Middle School vs. Junior High


School daze!

Whatever happened to Junior High Schools (grades 7 and 8)? Why is the educrat-tional establishment all in for Middle School instead (defined these days as grades 6-8?)  The main result of this would seem to be turning the worst two years of kids’ lives into the worst three years of their lives.

Sixth graders should be in elementary school, not exposed to the social and romantic/sexual issues of the Junior High set.  A preliminary search of the peer reviewed and non-peer reviewed internets suggests that there’s no demonstrable advantage to the Middle School model.  (Any of you with particular expertise in this–please weigh in!)

But my perspective now is simply, why extend the misery over three years?

28 thoughts on “Middle School vs. Junior High

  1. My school (which is single sex for k-8) does Middle School for Girls 5-8 and Middle School for Boys 6-8. We are moving to a hybrid model of a 5-6 program (which would still have a homeroom teacher but move classrooms for most classes) and a 7-8 program. Some sports teams and activities (track, cross-country, baseball, robotics, and drama 7-8) are co-ed and some are not. You can’t go to a dance until 7th grade. My sense of the MS model is that it’s mostly financial. It’s hard to run a Junior High for just two grades. And a separate MS would have been a dream when I was attending a Jr.-Sr. High School.


  2. I have two sixth graders, and their middle school is sixth through eighth grades. They had outgrown the elementary school model of staying in one classroom with one teacher even before 5th grade was over and were ready to move on to a larger experience, but it is weird to have them stuck in the same school with the 7th and 8th graders, who are a large leap ahead of them in maturity, particularly the 8th graders. My kids go to the school dances, but at their age they aren’t having romantic ideas and it seems like the sixth graders are kind of in their own category, too old for elementary and too young for almost-high school. It’s a strange in-between time.


  3. Linden nails it: As Alice says in a production of the Alice in Wonderland opera I saw in February at the L.A. Philharmonic: “It’s always too late, it’s always too soon.” It’s never right now!

    I know what you mean about outgrowing the single-teacher model. My 5th grade in elementary school (OK, 36 years ago) did a cool thing, wherein there were 3 5th-grade teachers and they each taught the subjects that were their strengths. So, one teacher covered science and health; another teacher social studies; a third teacher math. I think they all taught reading and writing.

    I’ve wondered about the middle school model as being a financial solution rather than a pedagogical one, as Western Dave points out. It’s also useful in a demographic dip to have three grades in one building rather than just two.


  4. No thoughts, but I don’t think this is a new thing. I attended a middle school in the mid-1980s (and the phenomenon wasn’t brand-new then).

    You’re right, though, that my experience of sixth grade was very different from my experience of 7th & 8th. I was still pretty happy–and not obviously weird–in sixth grade!


  5. Are you sure this is a new thing? I think it’s regional. My middle school was 6-8 and that was back in the stone age before Reagan was president. It’s going to be a rough transition regardless when it happens.


  6. Some of the stuff I found online (via my incredibly honed research skills of typing “Middle School versus Junior High” into the Google. This paper has some data on the acceleration of the middle school trend post-2000.


  7. The middle school movement hit right when I started… middle school.

    Mostly (and this is just my theory, not based on any actual research) I think it was driven by cohort-size changes. The baby-boomlet hitting schools after the baby bust (which resulted in elementary schools being sold off), and it was easier to repurpose schools than to build new ones. Then after the movement took hold, it was easier to build new K-4 or K-5 elementary schools rather than put things back to junior highs.


  8. The district I grew up in went through phases:
    1950s-60s: elementary schools were 1-6, high school was 7-12
    1970-1990s: elementary schools 1-4, middle school 5-8, high school 9-12
    Since 2000: elementary schools 1-3, intermediate school 4-5, junior high 6-8, high school 9-12

    I have no idea what the theory is behind the change, just reporting the data. I didn’t actually go to the elementary or middle schools, because I spent those years at a K-8 Catholic school, with one classroom per grade.


  9. My town in Massachusetts switched from a Junior High to a Middle School right after I finished junior high and entered high school in 1989. As far as I know, they’ve stayed with the middle school model ever since. Then again, my town was weird – there were 2 elementary schools for different sides of the town, each of which went up to 5th grade, and then 6th grade from the entire town was housed in its own building. When they made 6th grade part of the middle school, 5th grade went into the building where 6th grade had been. Nowadays, there are 3 different elementary schools for 3 different sections of town. Hey, it’s Massachusetts – schools are run separately for each town (with 2 or 3 towns grouping together if they are really small), and each town shifts which schools different grades are in based on a combination of class sizes, available space, financial considerations, and which model is in fashion at the moment.

