K8 crisis molders on

8:06 am

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.

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

filed under: Equity, K-8 Transistion

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5 Responses

  1. Comment from Lakeitha:

    I just found out that the two sixth grade classes at Vernon have been combined into one class.
    Such a sad situation for students stuck in these elemiddle schools.

  2. Comment from anon:

    [“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.”]

    Don’t you see that PPS has already made the decision to phase out the “Madison cluster” and “Jefferson cluster?” I recall a PPS staff person (Mincberg?), during the districtwide reconfiguration meetings, saying that once students leave their neighborhood cluster for middle school they rarely return for high school. Where are the Jefferson 6-8th grade students? Not at Vernon, Humboldt, etc. Not at the Jefferson Young Men’s Academy: Willy Week is reporting 33 students enrolled for the whole academy! Also, consider that Beaumont in the Grant cluster has only one neighborhood elementary feeder school (Alameda). Half the students or more come from outside the neighborhood, many that I know of are from the Jefferson cluster. Also, remember the Whitaker-Lakeside fiasco – a Jefferson/Madison middle school. Remeber the documented PPS plan from 2002 to remove programs and enrollment from successful the Tubman Middle School program. Mission accomplished. Consider also that the Jefferson cluster has a K-8 Spanish Immersion program, but no spanish immersion program (or much else) at the high school level). The Jefferson cluster’s spanish immersion students are officially assigned to another cluster for high school. The Madison cluster has a similar story going back to Whitaker, and Meek.

    Of course PPS won’t call them closures when the do it. Just like the closure of Rose City Park was called a “merger” with Gregory Heights. If the PCC bond passes, expect Jefferson to be “merged” with PCC.

    Steve, I’m glad you are moving away from the “make the K8 model work” approach and starting to push the “let’s have a middle school in every cluster” message. Unfortunately I think you’re a little late.

  3. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    From the very first K8 meeting I attended (at Humboldt early ths year), I called for a middle school option in every cluster. (You can see this on cable channel 28 from time to time; this got a pretty good round of applause.)

    But in the meantime, and even if we get that, we’ve got to make sure we’re not totally short-changing the middle grade students stuck in “elemiddle” schools (thanks for that, Lakeitha!).

  4. Comment from ohme:

    Let us not forget the impact on the k-2 children in these k-8’s. We are dealing with a much shorter lunch period (36 minutes total) because that is how long it needs to be for 6-8 to be in compliance for instructional time. That gives 5/6 year olds less than 15 minutes to eat (once they wait in line 5-10 minutes), take 5 minutes to walk across a huge middle school building to the play structure, then maybe play for 6 minutes. Scheduling for the little ones to get music and PE has been shortchanged to make room for 45 minute 7-8 grade periods in PE, art, technology, etc…we are almost like 2 separate schools (k-6/7-8) in one building, with different schedules and rules (we escort k-6 kids around the building, 7-8 do not). Nobody is really happy in this situation. In addition, we were promised small k-8 (400-600 students). Some k-8 are above 700…once again, parents, teachers, communities were lied to.

  5. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Thanks for bringing this up. I had meant to touch on some of this in the original post. While K8s were at one time sold as a way to get more “enrichment” for K5 kids, the opposite is true. Schools have added three grades, but have not typically added any more FTE to “enrichment” teachers.

    Guess what that means? Less music, PE, art, library, etc. for all students in these schools than they would otherwise have in K5 and 6-8 schools.