Walking to School in Jeopardy

Hi Readers — This is the first email I opened this morning, and the writer needs help. Can we come up with some great ideas for him beyond my blindingly obvious one: Remind the school district that walking is good for bodies, minds, souls and maybe even test scores?  Hope so! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a parent in a walking school district in Southern New Jersey and am interested in any help I can get from the Free-Range community.  Our school district is moving toward reconfiguring our three neighborhood elementary schools, each is K-6. The proposal is to reconfigure one school to K-2, the second will be 3rd and 4th grades, and the third 5th and 6th.

I am on a committee charged with investigating this concept and so far the only real benefits seem to be for teachers and administrators.  A major loss for parents and children is they will be forced to travel to schools beyond their neighborhoods, which will result in more children being driven — even those that once walked.  Plus, kids will change buildings three times during their elementary experience.  Can anyone give insights from personal experience regarding such a configuration, especially demonstrated educational benefits?  Please?

70 Responses

  1. Unfortunately, I don’t have any person experience to draw from to give any help. I just want to say this looks like a really, really bad idea. And I’m not sure how it would be beneficial to anyone, including the teachers and administrators.

  2. I would barrage them with research and resources. I don’t have any links handy, but there’s been plenty of research on this. Do some searches for:

    Safe Routes to School
    Complete the Streets
    Active Living by Design
    Healthy Communities

    Active Living by Design is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and they have nice downloadable materials. Obesity prevention and physical activity are two of the key things that RWJF funds.

    Also check out the CDC’s Prevention Research Centers. Several focus on obesity issues and might have some good research.

    It’s hard to argue with good research. There may also be good research from education foundations. Check out Education Weekly – you can get on their email list without being an educator. They do research, as well, and it could be worth it to get a paid subscription for access to their data.

    Good luck!

  3. The one obvious benefit I can see to this is having kids in smaller, more intimate school settings. I remember smaller schools making a big difference in my own education. However, I’m not sure how to weigh this against the disadvantages.

  4. Would they really be in a smaller setting? I mean, you’re taking all the K through 2nd grades from all three schools and shifting them into one school, then doing the same with all the 3rd and 4th graders in another school and the 5th and 6th in the last school. Seems to me there would a similar amount of kids in each school as before, just now the age range is more narrow.

  5. My daughter is not yet school-aged, but even as a barely-toddler I can see there have been major benefits in her having interactions with children older than she. As the above commenter stated, it’s hard to argue good research, and another area I am that must surely have been studied could be the effects that segregating the schoolchildren so dramatically by age would have on social development.

    From a Free-Range perspective, are the schools worried about big kids “playing too rough” with little kids? Wouldn’t it be better to teach kids how to play together and respect the different play-and learning styles/needs across ages?

  6. I know that some districts (I was a public ed teacher for 10 years) who had schools like that ended up going back to K-5 in ALL the elementary schools. I think your best bet is to tackle it from a budgeting perspective as most districts are currently experiencing budget deficits. Would the district have to provide busing if students were moved to a school that was x miles from home? What about safety of students as parents now have to drive students? What about traffic jams? Libraries? All the libraries will have to be reconfigured so that all the age appropriate books are move to the corresponding schools. Is there full day kindergarten? If not, there are usually twice as many kindergarten classes (morning and afternoon) so if you move them to the same school, you need twice as many classrooms to accommodate all the kindergarten students.

    I am sure there are some studies out there that would support your position. You can go to a public library and ask the librarian to help you get logged onto the ERIC database (a subscription database for educators/educational resources).

    Good luck!

  7. Here’s one quickie white paper with some good study results:

    Click to access ALR_Brief_ActiveTransport.pdf

  8. any idea what district in South Jersey this is, I live in Marlton (Evesham School District) if this is my district I would love to know and possibly help.



  9. While a more intimate school sounds lovely, by only having 2 grades in a building, the child’s village shrinks, it doesn’t really become more intimate.

    The Kindergarten teacher is no longer there to check in on a kid, now in 3rd grade, or mentor a child they already know well. There are no former teachers in the hallways to offer a bit of encouragement to a kid who is having a rough day, or give the look that reminds them to slow down or be kind. You can’t have cross grade reading buddies, or go to musical or artistic productions by other grades. Teachers would miss out on insight available from previous teachers on how best to work with a student new to their classroom.

    What the district is siting as benefits for the kids? Are they worth the trouble?

  10. When I was in third grade, I was informed I would be switching to a different elementary school in our district (for the GATE program). Up until then I had been going to school on the bus with all of my siblings and to a school that was less than a mile from our home. My first year at the new school was really hard. I didn’t know anyone, it was a much longer distance (especially those days I had to walk home) and I didn’t have the support of knowing my brother and sisters were just down the hall. I still took the same bus to the original school, but then I had to wait while everyone else got off and the other GATE kids got on. I know I wasn’t scarred for life, but it was a hard transition at first; I can’t imagine what it would have been like if they had told me I had to do it again.

  11. I think this sounds ridiculous, but finally! My usefulness as a reference librarian becomes apparent – I’ll do some searches and see what I find. Will email them to Lenore or post here.

  12. While I totally support the idea of promoting walking as a reason to keep the neighborhood schools, I have another tactic to consider. In our school district we are in the final stages of building a new middle school for grades 6-8 which will close a middle school for 5-6 and a junior high for 8-9, moving the 5th grade to the different elementary schools.

    The major reasoning our superintendent used to convince the community to support a bond to pay for the school was research that showed that changing school buildings brought test scores down. The upheaval (especially for younger children) of getting used to a new building with it’s differing rules and routines was enough to disrupt learning. He was able to prove this based on our district’s test scores, which showed a drop in the 5th, 7th, and 9th grades.

    Knowing him and how thorough he is, I’m sure he had done his background research and you could find the same studies to support your position.

