Should Sixth Grade be in Elementary or Middle School? An Analysis of Grade Configuration and Student Behavior
Using administrative data on public school students in North Carolina, we find that sixth grade students attending middle schools are much more likely to be cited for discipline problems than those attending elementary school. That difference remains after adjusting for the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of the students and their schools. Furthermore, the higher infraction rates recorded by sixth graders who are placed in middle school persist at least through ninth grade. A plausible explanation is that sixth graders are at an especially impressionable age; in middle school, the exposure to older peers and the relative freedom from supervision have deleterious consequences.
We are grateful to Josh Kinsler for exceptional research assistance, and to Katherine Conner, Camden Cook, Brad McMillan, and Allison Whitaker for their suggestions. This research is supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the William T. Grant Foundation. Any views expressed in this paper are the authors' alone and should not be associated with any affiliated institution.