Saturday, February 25, 2012

Against Undermining Middle Schools (Steve Guditus)

In "The Middle School Plunge,"authors Martin West and Guido Schwerdt hypothesize all the reasons under the sun that middle school is a plunge in student achievement in math and reading.  For sure, the change in standard deviation of math and reading achievement is concerning, however students are more than their math and reading scores.  In a time fraught with social pressures, emotional turmoil, parental and peer pressures and increased academic rigor, middle school is a uniquely special place.  Students in middle school are unlike any other age group of students, which is why organizations such as the Association for Middle Level Education exist.  What Mr. West and Mr. Schwerdt fail to address (and perhaps they did measure this but did not report out on it) is the impact of structure of schools.

Many middle schools are in name only - they follow the old "junior high model" of scheduling students as though they are mini high school students.  Providing students with the support and structure of an authentic middle school model provides supports that simply do not exist in the old "junior high model."  In an authentic middle school model, students share a team of teachers who regularly meet to discuss student struggles and successes.  Not understanding the impact of a true middle school model may just have led to Mr. West and Mr. Schwerdt to underestimate the value of a middle school - an authentic middle school - that can support and challenge students appropriately, no matter if it housed in a K-8 building, 6-12 building or a 6-8 building.

Middle school has a unique set of challenges - for students, staff and parents.  Undermining the importance of addressing the needs of 11-14 year olds and treating them as 5-10 year olds or 14-18 year olds would be a serious mistake.  Middle schoolers are neither elementary school students nor high schoolers, and the supports available to teach the whole child in a true, authentic middle school model - not just their reading and math achievement scores - is invaluable.