  13. You need to go after numbers. We just fought this and won in our own school district, identical situation.

    Each school gets paid on a per student basis, if the configuration changes and parents are unhappy, they pull their kids from the school. Get a petition and have parent sign. Also have them annotate whether they intend to move their child if the school district follows through. For each kid that leaves, its $7500 (or whatever the going rate is in your school). Kid X 7500 = total dollars leaving the school

    Also, property values go down since no-one wants to live in a school area where it’s not AT LEAST K-6. Lower property values = lower taxes and revenue to the school.

    Then bring in obesity rates, test scores dropping, schools being the ‘heart’ of a neighborhood, etc.

    Good Luck!!

  14. Thank you all for your replies… insightful and passionate all.
    Here are some answers to some of your questions.

    This approach, called grade-spanning or horizontal integration, would produce approximately three to four classes per grade on average, with influence from student population fluctuations year to year. This is a really small Camden County district that is quite walkable, and currently has a large walking student population. The proposed configuration is in place at a half dozen or so districts nearby, in similar iterations. All of those that recently changed were faced with population increases, financial constraints, or both.

    Some purported benefits: district officials could combine very small classes at some schools (currently) providing population balance; provide an opportunity to mix the students among the multiple classes year to year thus broadening the friend mix; provide teachers an opportunity to plan/work on ciriculums; and largely to pool educational resources.

    In my group’s research we have been unable to pinpoint any demonstrated educational benefits for this configuration, versus our current. My wife and I are willing to re-organize our daily routine, albeit reluctantly, if we know this is in the best interest of the children, specifically regarding educational performance. Though we have an ideal walking situation currently and don’t want to give up our kids and neighbors walking together – in addition to all other related headaches.

    Again – your insights and resource references are much appreciated!

  15. there is a blurb on page 4 about this:

    Click to access trends2007.pdf

    I will check the refs.

  16. I have a PDF file of this and am trying to figure out how to attach it.

    Norwood, H. S. (2002). Update on the Relationship between Elementary Grade Span and Student Achievement: Identification of Human Interactions and Behaviors in a Kindergarten-2nd Grade Configured Young Primary Elementary Which Resulted in Superior Student Achievement Observed in the 4th and 5th Grade.
    This cross-sectional study used primarily quantitative methods to investigate the superior achievement of 4th- and 5th-grade students at Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula Borough School District who as young elementary students had attended K-2 primary school, compared to peers who had attended a K-6, K-8, or K-12 configured school. Since this study was limited to a single school district that included all four elementary school configurations in communities that were found to be similar, variables that historically confuse the application of results to conclusions were systematically eliminated as causal factors. To study the effect of the remaining variables on student outcome, educational instructors that had experience teaching in both a K-2 and other configurations within the district were surveyed. The survey findings revealed the magnitude of the variance between causal agents known to affect future student success that exists in the K-2 versus other configuration elementary schools. In order of decreasing magnitude, the following variables are more prevalent in the K-2 environment than in other configurations, and their increased presence related to superior student achievement in later years: Resources, Parental Involvement, Collaboration (among administrators, teachers, and special services personnel), Foundation (ability to establish social and emotional competence, language, cognition, teaching strategies that lead to next levels of accomplishment), Relevant Teacher Training, Teacher Efficacy (with regard to aligning primary students’ interests and abilities), High Expectations, Principal’s Leadership, Teacher’s Stability, and School Climate.

  17. One argument worth trying is the sibling argument. In a K-6 system, sibling spend a lot of time in the same school system. If you break the grade up into THREE separate groups in THREE separate schools, then you are certainly going to be splitting siblings up. Imagine the difficulty of driving 3 kids to three different schools every morning.

    Interestingly enough, here in Seattle where I live, we are *finally* moving to neighborhood-based school assignments after decades of chaos. And you know which constituency is most opposed to it? Parents of siblings!

    In this case, the basic argument is that the younger sibling, newly entering school under the neighborhood plan, won’t necessarily be entering the same school the older sibling is in. That leaves parents with two options–either schlep two elementary school kids to TWO different schools every day OR pull the older out of the school they’ve been in and move them to the neighborhood school the younger one is going to.

    What’s interesting to note is that there are *many* arguments out there about why neighborhood schools are bad (crazy, I know). But the only one that is getting any traction is the issue the new assignment plan raises for parents of siblings. For some reason, it’s a powerful lobbying group, and it garners a lot of public and media support too.

    So see if you can work the sibling angle in your community and round up parents of siblings who would be affected.

    Best of luck to you. Neighborhood schools are *so* the way to go.

  18. This is only available on microfiche because it’s so old; if I find more recent stuff, I won’t worry about this, but if I don’t, I’ll try to get this,

    Raze, Nasus. (1985). Primary and Intermediate Grade Configurations: A Review of the Literature.
    This literature review concerns the concept of alternative grade configurations at the elementary level, in which elementary schools are subdivided into primary (K-2) and intermediate (3-5) units. Because of the paucity of literature on this concept, the major part of the report focuses on the reorganization of the elementary schools of the South Allegheny (Pennsylvania) school district. Although the K-2, 3-5 structure is often implemented in response to declining enrollment, other educational benefits cited may include better concentration on the educational and psychological needs of children in the two age groups, though one research study showed no significant differences in student achievement, attitude toward school, extracurricular participation, or career aspiration. The goals of the South Allegheny reorganization (in response to declining enrollment) were to equalize class sizes to facilitate multilevel instruction in reading and math, and to make better use of staff, school buildings, and instructional resources. Each of these objectives is described in detail, along with perceived disadvantages. An evaluative report revealed that the new grade structure saved money and resulted in improved discipline, student attitudes, and student interaction. Finally, literature on the implementation process is briefly reviewed, emphasizing the need for clear articulation between grade levels.

  19. absolutely there is research supporting that every move to a new school building takes down test scores. I saw it in my other searching. will post asap.

