There are so many different issues mixed together in the comparison of middle school vs. K-8 that I think it all boils down to irrelevance. In the end, it is probably much more a matter of execution than design. A school that is well run works better, whether students stay there for nine years or only three.
The trauma of these school transitions sounds pretty over-dramatized to me. The kind of transitions that are really harmful are those experienced by transient (typically low income) families that move frequently from district to district, or different schools within a district, or back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. I donít know if those are addressed in the paper referenced as endnote 25 in the paper to which you linked.
I know that administrators make a big deal about attempting to acclimate freshmen into high school, but I find it really hard to see it as such a big deal. Similarly, if all the kids from my elementary school are feeding into a middle school, itís not like Iím alone in the wilderness or stuck in a crowd of strangers. I know that personal anecdotes donít generalize, but, hey itís a blooki, right? So I will share that I attended six different schools for grades K-8. My family never moved. We just lived in a rural area outside town, so we were going to be bused wherever we went. Whenever a school on our side of town got a new addition built, we got bused there. Sure I had a number of bad first days or first weeks at school, but all the kids on my bus route went through the same thing. No one treated us as transient outsiders or kids who needed to be hazed or something to join the school. We just went to school. No big deal.
Last school year, my wife and I were both working, so we put our younger daughter in an all-day pre-school. She was four at the beginning, so there were some transitional problems. Thereafter, she was fine. This school year, she has started at the public school. We did our best to prepare her, andÖguess what?...sheís doing well. Is this unusual? Of course not. If a five-year-old can go from a private pre-school to a public school with zero classmates in common, I really think the major source of middle schooler traumaó-when all their classmates transition right along with themó-is due to everybody warning them that itís a big deal. Itís a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I can certainly see that itís much different for parents, especially if teachers belligerently keep parents out. Even without that, the fact that there isnít one, clear homeroom teacher with which to interface makes it harder for parents. The upside, though, is that middle school and high school accommodate more tracking and electives. So, youíve got to take the good with the bad.
So, to me, the question is much more about when students transition away from the homeroom-centric model to the subject-oriented class model. Whether that takes place in the same building as elementary school or not strikes me as a minor factor. Of course, you can probably get lots of research grants to study it, and administrators can look like theyíre doing something if they change the status quo to the opposite.
-- DanK - 10 Sep 2005