Maggie Gallagher notes that New York (along with Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia and many other urban school districts) is shutting down failing public middle schools and moving back to the old K-8 model. She thinks it is a terrific idea with all kinds of social and educational benefits. I tend to agree but, as a product of a K-8 system, I reserve the right to a certain amount of skepticism. It sounds good in theory but, like all systemic fixes, it requires a certain amount of fortitude on the part of administrators to keep it in line with the theory.
At my Catholic K-8 school in a small town in Ohio, there was plenty of the adolescent angst Gallagher describes. It came from all the usual suspects--disturbed families, lax discipline, flaky teachers, innate naughtiness, hormones. Still, on the whole, I suppose we were better off than some of our public school friends in the mega middle schools.
My kids school has a unique system that came about more as a function of necessity than of thought, I suspect. But I am hopeful about it. The school is a Christian K-8 school but, starting in 3rd through 5th grade the kids go to a different (but nearby) campus. Many of the parents complain about having to drive between the two, but I think it may be worth the extra gas. The effect (I hope) is to keep the so-called "middle school" or "Jr. High" students among the very young students (K-2) rather than among the more impressionable 3-5 students. It seems to work. The Jr. High kids look after rather than torment their very young peers and the kids on the other campus do not have the pressure of trying to act like the older kids. They are off to themselves and still get to act like kids.
Of course, this is all very theoretical at this point. My daughter will be a 3rd grader next year. Then I will see if the theory holds up.