Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Shooting for middle school success

The National Middle School Association (NMSA), an organization of more than 30,000 principals, teachers, professors, community leaders, and educational consultants from the United States, Canada, and 46 other countries, has just launched a major campaign based on its new report, "Success in the Middle: A Policymaker's Guide to Achieving Quality Middle Level Education" (click here to download the full report).

Released on May 3rd, the NMSA's report outlines five goals:
  1. Ensure that all middle level students participate in challenging, standards-based curricula and engaging instruction, and that their progress is measured by appropriate assessments, resulting in continual learning and high achievement.
  2. Support the recruitment and hiring of teachers and administrators who have strong content knowledge and the ability to use research-based instructional strategies and assessment practices appropriate for middle level students.
  3. Support organizational structures and a school culture of high expectations that enable both middle level students and educators to succeed.
  4. Develop ongoing family and community partnerships to provide a supportive and enriched learning environment for every middle level student.
  5. Facilitate the generation, dissemination, and application of research needed to identify and implement effective practices leading to continual student learning and high academic achievement at the middle level.
Why the focus on middle school? Educational policy and research -- and foundation money -- over the past decade has really zoned in on high schools, and to a lesser extent, elementary schools and early-childhood education. (I personally believe its also because many adults are befuddled by adolescents.... its a strange, mysterious time of life. And it's easy to think, "I'll just never understand what's going on in their heads.") Obviously though, all stages of education are important -- and each level deserves attention and effort.

According to Sue Swaim, the NMSA's executive director, "For any kind of educational reform to happen and be lasting, it must be based on a shared vision between educators, policymakers, and family/community members." Yes, indeed....

Update: Just bumped into this Fordham Institute paper called "Mayhem In the Middle: How middle schools have failed in America -- and how to make them work." It's a challenging examination of the theories from which the middle school concept sprung. At the end of the day, the paper calls for districts to consider moving to the K-8 set up, where kindergardeners through 8th graders are under one roof -- a move supported by lots of solid research and experience, according to the paper's author. For districts married to the middle school structure, the paper suggests taking a hard look at the "educational ideology" that drives them and returning to a focus of academic rigor. You may disagree, but it's very interesting stuff.


At 9:48 PM, Blogger Catherine Quoyeser said...

Excellent report, Cheryl. Thanks for sharing it.

I noted with interest the discussion of how important it is to combine engaging, hands-on instructional practices with deep knowledge of the subject and that many MS teachers rely principally on lecturing. Use of a range of instructional approaches helps to ensure that the needs of diverse learners are met.

About parent and community participation, this passage really jumped out at me: "By contrast, educators who strengthen home-school connections not only accelerate students' learning and development, they build support for middle level reform. Well-informed parents can become effective advocates for quality education by insisting that schools implement research-based practices and ensuring that leaders at all levels of government provide appropriate resources and support."

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