullies have children up to nine years younger to prey upon. Where a three year difference may result in bruises, a nine-year difference could easily result in severe, possibly life-threatening injuries. This is not a pleasant thing to think about, but it does happen, and middle schools prevent this horrific sort of bullying by narrowing the age gap between students.
Although some may treasure thoughts of “letting kids be kids” for as long as possible, the truth is that children do grow up, and adults owe it to them to let them do it in stages so they do not become overwhelmed. If the decision is made to switch to K-8 schools there must be measures in place to make sure the older children are not treated like “little kids” and are slowly given more trust and responsibility to avoid a worse culture shock when they enter high school.