    In my town, I think the initial move to a middle school 26 years ago may have been prompted by small class sizes from the “baby bust” years allowing for fitting 3 classes into buildings originally made for 2. When the classes started getting larger again in the 90s, they had to add a new wing onto the middle school.


  10. I’m a farty old boomer. We had Junior High but it was 7 through 9. When I started hearing “middle school” in the 80s I thought it was some kind of private elite prep school thing. High school was 10 through 12. The idea of not having the glory and power that is being in the ninth grade at a junior high still seems weird to me.


  11. Yeah, I went to school in Utah, where high school is STILL 10-12, and junior high school is 7-9. It is so great to be in 9th at a middle school instead of being a lowly freshman. By the time you’re a sophomore no one much cares and you don’t really get picked on. I think it’s a great way to divide up the kids. My kids will be going to middle school in 6th grade and I think it’s too young.


  12. I was one of those who went through a junior high that was 7-9. Then middle school emerged. Back in the mid 90s, the place I lived decided to do away with middle school, and make all schools k-8. That worked ok, I think. The one I knew best had the bottom two floors for K-4, then 5 & 6 on one floor and 7 & 8 on the top.

    My experience is that middle school/ junior high is the most intellectually and socially fraught. I’ve heard “the middle schools are terrible” in many different places. My guess is that reorganization is driven by the vain hope that there is a structural solution. I knew a woman who taught 7th grade, and she said it used to be the last time kids felt free to just be curious, but that she thought that was owing back to 6th grade. This is at least 20 years ago.


  13. @Susan, based on the reading of the research my mom did back when she was on school board (~20 years ago), the K-8 model had the best outcomes for students. But I don’t know how well-controlled that research was. (It wasn’t physically/financially feasible for the district though.)


  14. Anecdotal observation: K-8 schools seem to inculcate more of a spirit of caring and leadership among the older children, perhaps because they’re going to school with really little kids & not just kids a few years younger than them. (Then again, a lot of K-8 schools are sectarian/parochial, not public, so that might also be an important part of the mix.)

    I think Susan is right; it may just be the age, but maybe asking the older middle-schoolers to be mindful of the examples they set is a good thing for them and for their immediately junior students.


  15. Ann, I think you’re right. Even in an inner city public school, it makes a difference when you see a teacher every day who taught you in say, 1st grade… If I recall correctly, my god-daughters school actually had the older kids working with the younger ones…


  16. If by “caring and leadership”, you mean being bullied and then bullying in turn, then yes. Prepubescent humans are basically sociopaths, and should not be mixed in with small children. I speak from experience.


  17. I’m sorry!

    I have seen it work against bullying, but mostly in a v. small school (only around 200 students total, K-8, where all the kids know each other’s names & lots of siblings in school too.)


  18. We’ve got some K-8 public schools here (bizarrely they’re called centers instead of schools). The K-5 kids are in a different building from the 6-8 graders, so bullying seems to be pretty limited, at least between those two groups But the staff overlap and it seems to make a big difference. My son moved to middle school this year, and he still hasn’t adjusted.


  19. When I went into middle school (7th grade) there were still a number of delightful traditions in place at my girls private school where 7th graders were required to be the “slaves” for the senior class. Yes, they called it that.

    Fortunately there was something called the civil rights movement happening and my class rebelled, which meant for a time there was actually violence — heads in toilet bowls, gum in books, being put upside down in large trash cans, and whatnot.

    So I have always presumed that it was about separating 6-8th graders from the high school evil doers.


  20. Loved that: changing the worst two years of your life into the worst three years of your life.

    Some schools in California are trying a “mindfulness” component to each day. Oddly, it actually seems to help….


  21. I’se an old fart, and the system was elementary school (K-6), junior high (7-9), and high school (10-12).

    If junior high could have been made less painful through reorganization, that would have been nice.


  22. Thank you for writing about this. I grew up with Junior High (7-9) and High School (10-12) and thought those age groupings worked well. I really detest the middle school model – I feel it pushes 6th graders into the teenage atmosphere prematurely.


  23. I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago during the 1980s. I went to Springman Junior High School in Glenview, IL.1988-1990 – 7th and 8th grades. I had never even heard the term “middle school” until we moved to Lake County IL in the mid 90s and my younger brother went to middle school there.
    Oddly enough, my old Junior High became Springman Middle School. How absolutely lame.

    Liked by 1 person

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