For nearly nine decades, Buckley’s basic grade level configuration as an elementary school has remained unchanged. The wisdom of our school’s founders and the power of their enduring vision are evident in the everyday experience of the Buckley students.
In 2006, two extensive reports were released supporting the case for K-8 schools: “Mayhem in the Middle; How middle schools have failed America—and how to make them work” (Fordham Institute), and “Focus on the Wonder Years; Challenges facing the American middle school” (Rand Education). Both reports note the visible drop in achievement between the fourth and eighth grades, quoting research evidencing that “students in K-8 schools scored significantly higher than their middle school counterparts on standardized achievement measures in reading, language arts, and math.” The researchers in both reports argue that “middle schoolism” downplays academic achievement and students’ acquisition of essential academic skills and knowledge. The Fordham Report concludes that, “There is clear evidence that the K-8 model has a significant positive effect on academic achievement, openness to learning, and student behavior.”
In K-8 schools, eighth graders are given early leadership opportunities and held to high standards of behavior. When Buckley eighth graders deliver their speeches in front of the entire school community (in particular, their younger peers), the depth of their reflections and the overall level of maturity that comes from being looked upon as seniors are quite evident. A cover story in Time magazine about “Being 13” (“Is Middle School Bad for Kids?”) reports that in K-8 schools “the older grades become mentors and tutors to the younger kids, giving them a sense of responsibility that may not happen in middle school.”
At the same time, not having to succumb to the pressures of a high school atmosphere helps preserve a healthy level of innocence and a nurturing environment, a place where children can take their time to grow. At Buckley, the watchful presence and obvious pride of former lower school teachers provide Buckley students with invaluable support throughout their upper school years.
When entering a school in kindergarten, it is impossible for parents to know which type of high school will be the best fit for their children. The process of reevaluating the best and most suitable secondary school options at the end of eighth grade, at a time when the students are actually ready for the transition, is a unique and special experience provided in K-8 schools. Over the years, I have seen many families opt for schools that they never thought would have met their needs and expectations when their children were in the fourth or fifth grade. The sense of self and seriousness of purpose that students develop during the secondary school placement process is remarkable.
School size is also critical in a child's development. As child psychologist Michael Thompson pointed out, “If I could design psychologically safe schools, every elementary school in the United States would go from Kindergarten through eight and would be no larger than four hundred children.”
K-8 schools may have found a solution to the lower achievement and behavioral challenges in middle schools. They have successfully eliminated the entire middle school concept.