  20. McEntire, N. 2002, updated 2005. Grade configurations
    in K–12 schools. Clearinghouse on Early Education and
    Parenting. Retrieved Feb 18, 2010 from http://ceep.crc.uiuc.edu/poptopics/gradeconfig.html

  21. My district does this and I HATE IT! Our neighborhood school is 5 blocks away and for K-1 only. Another school is 2-3 , another 4th only, then “middle school” 5-8. So I have 3 kids each 2 grades apart-that’s 3 kids in 3 diferent schools for over 1/2 their 12 years in school. All 3 kids go to the neighborhood school, the little one gets there 1/2 hr before start, the other 2 get on different busses to go to their respective schools and at days end, One of us has to get to the little ones school, then wait 1/2 hour for the busses the older 2 are on. And I can’t let them walk because the younger 2 are foster kids and DCFS won’t allow them to walk with anyone younger than 12 (my oldest is 10). Don’t even get me started on that-I got reported for letting them play at the park 1/2 block away while 3 neighbors were out in their yards keeping an eye on them and I went in to do dishes-sheeeesh! Now my son can’t help his little sisters learn the ropes about school and making freinds and being their protector like he should be able, and they all have to re-orient to new teachers and administrators every couple of years. ANd I have to go 3 differnet places at different times for special events/projects/parent-techer conferences, I miss holiday parties-can’t be in 3 places at once-the downsides are just incredible-DON’T LET YOUR DISTRICT DO THIS TO YOU!

  22. This is the first time I’ve done more than read comments here – the FreeRange commujnity is great!

    babelbabe – I will be following up on all your references – thank you so much.

    Ali – could you provide a link or two to get me started on researching your district and what you went through? The $ angle is eye opening. ‘preciate it!

    Lisa – the sibs argument is currently falling on deaf ears, as we will definitely have parents experiencing the same head and heart aches that Tryna is going through.

    Tryna, where are you? My group may want to interview your superintendent.

    Anon – your example of winning the fight is also great… where are u?

    Thanks again.

  23. That is how the schools were set up when I was in elementary school in NJ. K -1 were in one school, 2-3 in another, 4-5 in another, then middle and high school. I liked it and would 100% be in favor of reconstiuting the schools in my district that way. I took a bus to 1st (went to school in a different district for K), was a mandatory walker for 2-3. In 4th grade, schools changed and the former 2-3 became 3-4 so I was a mandatory walker again. In middle school (now 5-8), I was an optional walker – a bus would come pick me up but I was close enough to walk as well. High school was right next to the middle school so also within optional walker distance to my house.

    The reason behind doing it is generally to ensure than the schools in the district are racially and socio-economically balanced. If everyone in the district goes to the same school, you don’t have one elementary school with more resources and parent support than the others. Which is, in and of itself, a great reason to do it in a mixed school district.

    It also saves money, rather than costing money. Instead of having the resources for 2nd grade spread out amongst several different schools, they are all located in one place. A lot of duplication is eradicated. The only added expense may be busing but that depends on how the schools involved were busing before.

    The vast majority of students in any one school don’t walk anyway. They either ride of bus or are delivered by their parents. Where they attend school is irrelevant. For the very small belt of kids within walking distance of a particular elementary school, there will be a need to ride a bus or drive to school for certain grades that was not present previously. Most of those kids were probably already driven to school anyway.

    As for the village shrinking, it doesn’t. A kindergarten teacher and student that had a particularly close relationship may seek each other out but for the vast majority of students and teachers, life moves on. I never missed being able to see old teachers. And unless it is a sibling, kindergarten kids don’t interact with, or really need to be interacting with, 5th graders.

    And it actually increases your village. You get to make friends from all over the district rather than just your own neighborhood. And it is less of a culture shock – less reduction in test scores – when you hit middle school. The hit in scores comes from suddenly being thrust into a new setting with a bunch of kids you’ve never met. Unlike kids in traditional school districts, you will already know ALL the kids in middle and high school. There isn’t the sudden thrusting together of kids from many different schools at a time when kids are most vulnerable and least secure.

    It also gives you the possibility of recreating yourself every 2-3 years. The kindergarten teacher isn’t telling the 3rd grade teacher what a complete brat you were in kindy. In traditional schools, who you are in K follows you throughout your schooling as the teachers talk about students. If the teachers aren’t in the same school, they are much less likely to go ask the previous year’s teacher what you were like (although with the advent of email since I was in elementary school, this may not be as much as a benefit).

  24. I will say that we were never bused between different schools like Tryna seems to be describing. All elementary school kids rode the same bus. K-5 got picked up at the same time and at the same bus stop every day. Each bus went to each different elementary school. You only got off the bus when you got to your school.

    Unless you were in the very small band of kids around one school so that one sibling was a walker while the others were bussed, all siblings got on the bus together and all siblings got off the bus together.

  25. If it’s too long to walk, they are required to provide bus transportation. ‘insert oodles of cost calculations here for increased bus transport’. If you’re saying you “have” to drive them because it’s not far enough for a bus but you don’t want them walking that far, well, that’s not really a free-range-kids issue.

  26. Donna – your entry is well written and thoughtful. It sounds like you’re researched this issue, or are in education as many of the things you’ve listed my group has heard from teachers and administrators.

    Can you sight research to support your claims, and do you know of research that supports the educational benefits? I am now building research which shows the detriments to frequent school changing and would like to see reasonable, data-driven evidence of the contrary.

    I have entered this process as neutral, though knowing that I stand to loose the comfort of my current situation.


  27. Kevin-here is a link to our districts website with all the contact names and numbers: http://www.dixonschools.org/
    Donna: to save bus $$, the district has all the kids walk /ride to whatever school is in their neighboorhood where all the buses are lined up, then get onto the bus that is going to their school, and they get dropped back off at the neighborhood school and walk/ride home from there. No one gets picked up at a “bus stop” unless they are out in the country-this is a small rural town in Illinois.

