The demise of middle schools?

On Saturday, April 10th, Baltimore City held its first ever Middle School Fair, where 5th graders this year have been able to choose from any school in the city which to attend next year. Note that some local weights are given to choices, and not every student will get their top pick. This new practice follows close on the heels of all high schools in the city recently becoming citywide ‘schools of choice’, instead of the old pattern where a few magnet or vocational high schools existed but most students attended their comprehensive neighborhood high school.

In looking through the city schools’ web guide to “Middle School Choice” and the brochure (pdf) used to advertise/inform about the new policy, I noticed that the trend of closing middle schools over the last few years has continued, and only five middle schools remain in the city! That is why I wonder if middle schools as a concept are disappearing from the Baltimore landscape.

When I began teaching four years ago at Patterson, a large neighborhood high school in southeast Baltimore, I asked my incoming ninth graders which middle schools they had attended. Highlandtown Middle, a common background for many of my students, was shut down that year. Canton Middle, from which many other Patterson students have come, began to be phased out around the same time and closed its doors at the end of my third year teaching. You may remember the controversy from wealthy neighbors about Baltimore’s decision to open a new school in Canton’s place. Southeast Middle, another former ‘feeder’ middle school for us, has since been closed too. Many of these schools, as well as those middle schools that have closed on the west side or northern parts of the city, have closed due to low test scores and/or citations as being persistently dangerous. This year, four more middle schools are being closed, leaving Baltimore with only five left in the entire city!

Of the five middle schools (grades 6-8) that remain, one is a charter school, while four are traditional neighborhood middle schools. Of those four, three are slated for some form of corrective action or improvement for next year, due to low test scores and low enrollment. Two are being partnered with an outside agency, and another is becoming a themed middle school while “increas[ing] the academic rigor” [quote from this article]. If these corrective actions do not result in large enough student gains in test scores, will those schools be closed too, leaving Baltimore’s school system without any middle?

So what is to become of the middle grades? Baltimore for a number of years has had, alongside its elementary school and middle school paths, a system of K-8 ‘elementary-middle schools’. These are still in place, where students stay in the same (hopefully nurturing) environment through their eighth grade year, then choose a high school. But the big new development promoted by Dr. Alonso, what has been replacing the middle schools over the last two years, is ‘transformation schools’.  These are grades 6-12 combination middle-high schools. My expectation is that, within a few years’ time, Baltimore will have two parallel systems, one with K-8 schools + choosing a standard 9-12 high school, and the other with K-5 traditional elementary schools + choosing a transformation 6-12 school.

As a Career & Tech Ed (CTE) teacher trying to recruit students into the fantastic engineering program at my (formerly-neighborhood) high school, these changes make it tougher to find students, especially since our program starts in the tenth grade. All of our feeder middle schools are closed, so the natural track into our school is gone, and we no longer have a large pool of ninth graders at our school from which to recruit into the 10th-12th grade engineering pathway. We have always sent representatives to the high school choice fair, but more clearly needs to be done to reach students at the eighth grade level or earlier.

So one thing we have been working on, today and tomorrow [our last day of school – hooray!], is preparing letters and information packets to send out. We plan on sending these tomorrow to every one of the few remaining middle schools, and to the K-8 schools. We figure it would be impolite to try and poach students from out the 6-12 schools :^) We’re hoping this will help spread the word about our engineering program, since many schools do not yet know of the great things we do. If we can find the time and resources, we would love to do follow-up visits to middle and K-8 schools next fall, bringing a group of students and some engineering projects to demonstrate to and interact with the kids!

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4 Comments

Filed under engineering, teaching

4 responses to “The demise of middle schools?

  1. I’m not sure where you’re coming up with only one middle school charter schools. Off the top of my head there are 2 charter middle schools pretty close to you – Afya and Crossroads. Then there are the K-8 charters like City Neighbors and Patterson Park.

    Another type of school is the elementary/middle where the two schools co-exist, but the middle school has a different zone than the elementary and is much bigger. Roland Park follows that model.

    As far as “poaching” from transformation schools goes, I think if there are students that are unhappy enough to consider transfering you’d be doing them, and their school, a favor by recruiting them.

    • nyates314

      My numbers for middle schools came from the brochure (pdf) I linked, which does not list Afya nor Crossroads. I wonder why they are not listed: perhaps they don’t accept students through the standard middle school choice system but through other recruitment/application efforts? It’s certainly possible there’s others I missed for the same reasons.

      You’re right, some of the K-8’s or 6-12’s may be divided; at my school we even have a separate academy for 9th graders before they choose an upper academy.

      We stuffed 73 envelopes yesterday (can you believe there are 68 elementary-middle schools by my count – wow!), including City Neighbors & Patterson Park, though we’ll hold off on sending them until mid-August. Thanks for the heads-up on Afya & Crossroads; I’ll make sure they get a letter & brochure too!

      • I think one reason they weren’t in the 2nd rev of the brochure was that the application deadline and selection process has already finished for charters. I thought I saw them listed in the 1st brochure that came out, not that I can find it now.

        This is the list of charter schools from the City Schools website. Keep in mind though that some of the schools are listed as stopping at a certain grade, but that data might be out of date. For example I know that in the 2010-2011 school year there will be an 8th grade at Afya and a 6th grade at Montesori.

        008-City Spring School (preK-8)
        023-Wolfe Street Academy (preK-5)
        025-Dr. Rayner Browne Academy (preK-8)
        047-Hampstead Hill Academy (preK-8)
        063-Rosemont (preK-8)
        097-Collington Square School (preK-8)
        262-Empowerment Academy (preK-8)
        321-Midtown Academy (K-8)
        323-The Crossroads School (6-8)
        324-KIPP Ujima Academy (5-8)
        325-ConneXions (6-12)
        326-City Neighbors Charter (K-8)
        327-Patterson Park (K-8)
        328-Southwest Charter (K-5)
        329-Inner Harbor East (Pre-K-7)
        330-Northwood Appold Community Academy (K-5)
        331-MATHS (Maryland Academy of Technology and Health Sciences) (6-11)
        332-The Green School (K-5)
        333-Independence School Local 1 (9-12)
        334-Bluford Drew Jemison MST (6-8)
        335-Baltimore International Academy (K-7)
        336-Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School (preK-5)
        337- Afya Public Charter School (6-7)
        346-City Neighbors Hamilton (K-3)
        347- KIPP Harmony (K)
        423-Baltimore Freedom Academy (6-12)
        432-Coppin Academy (9-12)

  2. Pingback: High School Fair « Maryland Math Madness

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