Experts disagree on middle schools City plan pushes uniform 6-8 setup

December 11, 1992|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Education experts disagree on whether middle schools ar the best way to educate students in grades six through eight.

Research shows that separate middle schools can best serve the needs of young adolescents, Norman J. Walsh, the school planning official in charge of preparing the plan, told the Baltimore school board last night.

He noted that students at that age need specialized equipment, materials and trained staff to explore future career and academic opportunities, as they prepare for high school.

"It would be very costly -- prohibitively costly -- to provide that same opportunity at all of our elementary schools," he said, responding to those who prefer K-8 schools.

Dr. Walsh conceded that students at Baltimore's K-8 schools "tend to be performing better" than those at its middle schools. But he added that some middle school students elsewhere in the state "are performing as well, or better, than students in . . . our K-8 schools."

"There is nothing inherently better in a K-8 grade organization plan," he said.

Experts at the Johns Hopkins University, meanwhile, said the arrangement of grade levels is less important than the specifics of a school's educational program.

"A good program for those ages can be run in a school of any grades," said James McPartland, co-director of the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Hopkins.

More important are such factors as well-trained staff and whether students are helped in making the transition to middle school. But he noted that an increasing number of the nation's districts are moving toward separate middle schools.

And Mr. McPartland said Baltimore is seen as a leader in the middle school movement, saying the city has a number of outstanding middle schools, including Calverton and Northeast.

"The fight about grade spans is often a mask for other political concerns for parents," he said.

School board members, meanwhile, say they are open-minded about the plan to break up K-8 schools.

Board member Redmond C. S. Finney said educators will look hard at the potential of separate middle schools.

"You can deliver the needs in a K-8 model; you also can deliver them in the middle school," he said.

John S. Ward, another board member, was skeptical about claims that K-8 schools are superior.

"It all depends on how we define success," he said. "If you're saying, 'I'm the best of mediocrity,' I don't think you're saying very much.

"The hope is the new middle school program will enhance all of the students."

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