My Turn: Maybe Concord doesn’t need a middle school
There is an ominous silence coming from the halls and corridors in the Dewey School. That is not good news. While a new academic school year is beginning and a fresh generation of students is entering new grades, the school board is quietly burnishing the plans for a new middle school to replace the aging Rundlett Middle School.
There will be the usual public meetings to placate those of us who are growing weary of more and more school board property tax increases. The board will trot out all of the dire warnings that it is imperative to replace that school with a new, multi-million-dollar building designed to meet the challenges of the 21st-century educational experience. Translated, that means that they will again raise your property taxes.
Many progressive educators now believe that American middle schools (grades seven and eight) are educational wastelands with tradition-bound concepts that may need to be revisited. They served a noble function in the last century as junior high schools by providing practical courses in home economics and industrial arts, in addition to the usual core educational disciplines. Many students in that century could succeed in adult life with only a high school education, and junior high provided them with important learning opportunities.
Today, some students languish in middle school, where they struggle academically and emotionally (bullying is in crisis in many middle schools) while more gifted students that may be under-challenged get bored with the curriculum and want to move on to high school.
A 2012 Harvard University study confirmed that compared to K-8 or K-12 schools, students in middle schools did much poorer on achievement tests. The report went on to say that academic achievement losses were as much as four to seven months of learning. Also, middle school teachers often have little time to establish important educational relationships with students before the students move on to high school.
It may be time for the Concord School Board to consider eliminating our middle school.
According to the New England Common Assessment Program exam scores, Rundlett ranks 62nd out of 129 middle schools in New Hampshire. The huge costs to operate a stand-alone middle school can be as much as an expensive private school, and the educational benefits may be marginal or nonexistent.
Moving pre-teen students directly to high school will benefit both students and faculty. Four years of high school may not be enough to help challenged students prepare to succeed in later life. Judging by the number of remedial literacy classes at colleges, it is apparent that four years of high school are not working well in today’s public school environment.
Even the U.S. military is having difficulty recruiting academically qualified high school applicants. Adult success should be the focus of a well-developed high school curriculum.
The Concord School Board prides itself on being progressive, as demonstrated by committing considerable resources to build three new grade schools. Our school student census is down and now is the perfect opportunity to make a 21st-century leap into the future of modern education and begin a discussion on the merits of eliminating our middle school and transferring those assets and resources to our other schools.
(Jim Baer lives in Concord.)