K8 crisis molders on

Over the last school year, Carole Smith’s staff held a series of community meetings in response to outrage over the district’s complete lack of planning and funding for the K8 transition. As of the last meeting, held at the end of May, district staff painted a much rosier picture of things, with library staff at eight of 30 K8s remaining a significant gap.

Funding 2-4 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) positions to fill this gap (a half time or full time classified library assistant for each of the eight schools) from a half a billion dollar budget, didn’t seem too onerous at the time.

Another meeting was suggested for the summer, but it never materialized.

Now, as we begin the new school year, we find five K8 schools still have no library staff. We also continue to see many schools with only one class (if that) of a given middle grade year, which means staffing is bare-bones at best.

Many eighth grade students, whom we are supposedly trying to prepare for the high school transition, are spending their days in a single elementary school classroom, with a single teacher for most subjects, and a cohort of 25-30 students. They are not choosing electives, managing their time between classes, learning to deal with varied teaching styles, or learning to deal with other types of students (K8s, since they draw on much smaller geographic attendance areas, are significantly more segregated by class and race than middle schools).

K8s that were created out of middle schools appear much better off — middle grade students have lockers, change classes, and have a variety of electives to choose from. But that’s only a small number of K8s. Most of the K8s created from elementary schools simply don’t have — nor will they ever have — the economies of scale to offer the kind of breadth and depth of curriculum that a middle school can offer.

So even if we pour some real money into making K8 schools work (something we’re certainly not doing, and there doesn’t seem to be any money coming), we’re still looking at a model that is clearly not well-suited to preparing all students for high school.

Some students may benefit from a smaller cohort and the closer attention of a single teacher to get them through the difficult middle school years. But there is something fundamentally broken with a model that sees radically reduced opportunity at most K8s, and the distribution of middle schools, offering significantly more opportunity and high school preparation, mainly in middle class, white neighborhoods.

School board director Ruth Adkins has spoken of having a middle school option in every cluster, something I have advocated for here (the Jefferson and Madison clusters do not have middle schools). But other board members seem hesitant. One told me privately that this idea was premature, since “we don’t know how many clusters there are going to be.”

The lack of urgency on this crisis is troubling. Superintendent Carole Smith has correctly identified the transition from middle school to high school as a critical phase of a student’s career. But at the same time, her administration has pushed a middle school model that can clearly make this transition more difficult for many at-risk students.

There are school board members like Adkins, who was not on the board when the K8 transition was approved, and Sonja Henning, who voted against the K8 transition, who could take the lead on making sure we have a comprehensive middle school option for every student in every cluster. Since K8s seem to have fallen off the radar, now would be a good time for them to step up and push on this.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.


Libraries: an equity index

Neighborhood middle schools no library staff: 0
Of 30 neighborhood K8 schools, number with no library staff: 4
High schools with no library staff: 1 (Young Women’s Academy)
High schools with no certified media specialist (librarian): 3 (Marshall campus, Roosevelt campus, Young Women’s Academy)
Library staff at each of Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln High Schools: 3

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.