How many middle level schools exist in the United States? How many students attend middle level schools?

 

Definitions

Middle School:A middle school usually consists of grades 6-8, but may also be comprised of grades 5-7, 6-7, 5-8, and 7-8.Middle schools are based on the developmental needs (social and academic) of young adolescents and provide (NMSA, 1995):

  • curriculum that is challenging, integrative, and exploratory;
  • varied teaching and learning approaches;
  • assessment and evaluation that promote learning;
  • flexible organizational structures;
  • programs and policies that foster health, wellness, and safety; and
  • comprehensive guidance and support services.

Junior High School:A junior high school usually consists of grades 7-9, but may also be comprised of grades 5-9, 6-9, and 8-9.The junior high school was conceived primarily as a downward extension of secondary education organized by subjects and departments with a grade level configuration (VanTil, Vars, & Lounsbury, 1967) that usually includes ninth grade.

Middle Level School:The terms “middle level school” and “middle level education” were first used extensively in the early 1980s by the Research Team of the Dodge Foundation/National Association of Secondary School Principals in Volumes I and II of the National Study of Schools in the Middle (Valentine, et al., 1993).These terms have gained wide acceptance by middle level educators and are used to describe schools and educational programs that serve young adolescents attending school in any grade configuration of grades 5-9 (Clark & Clark, 1994).Defining a middle level school involves several perspectives including purposes, separation, organization, curriculum, and program (Clark & Clark, 1994):

  • Purpose – to be developmentally responsive to the special needs of young adolescents
  • Uniqueness – a unique, autonomous unit, separate from the elementary school that precedes it and the high school that follows it
  • Organization – the inclusion of the grade levels with the largest number of students who are beginning the process of becoming adolescents (any combination of grades 5-9)
  • Curriculum and Instruction – content that connects with the everyday lives of students and instruction that actively involves them in the learning process
  • Program – programs that are developmentally appropriate and include, but are not limited to, interdisciplinary teaming, teacher advisories, co-curricular activities, and youth services

 

Number of Middle Level Schools 1971-2000

The total number of middle level schools serving grades 5-9 grew from 10,445 in 1971 to 12,226 in 1981—an increase of 17%.During the 1980s, the number of middle level schools actually decreased by 1% to 12, 095 in 1991.However, during the 1990s, the number of middle level schools increased dramatically (Table 1), reaching 14,107 middle level schools in the United States by the year 2000, an increase of 17% since 1991 (Valentine, 2000).

Table 1: Middle Level Grade Configurations 1971-2000
Grade Configuration 1971 % 1971 Total 1981 % 1981 Total 1991 % 1991 Total 2000 % 2000 Total 1971-2000 Change 1971-2000 % Change
5-8 772 7% 1024 8% 1330 11% 1379 10% +607 +79%
6-8 1662 16% 3070 25% 4838 40% 8371 59% +6709 +404%
7-8 2450 24% 2628 22% 2902 24% 2390 17% -60 -2%
7-9 4711 45% 4004 33% 2298 19% 689 5% -4022 -85%
Other 850 8% 1500 12% 727 6% 1278 9% +428 +50%
Total 10445 100% 12226 100% 12095 100% 14107 100% 3662 +35%

During the past three decades, the proportion of schools with various grade configurations has also changed.In 1971, the grades 7-9 configuration was the most popular (45%) followed by the grades 7-8 configuration (24%).While the proportion of schools with a grade 7-8 configuration has remained relatively stable during the past 30 years, the proportion of schools with a 7-9 grade configuration has decreased significantly to only 5% of middle level schools in 2000.The proportion of middle level schools with a 6-8 grade configuration has increased significantly during the past 30 years, from 16% in 1971 to 59% in 2000.

The proportions of middle level schools in the United States in 2000 for each grade pattern as reported by researchers in the Middle Level Leadership Center (Valentine, 2000) are presented in Table 2:

Table 2: Schools by Specific Grade Configuration
Grade Configuration Number of Schools % 2000 Total
5 47 0.33%
5-6 475 3.37%
5-7 81 0.57%
5-8 1379 9.78%
5-9 12 0.08%
6 116 0.82%
6-7 116 1.18%
6-8 8371 59.34%
6-9 79 0.56%
7 28 0.20%
7-8 2390 16.94%
7-9 689 4.88%
8 29 0.21%
8-9 128 0.91%
9 117 0.83%
Total 14107 100%

Currently, middle level schools with a 6-8 grade configuration comprise 59% of all middle level schools, followed by 7-8 (17%) and 5-8 (10%) grade configurations.As of 2000, the number of traditional grades 7-9 junior high schools has decreased to 689, a decrease of approximately 70% since 1991 (Valentine, 2000).

Number of middle level students

According to the U.S. Department of Education, of the 6.8 million students enrolled in middle schools in 1993-94, 4.4 million were enrolled in schools with a 6-8 grade configuration.Another 1.4 million students were enrolled in schools with a 7-8 grade configuration, and the remaining one million were enrolled in middle schools with other grade configurations (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000a).

