K–8 schooling: A retreat? A mandate? An intervention?

Keith Frederick Look, University of Pennsylvania


Before 1900, K–8 schools dominated the public education arena. After the turn of the century, adolescent education reformers created junior high schools and middle schools to better serve the targeted population. Today, a return to K–8 schools is growing, particularly in urban public school districts. This case study presents a five-school K–8 feeder pattern (4 elementary schools feeding into 1 middle school) in the Andersonville School District attempting to convert each school into K–8 grade span configurations. Part of a large northeastern urban district, the schools face issues of limited resources—fiscal and human—in addition to stressors associated with district financial deficits and high stakes accountability assessment. Through participant-observer qualitative research spanning fifteen months, the story of the five-school K–8 conversion demonstrates the challenges of reform in a district fighting to avoid state takeover. Through lenses of conversion rationale, methods of school change, and loosely coupled systems, it becomes evident that the regional autonomy that gives life to the K–8 conversion cannot sustain the movement during fiscally driven district re-centralization. Changes in regional leadership, a hesitant consensus among the principals, political application of social capital, and inconsistent district support ultimately ends the five-school K–8 conversion before full implementation. Prior to the K–8 conversion's end, the experience of the McCall Elementary School acts as a nested case study giving insight into district, region, and school effects. Qualitative observation, interviews, and focus groups explore the McCall School dynamics and reveal a systems-oriented principal sharing leadership with his staff. Reaching deeper levels of implementation than the other schools, the McCall School demonstrates the potential of K–8 grade span configuration change for adolescent students while highlighting the benefits and costs of doing so in a volatile context. The study suggests that school-level initiatives begun through loosely coupled systems in line with district reform agendas must be supported with consistent leadership, stakeholder investment, and policy and practice revision where clear conflicts of interest arise.

Subject Area

School administration|Elementary education|Curricula|Teaching

Recommended Citation

Look, Keith Frederick, "K–8 schooling: A retreat? A mandate? An intervention?" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3052941.