  28. I thought of a few that already were mentioned:
    – exposure to different age groups
    – cost of busing (wouldn’t you have to run three times the number of buses?)

    One argument that I didn’t see mentioned was the opportunity for more advanced kids to take certain subjects with a higher grade. Through most of elementary school I took reading and math in the grade above mine. Under the proposed scenario, in 2nd and 4th grades, I’d be SOL and the school system would have had to come up with an alternate solution that probably would require more effort for my teacher (or more money for an additional teacher).\

    Also, what about the benefits of a more cohesive parents organization? If your kid changes schools every 2 years, that means you have a different principal and teachers to work with each time. It would probably be difficult to maintain momentum for projects/initiatives. Some parents might even feel less committed to the specific school and opt to be less involved.

  29. At my son’s elementary school, they have a big buddies/little buddies program. As a 4th grader, he has a little buddy in kindergarten.

    The older kids reinforce their own knowledge by helping out the little kids and the younger ones benefit because they are learning from someone other than their teacher.

    If the grades were split into different schools, I think this would be an unfortunate loss.

  30. Hanover Area School District in Wilkes-Barre, PA switched to this 10 years ago or so. You may want to try to contact someone in the PTA to see how this is working.

  31. This is the former “anon”. Sorry, I had that set for a different comment and just neglected to change it.

    I am in Mississippi.

    I have to say a lot of this boils down to the final school size. Our district is small and our town is small. We currently have 5 elementary schools (have closed two that were really small), but they are no longer neighborhood schools. Parent are allowed to choose to send their children to any of the five schools, all which have different magnet themes. The smallest elementary school has 3 classes of about 20 per grade. My children are now in the largest, which is closest to my home and they have 6 classes per grade – again with about 20 students per class.

    By 5th grade, all students attend the same school (will be 6th next year when 5th moves back to the elem schools).

    And, racial diversity is a real issue here. Three of our five elem schools are 100% african-american. We can have that only because it is by parent choice. Our district is 87% african-american because of the private schools (and don’t get me started on white parents sending their children there to avoid the black students in public school!)

  32. I would also include the loss of interactions between older and younger children as a detrimental consequence of grade-alike schools. I think older kids benefit by acting as mentors to younger children, especially learning how to treat younger children with care. And younger kids loose the chance to look up to older kids as examples of who they want to become.

    My other concern with grade-alike schools is that the cost-savings is only temporary. The district may save money in the short-term, because the savings from pooling resources outweigh the costs that the district incur from transportation. either by accepting an increase in busing costs or by shifting the costs of transportation onto parents by commuting and onto the city if public transportation is used (not to mention the environment). But I doubt the cost of transportation will continue to remain relatively low in the future. It’s just not a sustainable practice.

  33. @Kevin – I am not in education. Just was exclusively educated in elementary school in schools configured this way. Most of the things I cite are just common sense. For example, it would save money having one 2nd-3rd grade library, rather than needing 3 or 4 copies of each book for each different elementary school library. I, as a very shy kid, found it helpful that I was never suddenly thrust into a new school not knowing 2/3 of the students. And to have this occur right when I was hitting puberty would have been awful.

    I think that we expect alot of 11 and 12 -year olds in the most common school system. They have to deal with moving to a larger school where they generally only know a small portion of their classmates, changing classes for the first time, really selecting school extracurricular activities for the first time, being in classes broken down by aptitude for the first time. And they have to get used to all this while starting puberty and all that entails. I can just intituvely see how this could cause some kids to really go off track at that age – if none of your old friends are in your new classes and the trouble-makers are more welcoming who are you going to hang out with?

    My mother had one kid – me – educated grade-based school configuration and one kid – my much younger bro – educated in neighborhood schools. She much preferred my school’s method and eventually pulled my brother out of public school and put him in private school because my bro’s neighborhood school was underperforming.

  34. This is a crazy idea? What about having siblings split up? I’d hate my kids to go to separate schools and they are 3 years apart in age so with the K-2, 3-4, 5-6 scheme, they’d never be in the same school.

    Above and beyond that issue though, is the concern I’d have about kids interacting with kids older than them. At our school, I was surprised to find out recently that when my son plays soccer or hockey at lunch on the school grounds, it’s entirely “organized” by the children themselves (he is in a K-7 school, and he’s in Grade 2). This means the kids “police” themselves. Every day, a different referee is appointed, and they have to be from a different grade each day. The “older” kids make sure there is someone timing things (the ref, I guess!) and every kid gets a turn at being “goalie”. Soccer is M/W/F, and hockey is T/Th. This is ENTIRELY organized by the kids themselves and there is no teacher or playground attendant involved (unless someone gets hurt, of course).

    To me, this teaches the older kids leadership skills. If they don’t organize it well, the younger kids will just get frustrated and not play. It teaches the younger kids to listen to others, and that most kids will “play fair”, when given the chance.

    Our school has a curriculum-oriented, teacher and classtime sponsored “older buddy program”, so I asked my son if this program is what’s driving the lunchtime sporting activity. He said, “No, not at all!” But I bet it has a little something to do with it. Obviously, our school is very good at encouraging play and interaction throughout the grades.

    I can tell you these lunchtime pick-up games are my son’s favourite part of the day. Until he hit Grade 2, he’s always been the “leader” of his pack – he’s always been the one other kids look up to. But now, finally, he has some older friends who HE sees as role models, who HE can emulate. I think it’s absolutely wonderful.

    If kids are segregated by grades like your board is proposing, then they would never have this opportunity or opportunities like this! Fight it with all you can!!!

  35. I hope the parents will successfully fight this change.

    I am not surprised to hear that learning suffers when children are shifted to a different school. Personally, I see no reason for separating middle school from elementary/high school either.

