How does all this affect sixth graders?
There is a significant body of empirical academic research about middle schools and how they affect sixth graders.
All of this research comes to the same conclusion that academic achievements for sixth graders in middle school diminish compared to their peers in K-6 and K-8 and these kids have more emotional and behavioral issues then their counterparts.
Our administration has communicated that the negative impacts on sixth grade performance and behavior noted in research from Harvard's Kennedy School, Duke University, UC Santa Barbara and Columbia University may not apply to our students. If our district is going to avoid the pitfalls associated with the middle school model and beat the odds, then much more research needs to be done. If we rush to implement this plan by September we have less chance to become the exception to the rule.
Independent academic research points specifically to the transition that sixth graders make when going to middle school as being a critical problem. Our current fourth graders, who are going to have their schools closed, are going to make two transitions in two years. This could have a long-term impact on their performance and their confidence.
Many parents have told me that they prefer the middle school model because the three years in middle school will foster more parent involvement. There is a concern that two years at the junior high is not long enough to engage the parents. Are we more concerned about parental involvement than student learning and behavioral outcomes? If we are looking for more parent involvement in the junior high, let's address that specific problem.
Successful middle schools require more money per student to optimize the program for sixth graders. A move to middle school should be done when a district is flush with cash not the other way around.
Lake Oswego may well be the exception to the overwhelming trend disclosed in the academic research, but the only way such exceptionalism might happen is if we study carefully how other districts have implemented middle school and avoid the pitfalls they've fallen into. We may determine also that we would like to wait until our district finances are better before opting for this big programmatic change.
An accelerated program of analysis and implementation in less than six months is not likely to achieve this goal, or be a fair test of whether Lake Oswego students might benefit from a middle school setting.
Nicole Seawright is a resident of Lake Oswego.