Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Are Middle Schools Hotbeds of Stress and Violence?

Are middle schools hotbeds of stress and violence?  The grant makers at the Institute of Educational Studies seems to think so.  They have just completed one study on trying to reduce violence in middle schools, and are starting two new studies examining middle school stress and the impact on student achievement.

In explaining the first study, IES gives statistics that say that more violence and bullying take place in middle schools than any other segment of education.  In the latest year of data (2006-07 school year), when 4.3% of secondary students reported being victims of a crime at school, the rate of nonfatal violent crimes for students 12-14 was 67 incidents per 1,000 students, compared to 49 incidents per 1,000 students aged 15-18.   There were also 41 incidents per 1,000 middle school students of experiencing a violent event, compared to high school (22 per 1,000) and elementary school (26 per 1,000).

Even scarier were the numbers related to school bullying.  A daunting 44% of middle schools reported at least weekly, if not more frequent, incidents of bullying.  That figure is double the statistics for both high schools (22%) and elementary (21%).  

These are issues that just don't come up in homeschooling, or else occur rarely and are quickly dealt with by the parents.  So maybe I'm naive, but it seems incredible to me that close to half of our middle schools are dealing with bullying on a weekly (or more) basis, and that isn't particularly a big topic for debate in educational policy.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like things will be improving soon, at least according to the IES study.  The grant was testing the effectiveness of two different approaches to reducing school violence and bullying--addressing the issues through curriculum and through a whole school atmosphere approach--but neither technique produced significantly different results in violence and bullying statistics compared to the control schools.

The two new IES grants are four-year programs to record the incidences of stress--one among the teachers, and one among the students.   The student one is targeted to a new intervention program for middle school students experiencing trauma--I guess all those students who are victimized, as well as students with bad life events outside of school.  The goal is to help them deal with these issues and thus perform better in school, as well in general life skills such as self confidence, dealing with depression, etc.  The teacher study seeks to document the generally-posited idea that teaching in middle schools is the most stressful educational occupation.  This study will follow teachers for three years to see if teacher stress results in worse student behavior and test scores.

So the main things these studies tell me is that I'm glad that neither my son nor I are dealing with an institutionalized middle school education.  However, I hope they come up with some valuable data about the effects on students' educational scores of life factors that teachers can't control, and help loosen the reliance on test scores as the sole determination of educational quality.  I also really hope they come up with some better coping skills for these poor bullied and stressed-out students and teachers.

No comments:

Post a Comment