    In the educational system I grew up with, most schools served grades 1 through 11. They didn’t reshuffle classes from year to year either. In most cases, you shared your 11th grade classroom with the same thirty kids you started first grade with. I switched schools after 3rd grade, but in 11th grade I had the same homeroom teacher who had welcomed me to my 4th grade classroom. For most of my classmates, she will have been their homeroom teacher in every grade from 1st to 11th. She got to know them better than her own kids, and they were like siblings to each other.

    It was not a perfect system but, honestly, I can’t think of many arguments against it. Can those of you who have studied educational psychology come up with reasons why reshuffling kids every year and making them change schools twice (or more) is better for them? I realize there are historical reasons why the current American system of several small elementary schools feeding a couple of middle schools feeding a huge high school has evolved. But is it really better for the students?

  36. I would look to see if there are any studies about comparative bullying levels between the systems. I was a victim all through K-6 because I was smart and bad at sports. For me, moving to a new school where I didn’t know most of the kids for 7th grade was a relief, because I was no longer a default victim. I was only bullied by my cohort, so I found a lot of relief spending time with kids who were a bit older/younger than I was. I don’t know if having a wider group of classmates would have prevented the bullying in the first place, or just meant that it continued for longer. I could really see it going either way. Having to deal with new administrators every couple years would have made my life a lot harder, though.

  37. Although I can’t reference a specific study, I’ve heard teachers comment that student behavior is better when there are smaller children around. They know they are role models.

    Another thought would be the effects of this system of fundraising. I know my daughters elementary school does a lot of fundraising. Some of these fundraising events are only possible because parents work on them year after year and learn how to put them together. I can’t help but think that parents would get significantly less involved in a school their children were only going to be at for a year or two.

  38. I was a social pariah throughout most of my school years (until everyone just grew up, somewhere around 9th grade). But I don’t think switching schools would have helped. In a group of kids that stays together for several years, social hierarchies tend to shift subtly from year to year, but when a new group of kids is thrown together, they tend to sort themselves out very quickly. Every group of kids I became part of – at summer camp, at a new school, at a foreign exchange program – within days I would find myself occupying the same place in the hierarchy. Which never kept me from making friends outside of the group of course.

  39. Donna/Angela – thanks.

    Donna, my school administrators have plainly admitted that pooling resources does not produce a critical cost savings. It is not until personnel are eliminated that any real savings are measured.

    You make make great points about getting kids used to change in small increments as a way to prepare for the big change into high school. But there seems to be evidence that frequent school changing is detrimental to a child’s academic performance. Any evidence other than your own experience to support your opinion?

    If there was hard evidence that this configuration type has demonstrated educational performance benefits over K-6, or K-7 or 8, then there would be little debate. Sadly it seems to be lacking, though I will continue my search.

    Granted, your common sense rationals are sound. Equally, every poster on this thread that said the impact to their daily lives has been and would be very much undesirable, also present sound arguments. Especially the one dealing sibs break-up, loss of older-younger mentoring, and discontinued walking.

    Part of my charge is to get opinions from those dealing with or considering such a change. And your insights are much appreciated.

    I would be interested in interviewing the superintendent of your school. Would it be too much to ask where you are?


  40. Suzanne,

    Great point about fundraising. I’ve been involved in several such projects for my school and I don’t know where we would be without the experienced parents who have been doing it for years. Every time one of them leaves the school because their kid is going to middle school, it throws the PTA into chaos for a year.

  41. @Kevin, I wish I had a link that would take you to the comments parents submitted to the school board. Unfortunately the way it worked was this:
    1. School district gave a bunch of options to change the school districting to close a huge budget gap.
    2. Parents were asked to provide comments/feedback via the web and in person at 5 different district meetings.
    3. School board voted.

    So I can’t get to the documents submitted by the Parents who put together the petitions (and they had 500+ names!) and the numbers on kids who would leave the school. It was compelling, and in our case the Board voted to not approve the change to K-2 and 3-6.

    FWIW if you’d like to talk to the school board, the president is Dave Thomas, nice guy, here is the link to their site: http://www.jeffcopublicschools.org/board/index.html

    In this case, money talked 🙂

  42. @Kevin – I went to Burlington Township schools. 30 years after I left, they are still divided by grade, although there are less schools now so the split is pre-k -2 and 3-5. I left in 7th grade so I can’t speak to the quality of the schools at this time but they were good when I was there.

    Truthfully, I think it comes down to what you are used to. Most of the things people are mentioning against this system aren’t things that bothered me or my parents since this was the only school system we knew. Rather than being upset by changing schools often, my classmates and I looked forward to it. it was outside affirmation that we were indeed growing up. We were all bummed when they closed the 4-5 grade school and we didn’t get to move up that year (even if it would have meant giving up walking and biking – something I did even when a bus was available – and riding a bus). Fundraising worked fine because it had to; this was what they had to work with. As for mentoring, this is a complete non-issue as far as I’m concerned. My kid’s not in school yet but through friends I see almost no interaction, let alone mentoring, between older and younger kids in my local neighborhood prek-5 schools. I’m sure a minority of schools may foster some but even in my childhood I remember only interacting with kids in other classes only rarely. Unless they lived in my neighborhood, I couldn’t give you the name of schoolmates not in my actual classroom in elementary school, even if they were in the same grade. So I find claims of widespread mentoring an ideal rather than a reality.

    The US school system is far from perfect. There are positives and negatives on both sides. Frankly, kids who go to schools with good teachers, good facilities, strong parental support and money will do well in life. Kids who go to schools with poor teachers, breaking down facilities and little parental support in poverty stricken areas probably won’t do as well. Whether the schools are broken down by grades or neighborhoods is completely irrelevant. That’s probably why I like grade divided schools better. It levels the playing field.

  43. Hi all,

    I can’t lay my hands on the research just now, but I know there are definite benefits to having several grade levels on one campus. Two are

    Educational & social: There are many more opportunities for cross-grade projects and activities as well as the peer support experience of working with others from different year levels. Many kids don’t fit in well with those of their chronological age, either for social or academic reasons, or simply because they are too competitive/anxious with their peer group. Mixed age classes are also good for this reason.

