Middle school is when the failings of our educational system become most visible. This is when we see the results of students who have not developed reading and math skills. This is when executive functioning becomes so important. Students who have not learned to manage themselves independently begin to become a real problem. If we have engaged in grade retention to solve instructional issues we can now see huge gaps in maturity. Boys and girls in sixth and seventh grade who have been retained once or twice will look a decade older than their peers who are still not teenagers.
Yet many still insist that we have a middle school problem. I don't agree. If a school district is struggling with a middle school population, they are simply seeing what did not happen in earlier grades. Kids who haven't learned to read and haven't learned to function in elementary school will transform into behavioral problems in middle school. The problems occurred so much earlier. It just takes that long for us to see them.