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The Middle School Structure:

Peter Meyer and Donald Eichhorn

Elizabeth Collins


Peter Meyer begins his article entitled, The Middle School Mess, with a quote that catches
the attention of the reader; If you love bungee jumping, then you are the middle school type.
This humorous approach to understanding middle schoolers as they are sometimes called, where
the idea of this institution came from, and a question of whether or not it still works is an
important topic of conversation. Some still express the opinion that American middle schools
have become the place where academic achievement goes to die (p.40). In this paper I will
review the views of Peter Meyer expressed in his article The Middle School Mess, as well as the
views of Donald Eichhorn expressed in The Exemplary Middle School textbook.

The Middle School Mess: How Middle Schools Came to Be

To begin to make his case, Meyer gives to history of how middle schools came to be in
existence. In 1963 at Cornell University, William Alexander, gave the keynote speech at a
conference for school administrators that would change the education system from then on out.
The conference topic was The Dynamic Junior High School as was the idea at the time being
used for students between the elementary and high school stages. It was well known at the time
that junior high had merely appended high-school practices on to the 7th and 8th grades. so
Alexander brought up that educators may have forgotten that the students in this age group have
different developmental needs as a preadolescent student. (p.42)
Meyer goes on to discuss Alexanders introduction to the idea of students in this age
range needing more freedom of movement, more appropriate health and physical education,
more chances to participate in planning and managing their own activities, more resources for
help on their problems of growing up, and more opportunities to explore new interests and to


develop new aspirations. Alexander also spoke about how the people of that time period were
reacting to an academic scare having to do with Sputnik and that because of this there had been
less time for the arts and many other areas. Thus began the creation of The middle School.

The Middle School Mess: The Me Generation and The March of Mediocrity
The proclamation from Alexander of the needs of the preadolescent demanding a
different type of education began to dramatically change the education of that age group. There
seemed from this point on to be a philosophy in middle school which deemphasized academic
outcomes. (p.43) Meyer continues on to talk about the different statistical changes in academic
performance of the students since the shift to middle school structuring. There became a large
question as to whether or not the new system was actually working and this is still the question

The Middle School Mess: Sure, Some Work but Grade Configuration May
After pointing out that this structure may not actually be the most successful for students
this age, Meyer begins to talk about why it is that this is the case. He tells of how we are told by
the 2003 Middle School Journal that there is hard evidence that the middle school does in fact
work, but Meyer claims that we are never provided that evidence to make the deduction
ourselves that it works. He discusses the different complaints that have been brought forward
about the two extremes of testing that are happening in the name of middle school structuring.
The testing either measures the lowest form of brain functioning or it is a form of testing that
takes over education in a way that it becomes all about that.
Meyer moves on to admit that there are some middle schools that are successful. Now
how they are becoming successful is another story. In a study that he references, Gaining


Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better, the schools that did well and
showed actual improvement on outcomes, set measureable goals on standards based tests and
benchmark tests across all proficiency levels, grades, and subjects. (p.44) He talks about how
these forty four schools that were future oriented and this provided them with the proper goals to
help them achieve more growth and improvement. Meyer then goes on to discuss how the trend
for grouping students has moved away from the free-standing middle schools and has moved
toward k-8 schools or k-12 schools. The reason for this he says, is as he quotes Veteran New
York Educator Kathleen Cashin, Because children are older doesnt mean they dont need that
nurturing care of a loving, caring adult. (p.46)

The Exemplary Middle School: Donald Eichhorn

Donald Eichhorn was one of the founders of todays middle schools. He tried to persuade
the state department the middle schools were a good idea. Some of his ideas for why he believed
that the program would be the better choice were; it is a more natural grouping due to less
differentiation in maturity, the students social patterns in this grouping fit better than if they were
to be grouped seventh grade, eighth grade, and ninth grade, and last but not least the transition
from a self-contained classroom to a high school like program would be more gradual.

Meyer vs. Eichhorn

The difference here in ideals are that Meyer firmly believes that the middle school
structure is not the most sound for students in the between elementary and high school stage to
be in. He believes that there is not enough evidence telling exactly how and why this set up
works for students and that there are more complaints than there is the small amount of research
on the topic. Eichhorn believed that the middle school structure was the more natural way to
educate students. While his points were valid ones that Meyer acknowledged in his article, he


brings forth many points about why isolated students in the age range of eleven to fourteen years
of age is not the best course of action. His strongest point in my opinion was that the students at
this age still need to be nurtured and guided along in their studies.

The middle school time period is a tough one for students. They go through many
changes, physically, emotionally, and academically. They need a well supported, well balanced
environment where they can grow and begin to discover who they are becoming as individuals,
but still have to support and nurturing that they need. This in my opinion calls for the k-8
structure for the students in the middle. I believe that with the nurturing that Meyer talks about
and a balance of being able to grow into leadership the students would do well. If they are
allowed to transition into being taught via team teaching around the sixth grade time, given more
independence than the younger students, and being held to a higher standard of behavior by
setting an example this could be the best method of structuring. Though there are many different
beliefs for how the structuring should be set, ultimately the students needs must be met and
accounted for when making a decision here.




Meyer, P. (2011). The Middle School Mess: If You Love Bungee Jumping, You're the
Middle School Type. Education Next.

ii. George, P., & Alexander, W. (2003). The Middle School Movement and Concept. In The
exemplary middle school (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.