Doubling Down on TDBD


Do Top Dogs Rule in Middle School? Evidence on bullying, safety, and belonging by Amy Ellen Schwartz, Leanna Steifel, and Michah W. Rothbart
American Educational Research Journal, October 1, 2016

Schwartz and her colleagues explored the top dog/bottom dog (TDBD) phenomenon that states, “students at the top of a grade span have better experiences than those at the bottom.” The research utilized a three-year longitudinal study, including survey data of 90,000 middle school students in New York City public schools. The researchers focused on TDBD’s effect on “bullying, safety, belonging, and academic achievement.” Building on the work of Blythe (1978), which suggested students would benefit from longer grader spans such as K-8 schools, rather than middle schools (6-8) or junior high schools (7-9), Schwartz et. al found that top dogs in K-8 schools reported feeling safer, better known, and more welcome than younger students. Further, the study provided causal evidence that longer grade spans improve experiences and academic achievement for students at the top of a grade span. These findings contribute support for the advantages of the K-8 model and should be incorporated into strategic planning, and in particular, discussions of enrollment management in K-8 schools.

Submitted By: Bo Garrett, Highlands School, Birmingham, AL

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