    Environmental: Obviously — a 3 school pick-up for parents of siblings is insane and necessitates maximum car use.

    Good luck fighting this!

  44. In addition to the benefit of three schools in walking distance while they are all K-6 grade, I would like to add a positive aspect of having such diverse age groups in the same school. I attended a K-5 grade school and when I was in the younger age brackets the older students were kind and helpful and I even made friends with a few in the neighborhood so we could hang out (outside and without supervision) after school. When I was in the older age brackets I realized how much little kids look up to the older kids. This is especially true when kids have siblings without a couple years of each other and attend the same school. Because the older kids are aware of the younger kids’ admiration they are on good behavior and try to guide the younger kids in good habits, games, friends, etc.
    And just to let you know, I was in grade school just a little over a decade ago. Have times really changed this much?

  45. our school district (in suburban phila) tried to do the same thing. one of the overwhelming facts that made them turn against the idea is that “this is an unproven method for dissecting the district” and could therefore lead to it becoming an unpopular place to live, thus driving down market value of the homes.

    hope this helps him…

  46. A few years before I started elementary school, my state shifted the transition from elementary school to junior high one year back, so that fifth graders graduated elementary school and went to middle school 6th-8th. The result for me was that I went from a school where there were lots of little kids around (and all the things that go with early childhood education like art and gardens and playgrounds) to a school with only pre-teenagers (and all the things that go with that, like jaded teachers, drug and romance experimentation, and Lord of the Flies-type social dramas). It was a harsh transition. I think having all age groups around each other creates a social setting which is gentler on both students and teachers. Isolating children by age only creates radical social groups. Younger children learn what kind of behavior gets praise by watching older children. Older children don’t act so far out when they’re empowered with the role of model for younger children. It works.

  47. @Kristen – I don’t think things have changed as far as younger kids looking up to older kids but that doesn’t end if you are not in the same school. I also made friends with older and younger kids in the neighborhood. We played after school and on weekends. We didn’t go to the same school, however, and that was okay because I don’t recall that many opportunities in school to interact with kids outside of my class at all during the school day. At least in my very free range childhood of packs of kids roaming the neighborhood on bike, sled, ice skates and foot until the streetlights came on, there was no shortage of older kid/ younger kid interaction. Maybe too much of that has been lost and kids really do need school for older kid/ younger kid interaction but when does it happen because I still don’t see much occurring during school hours?

    And I don’t remember being on good behavior for littler kids because they admired me. i remember mostly getting the littler kids to do things that we bigger kids knew that we’d get in trouble for doing. That was kinda the reason to keep them around.

  48. PS, good point Kjerstin. I didn’t even think about what a difference it makes to have teachers around who have known you since you were five.

    Parents depend on teachers to look after their kids, so this has a lot of clout as a safety issue.

    Also, relationships with teachers means no falling through the cracks because no one notices you struggling.

  49. I see your concern, but in this day of underfunding of schools I would opt for the plan that enables the school/s to keep as much funding, appropriate staffing, and supplies on hand for each grade level as possible. I assume the reason they are trying to consolidate the kids of similar age levels is to maximize the use of limited resources to benefit the childrens’ education. We just can’t have it all. In this case something’s gotta give. This is not a battle I would fight. Changing buildings and traveling a little further to school (even driving) is less harmful than an underdelivered education. I don’t think this is a Free Range issue at all. It is a matter of smart allocation of school resources.

  50. Thanks again to everyone for taking the time weigh-in on this issue that I’ve posted.

    Geneen – which community in suburban Philadelphia? I need to interview as many districts as possible where this has taken place, and/or where it was considered and rejected. Thanks.

    Donna – again, good insights. I have interviewed the superintendent at Burlington City, but not the Township. Tough drawing comparisons though because this system has been in place for decades.

    And the environmental benefits, and dis-benefits, is well covered ground, though it always bares repeating.

    Angeline – Our district is not in a financial crisis so the resource sharing is being described as a benefit teachers and administrators. Teachers will be able to collaborate more readily because they will be physically in the same building, this is said to aid curriculum consistency. My wife and I would change our lifestyle and currently desirable morning/afternoon routine if we knew we would be trading it for demonstrated academic benefits, but so far the jury is out. Thanks for your comments.

  51. I find it hard to understand why it’s not considered a plus that the arrangement proposed by your district is better for the teachers. Like it or not, teachers can make or break your child’s school experience on a daily basis. They ARE your child’s education, and I think it’s wise to consider their needs.

    I teach music in an all-preK-K-1 building. I have to say, I really prefer this to teaching a wider span of ages. It has allowed me to custom-tailor my teaching of this age group to a very high degree. Also, when there is a limited age-range represented in the school, it becomes much more possible to for the teachers to generate a building-wide set of expectations for student behavior and use an age-appropriate social curriculum. Kindergarteners have very different social and educational needs than fifth graders.

    Please consider that even in grade 1, children spend as much as half their school week with special-area teachers in music, art, library, gym, foreign languages (if you’re lucky) and even computer lab. Any specialist who claims he/she is equally effective with eighth graders as with K has either just started teaching, or is lying. K-8 jobs are a short road to burnout. We are responsible for teaching every kid in the school. and there is simply never enough time to allow for decent planning or reflection regarding what was successful when seeing six to nine different grade levels per week. I LOVE the broad perspective that comes from teaching every Kindergartener in the entire district. It has enabled me to become a much better teacher in a relatively short period of time.

  52. One additional point I’d like to make is this:

    Do children with siblings truly lose out when they don’t have access to older or much younger children at their school?
    What exactly are the younger children learning from their older schoolmates on the playground? In my experience, it’s not what you want them to be learning.

  53. There is certainly a wealth of research and evidence that socialisation across age groups benefits children.

    Given kids are at school so many hours the best/easiest/most likely place they’ll have the opportunity to develop various social skills at school. By having children be able to see and interact with older age groups they learn their future place in the world, and how developmentally can relate to where they are headed (something a look across the playground can show, but a power point presentation certainly doesn’t!).

