Little children shouldn’t be going to school in the same building as teenagers, who might bully them and make them unsafe.
That was one line of argument that parents, educators, and community members laid out against school space-sharing arrangements several years ago, when the Bloomberg administration was working to shoehorn hundreds of new schools into New York City’s school buildings.
The city seemed to respond to that position, emphasizing repeatedly that students of different ages would be kept separated whenever possible, especially in bathrooms. And in 2014, Chancellor Carmen Fariña — representing a new administration — said keeping elementary and high-school students apart would be one of four key factors in space decisions.
Now, a new study suggests that the worry, and the reaction, might be misguided, at least when students attend the same school.
That’s because schools with students of wide-ranging ages actually have less bullying than schools with just a few grades, researchers from Syracuse and New York universities concluded after studying reports from 90,000 students in more than 500 city schools.
Their finding — published this week in the American Educational Research Journal — follows a 2011 study by some of the same lead researchers that concluded that traditional elementary and middle school grade arrangements are the worst for student test scores.
The researchers frame their findings as a discussion of “top dogs” and “bottom dogs” — students who are the most and least powerful in their schools. “We find moving from elementary to middle school hurts bottom dogs because they lose the top dog status they previously held in their old school,” they conclude.
Their recommendation? Keep students in the same schools longer, so that children get to be “top dogs” over more classmates and don’t become “bottom dogs” until they are better equipped developmentally to handle being the youngest in a building.
Making that change within the constraints of existing school structures could be challenging, the researchers concede. But they argue that districts that are undergoing major shifts — like New York City did under Bloomberg — have opportunities to put the findings into use.
“While wholesale school reorganization nationwide would be costly, there may be more opportunity to make such changes in urban areas,” the researchers write, “especially if such school districts are growing or declining and K–8 schools provide more efficient building use.”