Junior High School

The first junior high school opened its doors in Berkeley, California in 1910, and by 1920 over 800 junior high schools, each containing grades 7 through 9, had opened across the country. Outspoken advocates for the establishment of junior high schools like Leonard Koos, Thomas Briggs, and William Smith generally agreed on a core group of aims they attributed to a school specifically designed for students ages eleven to fifteen. These aims included:

enriching and strengthening the curriculum and instruction offered in junior high schools in ways suitable to the age group

recognizing and accommodating the special nature of early adolescence and individual differences in aptitude, interest, and ability

staffing the schools with teachers specially prepared to work with young adolescents.

Some advocates also believed that the junior high school would encourage students, many of whom would halt their education at the end of the eighth grade, to stay in school for an extra year.

The push to introduce a more rigorous and varied curriculum earlier in students' public schooling began in 1888 with Charles Eliot's speech to the National Education Association (NEA) in which he argued college freshmen were not being adequately prepared during their years in public school. In their 1893 report, NEA's Committee on Secondary School Studies recommended beginning study of academic subjects in the upper elementary grades. Beginning in 1906, Carnegie units became the focus of college entrance requirements and secondary school academics. Each Carnegie unit required seat time of 40 to 60 minutes per day, five days a week, for one school year. Fourteen Carnegie units were required for college entrance, and those units started accumulating in ninth grade. Most junior high schools included ninth grade and adopted an organizational structure that supported acquiring Carnegie units. That structure was exactly like that adopted in the nation's high schools and eliminated practices like instruction across academic disciplines and flexible schedules that junior high advocates believed essential to responding appropriately to young adolescents' needs.

The idea that adolescence is a discrete phase of human development originates in the psychological studies of the early twentieth century and particularly the work of G. STANLEY HALL. Hall argued that adolescence was a time of rapid, significant changes in virtually every aspect of human development, including physical, mental, social, emotional, and moral. Junior high advocates called for practices, like individualized instruction, that recognized and responded to the needs of young adolescents in the midst of the "storm and stress" Hall described. In reality, junior high schools did not individualize instruction, instead ignoring the learning trajectory of each child and sorting students into academic, vocational, or remedial tracks from which the students could rarely move regardless of their intellectual development.

Most junior high school teachers were prepared in programs that supported high school-like curriculum, instruction, and organization. Without structures and practices tied to young adolescent development and without specialized preparation for teachers, the junior high school that advocates envisioned did not survive the crush of the high school's traditions, setting up the push, begun in the 1960s, for a new school structure for young adolescents: the middle school.

See also: Adolescence and Youth; Grammar School; High School.


Briggs, Thomas H. 1920. The Junior High School. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Hall, G. Stanley. 1905. Adolescence: Volume I. New York: Appleton-Century.

Koos, Leonard. 1927. The Junior High School. Boston: Ginn and Company.

Scales, Peter. 1992. Windows of Opportunity: Improving Middle Grades Teacher Preparation. Carrboro, NC: Center for Early Adolescence.

Smith, William. 1927. The Junior High School. New York: Macmillan.

Tyack, David, and William Tobin. 1993. "The 'Grammar' of Schooling: Why Has It Been So Hard to Change?" American Educational Research Journal 30: 453–479.