    Younger children can learn from older children things like ‘school behaviour’ and have natural mentors.

    Older children can learn to be tolerant and understanding of others (youth) that are less capable or smaller, or cuter than them.

    It’s the sort of stuff you can’t teach the same way in home… and splitting the kids into such narrow age groups will deprive them of the opportunity to learn and grow amongst a range of social encounters.

  54. That seems like a truly asinine idea. What about parents with a kid in K, a kid in 3rd, and a kid in 6th? How expensive would the busing be for a school system like that? I don’t think this will get off the ground for purely financial reasons, and the parents will complain like mad.

  55. I don’t have a problem with the limited age range idea per say. I don’t think kids have to be with older and younger kids by years, but they do need resources, and that’s harder in a non-mixed age school. What about art, music, etc.? What about the 1st grader who is reading on a 3rd grade level? Wouldn’t it be easier to accomodate his or her needs in a mixed age school?

    Limiting age range isn’t a problem in and of itself. I mean, we send kids to preschool with 3-5 year olds, and I think that works well. Certainly my kindergartener picks up “bad influneces” being in a school that goes up to 6th grade, and she is exposed to things she doesn’t need to be at her age level. We don’t have one room school houses anyway – the only interaction with older kids is really on the playground and at lunch and assemblies, and I don’t know how beneficial that is. On the other hand, they do have a 6th grade buddy system for kindergarteners my daughter has really loved.

    What I really have a problem with in this system is the expense involved in getting three kids from a single family to three different schools! The expense and logistical nightmare that would be for driving parents, and the bussing expenses that would entail for the school system, since three buses would have to go out from the same spot to different schools.

    Also, the stress of moving to a new school every 2-3 years for kids would be hard on a lot of children.

  56. “Personally, I see no reason for separating middle school from elementary/high school either. In the educational system I grew up with, most schools served grades 1 through 11”

    Yeah, well, where I live that would entail approximately 7,500 kids in one school. I’m not sure how doable that is. I guess these age divisions are really arguable, and it depends on the size of your town and your student body make-up (which shifts over time.) Here I think the k-2, 3-4, 5-6 would be a logistical nightmare. We have k-6 and 7-12 (with a few 7-8 schools and 9-12 schools).

    On the other hand, after calling this age division an asinine idea for logistical reasons, it now occurs to me: there are three different schools within ONE mile of my house. Splitting them up into k-2, 3-4, and 5-6 would not be a major problem and would not require more busses or greater distance. It would be a paint for parents who walk and or drive their kids to school and have three kids in three different schools, but not those whose kids ride the bus (although pick up times would likely be different, and that would be an inconvenience). The argument a previous teacher posting made about being able to tailor the teaching to a specific age level for specials is persuasive. And it does have the advantage of letting kids be kids longer, delaying romantic and sexual and dress pressures, etc.

    I think I’ve half talked myself out of my own opinion in the space of three posts. I better start thinking before I offer an opinion in the future…

  57. Yeah, well, where I live that would entail approximately 7,500 kids in one school. I’m not sure how doable that is.

    Or, alternatively, you’d make smaller school districts and thus use the existing buildings for more full-grade schools.

  58. My school district has elementary school from K-3, “upper elementary” grades 4-5, middle 6-8 and high 9-12. My daughter is currently in the upper elementary. Although switching schools brings with it all the usual transition issues, by and large it has not been a negative experience. The upper elementary school does some things differently than elementary, as the kids are older. For example they change classrooms for science, math, instead of always being with the homeroom teacher. The lunch options are more varied with more choice. The music program in upper elementary is very different, with kids learning orchestral instruments. With this current system the district only has to put those orchestral music teachers into half the number of schools than they would have to if they combined K-5 in one school. Similarly the upper elementary schools have an advanced math program, and only 1/2 the number of advanced math teachers are needed in this system (assuming 1 teacher in each school). Certainly the kids miss out on being role models for the younger kids (although they had that in 3rd grade, when they did “reading buddies” with K/1st graders etc). And they can’t walk to school (but with our huge district, most kids are not in walking distance from a school anyway). And my two kids will never be in the same school (a logistical complication, but if I asked my younger brother who had to put up with me a grade ahead throughout school, maybe better for the younger sibling). So there are pluses and minuses. But the music and advanced math programs make it worth it for my family.

  59. Sky,
    I think you’re right about it allowing “kids to be kids” longer, but in a way that most people who try to raise “Free-Rangers” might disagree with. I would like my “kids to be kids” in a way that allows them to develop independence (by walking to school), responsibility (looking after their siblings), and confidence (learning how to interact with older children and adults is an important step in developing that.) I think by keeping them segregated by age you are likely to infantilize these children until 5th or 6th grade when, without the moderating influence of being around younger children and teachers who have seen them grow-up, they start acting like 7th & 8th graders very quickly.

    Full disclosure: I am from the same town as Kevin and working through the same issues. I am a committed “Free-Range” parent and recommend Ms. Skenazy’s book to anyone who will listen and visit this site often (I thought several times about asking for advice from this community).

  60. Lani wrote:
    >>Younger children can learn from older children things like ’school >>behaviour’ and have natural mentors.

    >>Older children can learn to be tolerant and understanding of others >>(youth) that are less capable or smaller, or cuter than them.

    Let’s be clear here: To truly see the benefits of mixed-age classrooms, I suggest seeking out a Montessori school or similar private school setting.
    Public school students, even the cute ones way down at the K and grade 1 level, have very few opportunities for social interaction during the school day other than lunch, recess, and (ironically for this discussion) riding the bus to and from school. Students in the public system are pushed to work independently from a very young age. My school is particularly proud of the computer lab used by its first-graders; with one station per child, there is no longer a need for them to share or collaborate. As a specialist teacher, I have encountered children who – in January – do not yet know the names of all the other children in their OWN CLASS. Part of my raison d’etre is to give them experience working as a team, working toward a common goal – a concept that is otherwise almost completely foreign to them.