Note:The U.S. Department of Education defines a middle school as a school with no grade lower than five and no grade higher than eight; therefore, enrollment statistics for students enrolled in middle level schools with grade configurations of 5-9, 6-9, 7-9, and 9 are not included.

Past and projected enrollment statistics (NCES, 2000b) for all public school students in grades 5-9 are provided in Table 3.The number of middle level students (grades 5-9) in public schools has grown from 15.5 million in 1990 to 18.4 million in 2000, an increase of approximately 18%.The number of middle level students in public schools is projected to increase to 18.9 million in 2004 and then decrease slowly to 18.2 million in 2010.

Table 3: Enrollment and Projected Enrollment 1990-2010 in Public Schools by Grade in Thousands
Year Grade 5 Grade 6 Grade 7 Grade 8 Grade 9 Total
1990 3197 3110 3067 2979 3169 15522
1991 3268 3239 3181 3020 3313 16021
1992 3325 3303 3299 3129 3352 16408
1993 3350 3356 3355 3249 3487 16797
1994 3372 3381 3404 3302 3604 17063
1995 3438 3395 3422 3356 3704 17315
1996 3453 3494 3464 3403 3801 17615
1997 3458 3492 3520 3415 3819 17704
1998 4171 3727 3682 3696 3592 18868

Projected

Year Grade 5 Grade 6 Grade 7 Grade 8 Grade 9 Total
1999 3604 3560 3540 3487 3915 18106
2000 3703 3646 3604 3497 3923 18373
2001 3694 3745 3691 3561 3934 18625
2002 3,658 3,737 3,792 3,646 4,006 18839
2003 3617 3,700 3,783 3,746 4,102 18,948
2004 3570 3659 3745 3738 4214 18926
2005 3532 3611 3704 3701 4204 18752
2006 3494 3573 3655 3660 4163 18545
2007 3502 3534 3617 3612 4117 18382
2008 3501 3542 3577 3574 4063 18257
2009 3503 3541 3586 3535 4020 18185
2010 3511 3543 3585 3543 3976 18158
Recommended Readings

Jackson, A., & Davis, G.(2000).Turning Points 2000:Educating adolescents in the 21st century.New York:Teachers College Press.

Clark, S., & Clark, D.(1994).Restructuring the middle level school – Implications for school leaders.Albany, NY:State University of New York Press.

Irvin, J. (Ed.).(1997).What current research says to the middle level practitioner.Columbus, OH:National Middle School Association.

National Middle School Association.(1995) This we believe:Developmentally responsive middle level schools.Columbus, OH:National Middle School Association.

References

Clark, S., & Clark, D.(1994).Restructuring the middle level school:Implications for school leaders.Albany, NY:State University of New York Press.

National Center for Education Statistics.(2000a)In the middle:Characteristics of public schools with a focus on middle schools (NCES 2000-312).Jessup, MD:U. S. Department of Education.

National Center for Education Statistics.(2000b).Projections of education statistics to 2010 (NCES 2000-071).Jessup, MD:U. S. Department of Education.

National Middle School Association.(1995) This we believe:Developmentally responsive middle level schools.Columbus, OH:National Middle School Association.

Valentine, J., Clark, D., Irvin, J., Keefe, J., & Melton, G.(1993).Leadership in middle level education, volume I:A national survey of middle level leaders and schools.Reston, VA:National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Valentine, J. W. (2000).United States middle level grade organizational trends.[On-line].Available:http://www.mllc.org/docs/USMLTrends.

VanTil, W., Vars, G., & Lounsbury, J.(1967).Modern education for the junior high school years.Indianapolis, IN:Bobbs-Merrill.

Updated Summary

The original version of this research summary was developed in the mid-1990s.The summary was updated in September 2001.

Authors

The authors of this updated research summary are Mark Miles, research assistant in the Middle Level Leadership Center at the University of Missouri and Dr. Jerry W. Valentine, Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri.

Manuscript Review Process

Manuscripts prepared for this Research Summary Series are reviewed by scholars with expertise in the summary topic. This review/referee process provides the opportunity for authors to receive feedback for manuscript refinement, and provides the editor with information necessary to determine the professional and appropriateness of the manuscript.

Research Summary Coordination/Preparation

The staff of the Middle Level Leadership Center (MLLC) coordinated the development of this research summary. The mission of the MLLC is to provide research and service to middle level educators. To accomplish that mission, Center staff members work with national organizations, such as National Middle School Association, to disseminate research information about middle level education. The MLLC operates within the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Research Summary Development and Submissions

The Research Committee of National Middle School Association, working in conjunction with NMSA staff, determines the topics for the NMSA Research Summary Series. Inquiries about future topics and interest in manuscript preparation should be made by e-mail to Dr. Jerry Valentine at ValentineJ@missouri.edu. Research findings that will enrich existing summaries are always welcome.

© COPYRIGHT 2002 by NATIONAL MIDDLE SCHOOL ASSOCIATION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

back