Fresh Starts: Reinvestigating the Effects of the Transition to High School on Student Outcomes
Seemingly endless tinkering and adjustment of the structure of education in the United States over the past century have led to the adoption of different school forms (grouping particular grades into separate schools) at different times. These different school forms necessitate transitions between schools (e.g., from a middle school to a high school), which, prior research has argued, have detrimental effects on students’ well-being. In this article, we use natural variation in the American educational system to reexamine the effects of school transitions. Contrary to most prior research on the subject, we directly compare the ninth-grade outcomes of students who make a transition in moving to ninth grade with those who do not. Our results show that for both academic and nonacademic outcomes, the presence of a transition from eighth grade to ninth grade makes almost no difference for students’ ninth-grade outcomes relative to those of students who do not change schools between those grades. This is not to suggest that outcomes do not change between eighth grade and ninth grade but that the degree of difference is the same for students who change schools as for those who do not. Where differences appear, they are small and point to the benefits of school transitions for providing fresh starts to adolescents in socially difficult situations.
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