That seeks an answer to an educational question

We’ve performed The Boston Tea Party in more schools than I can remember this school year. We’ve performed in numerous middle schools, the occasional junior high, tons of elementary schools, and even a couple of high schools (not The Bureau’s best booking work there). Now, most of these schools have been great and I completely related to the educational environment. This past Thursday’s school got me thinking about a type of school we’ve seen a tiny bit of: the lower elementary school (and its partner the upper elementary school).

This is a type of school that was completely foreign to my childhood education. In my nice suburban Kansas City district we had elementary (K-6), junior high (7 & 8), and high school. Middle schools (6-8) were around and I was aware of them, but didn’t have any real experience with them. And of course I had heard of and even visited some “1 room schoolhouses” and other K-12s in small rural areas.

I make the following observations based on exactly zero expertise, but a lot of interest in why these decisions are made. All of the above school structure systems seems to make sense to me. Younger kids experiencing education basically from one teacher and older kids getting more specialized instruction from multiple instructors. It also makes sense to me on a social interaction basis–kids of relatively like age learning together. But, when you break this up even further and start at a younger age, what does the cost / benefit analysis look like?

Lower elementary schools have only K-2 (or K-3), while upper elementary is 3-5 (or 4-6). These schools are set up in the same way as far as daily schedule and basic environment. Students have one classroom teacher, with special instructors for PE, music, etc. in both schools. The school day is the same length. In fact, in our last school, they had just changed to a lower elementary. The year before, both elementary schools were K-5. This year one is K-2 and the other 3-5. The only apparent difference seems to be that really young students are separated from the merely young students. Why?

You can, of course, come up with many reasons: combining teacher and material resources more efficiently, separating young students from bullies and other potential social problems, maybe students learn better in this more like age concentration.

I can also think of things that I really liked about the old, traditional set up: being a 6th grader was important and empowering and just a cool thing to finally acheive, interacting with older (and younger) kids has great educational value, a more diverse student body allows for broad social development.

Now, since I have no formal education in any of these areas, only speaking through my observation as a special instructor, I don’t which of my assumptions are true and which are merely my assumptions. Do kids really learn better amongst a narrow age group? Is social development actually better for those who experience a large student body when in school? Can a school district really save time and money by further narrowing a school’s student body?

Looking back, I don’t think I would have liked lower and upper elementary as much as I liked my own elementary school. But maybe that’s just an assumption.

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2 Comments

Filed under Education, Social Behaviour

2 responses to “That seeks an answer to an educational question

  1. I can’t speak to the rest of the world, but in the one case I’m familiar with blipey, the reasoning was actually one of practicality.

    The district in question needed a new high school due to over-crowding, so they built a new one. The middle school was also getting cramped, so they moved it into the old high school. The elementary school was swelling as well, so they split it in two and moved the older half of the elementary kids into the old middle school.

    It worked out really well, as the district built one new building and alleviated over-crowding in three schools.

  2. Wyoming

    Three things come to mind 1) utilization of facilities, 2) homogenous student body, and 3) efficiency in staffing.

    In a facility that has say a K-6 student body the needs of the youngest students are very much different than the 6th-grader. For instance the physical activity needed by the kindergartner is much more sedte than that of the 6th-grader and a school can more easily accommodate a narrower grade range. newer schools are built for the very younger with lower counters, different hardware on doors, different restroom configurations and fixtures, as well as classroom set-up. Students of similar ages can also be provided similar programs. An assembly for K-2 is more easily set up than one that will interest K-6 students. Playground activities are more readily provided, etc. The primary reason is that staff can be better used by having a like age group in a building or at least a separate wing. Teachers are better teachers when they work as a team. Those schools that have stduents moving from classroom to classroom as they are ready (when the learning curve has started to flatten out) are more challenging and teacher are more comfortable in having to students leave or enter their classrooms when they are part of a team (pod) providing instruction that is similar in form though not content. Teachers are also able to help each other in dealing with a wider range of educational preparedness. Students coming into a school are at all levels of readiness for school. Some aren’t yet potty trained while others are practically raising themselves. Some are reading and some don’t know where the front of a bood is. As schools have a chance to acculturate students, the benefits of homogenous grouping diminishes.

    The socialization issue is the only problem I see with small grade ranges. Being able to handle themselves in situations involving older/younger, weaker/stronger, and more knowledgeable/less knowledgeable kids is something that helps prepare kids for later life (I believe social skills have real carry over skills).

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