    If you’ll bear with my artsy-fartsy world-view for a moment longer, I’d like to call attention to the fact that our communities are *also* teams, and the goal we are tasked with is to deliver the highest quality education possible to every child in the town. This can sometimes mean that individual convenience or preference has to take a back seat. I would love for my child to be able to walk to school. However, I’m willing to drive her to timbuktu and back (and I do it many times a week) to allow her to work with a highly experienced, highly effective teacher, in a productive, collaborative work environment with the most resources available.

  61. I agree with much of what “Donna” said earlier, and my first question would have to be whether or not you live in a town/area with a lot of economic and/or racial stratification. This is a very common move in schools where there tends to be a “rich, (often) white” school, one or two “mixed” schools (both racially and economically) and a host of “poor/underperforming” schools that are overcrowded and undeserved. Grouping the students into age schools instead of neighborhood schools spreads the available resources of the various schools evenly among students (the downside, of course, is that parents who can afford it often pull their children out of the public system and place them in private schools in order to keep them separated from the “other half.”) This is especially common once gentrification of an area of town becomes particularly apparent.

    I am a teacher in an area that suffers acutely from these striations, both in particular towns and across our county. Some public schools function like private school, teachers making six figures (that don’t always begin with a 1!), parents pooling their money to pay salaries for extra teachers to bring down class sizes, fancy cafe-style cafeterias and private sport coaches on one end of town and, 5 minutes away, moveable trailer classrooms, 30 1st graders in a class, government issued food and no extracurricular activities on the other end. My own public school system switched to this grade-level configuration a few years ago, and I support it whole heartedly. I think this is an issue where the opportunity to have an equal education far outweighs a child’s freedom to walk to school. (And, in the spirit of full disclosure, under the previous system, my child would have attended one of the best schools.)

  62. Wow, I think this is the most interesting discussion yet on this blog! Lots of great, thoughtful points on all sides and no name-calling 🙂 . Thanks, Kevin, for keeping us up-to-date on your thought process. I think I have changed my point of view after reading the comments, especially Diversity’s very persuasive comments about being able to better tailor “special” classes to the age group. I can certainly see this at work with my own daughter who moved this year to a 6-8 school after being in a Pre-K to 5 school.

    Like many of you have said, a lot depends on the nature of your community. I think a lot of PTA/fundraising issues in my city would be improved if we followed the K-1, 2-3, 4-5 split being proposed in this post. Some areas of town are much poorer than others. The poor schools have a much harder time raising funds than the middle class schools. This leads to the middle class schools getting more extras, such as authors and artists coming in to talk to the kids and additional field trips – these are all paid for with PTA funds. I often think that these sorts of programs would be even more beneficial in the poor schools where kids aren’t getting exposed otherwise. If everyone was together, the fundraising capabilities would be spread over everyone in the age group in this city. However, we would still likely need two schools at each age level, so how they were configured (NOT one “rich” and one “poor”) would be important.

  63. I grew up with this set up. K-2 in one building, 3 & 4 in another, 5th in a building all by ourselves and then 6, 7, and 8 in Jr. High. My class (20 years later) is still pretty close. But we lived in a very small town and most everyone road the school bus. Times have changed and if your town is bigger, I can see the benefit to several grade schools. Especially if the kids can walk!

  64. Oh, and my kids attended a Montessori school for a while. There are lots of things I liked about it, but the older kids “mentoring” the younger ones usually took the form of the older ones telling the younger ones what to do!

  65. What about the obvious issue of multiple children?

    What parent is willing to drive his three children to three different schools?

  66. I’m a Catholic elementary school teacher and I’ve taught in Pre-k through 8 buildings for almost 40 years. It’s a great experience for the kids. I teach First and it is great to be with these kids for a long period of time.
    Here in the Baltimore Public Schools many of the elementary schools are going to a k – 8 model. They are getting rid of the Middle Schools.
    Good luck. I do think to narrow an age range is not a good idea.

  67. Our district has been rearranging it’s schools based on enrollment levels. When enrollment hit a trough at the elementary level, they “closed” on k-6 school and leased it to a daycare (to keep it operating and maintained). As that trough moves though the middle schools, they are reconfiguring them. As the enrollment numbers start to rise in the youngest grades, plans have been made to reopen the closed school.

    Sometimes the issues are boringly financial, and not malice towards the students of a particular school or their parents.


  68. Hi Lenore, I was wondering how I send you an e-mail? I looked around on your site but couldn’t find anywhere, so I finally sent you an interesting link on Twitter, hope you got it!

  69. yep, rationalize and re-compartmentalize them all into nice bits and bytes of compatible aged-catagorized herds and flocks.
    Shouldn’t have seriously age-inappropriate groups mingling together, now.
    Can’t imagine (hardly) how they justify that is , um – good for kids.

    A school is a bedrock community institution.
    Much like a church, library or the town hall itself.
    It means something in a family’s life that this place be entrenched long enough to establish a meaningful connection throughout the years of a kid’s education.

    Otherwise……these reconfigurations sound a whole lot more like the corporate fiddlings of Henry Ford.
    Great for mass-producing cheap cars.
    Not so good for educating kids.

  70. hmmm,
    It just struck me…I have elementary school memories of seniors (grade 8) actually having friendships with the wee tykes (eg. – an only child who had no little brothers or sisters) relationships that were truly inspiring – a little guy actually looking up to and admiring on older kid (12 or 13) who treated them fair and square…maybe better than their own sibs.
    So this is not possible anymore? The value of it is negligible………or even worse – that senior student would now be looked upon as a ped in training?

    Oh please…………………….a society such as ours has become, would be almost laughable, of not so
    pathetically sick.

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