August 26, 2008

Is the Middle Dropping Out?

by Emily Bell, Development Assistant.

Middle Schools in the District are few and far between.

Researching classroom sizes in district middle schools presented quite a challenge. Only a total of 11 DC public schools teach grades 6 through 8, 11 junior high schools teach 7th-9th, and various pk-12 and advanced programs for middle school aged kids are scattered throughout the city. I was immediately struck, however, that there are so few area middle schools in the public education path (when compared to the large numbers of both elementary and high schools).

I examined four middle schools for this post, MacFarland in NW ward 4; Kelley Miller in NE ward 7, Ronald Brown in NE ward 7, and Hart in SE ward 8. The only school I found in SW was a junior high school with approximately 606 students (as opposed to average sizes of 306 kids, 338 kids, and 379 kids in NE, NW, and SE respectively). I decided not to include it in this comparison because of its overwhelming number of students and lack of middle school status, they teach 7-9th grades. Here is a quick summary of what I was able to find:

Ward 4/NW:
MacFarland: 74% African American, 26% Hispanic.
class size:
394 total students; 52 teachers; 7.6 kids per teacher
6th grade =7.2 kids per class**
7th grade = 10.11 kids per class
8th grade = 7.56 kids per class

Ward 7/ NE:
Kelley Miller: 100% African American, less than 1% Hispanic.
class size:
563 total students; 36 teachers; 15.6 kids per teacher
6th grade = 16.75 kids per class
7th grade = 16 kids per class
8th grade = 16.06 kids per class

Brown, Ronald: 100% African American.
class size:
227 total students, 19 teachers, 11.9 kids per teacher
6th grade = 10.5 kids per class
7th grade = 11.86 kids per class
8th grade = 12.2 kids per class

Ward 8/ SE:
Hart: 100% African American, less than 1% Hispanic
class sizes:
544 total students, 37 teachers, 14.7 kids per teacher
6th grade = 14.3 kids per class
7th grade = 14.93 kids per class
8th grade = 14.75 kids per class

The stats show that our students are not getting the attention they need from teachers. At Macfarland Middle School, although the average calculated class size is 7/8 students, actual classes can range in size from 5 to 10 to 25 students. Mr. Roger, the only person at the school’s administrative line able to answer my question regarding average class size, also stated that classes of about 3 to 5 occur in special education cases. Without calling all of the other schools, I can assume that the average class sizes listed above varies depending on availability of teachers per grade.

All of the above schools have math and reading scores below the state level. Brown Ronald, Hart, Kelley Miller, and MacFarland all have 20% or fewer students who meet at or above reading proficiency and 17% or fewer students who meet at or above math proficiency. Meaning, at least 80% of students at all four middle schools are not at the math or reading level they need to be. MacFarland has the highest proficiency scores and the smallest average class size. Kelley Miller is .9 miles from Brown, Ronald and has almost double the number of students and lower math and reading scores. Hart has the lowest math and reading scores and the second largest average class size of all four schools.

Funding for these four schools is hard to determine. All of the above schools are Title 1 participants w/ school-wide Title 1 programs. The average amount of money DCPS is supposed to spend per student is $15,746. Whether or not each school is getting their share is unknown and/or difficult to find out.

If the district had more middle schools, I believe there may be a reduction in high school drop-outs. If students are more prepared for high school from challenging and engaging middle school environments, high school will not seem like a huge barrier to the real world. Instead, it will be just another stepping stone to a positive future.

As this is my final blog post, I would like to thank everyone at Bread for the City for helping DC residents find and use the resources they need to build a strong future for themselves and their families. I have learned so much about DC through the struggles of Bread for the City’s clients and the concern from their staff. Hopefully, the day will come when DC won’t need organizations like Bread for the City to fill in the gaps, but until then, keep up the good work!

**to calculate approx. class size for each grade, I divided grade population by total students, multiplied the decimal answer by the FTE (classroom teachers) to find the approx. teachers for that grade, and divided the total students per grade by total teachers for that grade.

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