Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Times they are a changin'

Sunday's post probably displayed a little more frustration that was intended. Middle school is certainly undergoing some attacks and some change. However, generally we try to be pretty optimistic around these parts. There is a reason that we work in middle school. We really do love what we do.

With that, it is important to look at the opportunities that are presenting themselves. (Not really sure I've made it quite far enough to have found them all). Anyway, we'll discuss some of the changes that are occurring and try to find as many positives as we can.

First of all, education as a whole is changing. The job of teaching looks very different right now than it did a few years ago. We'll venture to say that the job will look different yet in a few more years. This is an exciting time in education due simply to that fact. It may not always be fun to go through the change, but at least we have an opportunity to be a part of it.

Will we look back in a few years and remember these as "the good old days?"

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Middle School at it's end?

Middle school has long been under attack. However, I feel the attack may be getting ever stronger. Recently Michigan has made some major changes in terms of High School graduation requirements. This has impacted high schools in numerous ways. One of the ways that this is being interpreted by District level personnel as having some dramatic effects on middle school. Here's how the logic goes:
- kids will have fewer opportunities for gaining elective credit.
- Michigan now allows students to earn High School credit while in Middle School.
- let's teach high school courses in middle school, give the students credit for high school while in middle school and every one is happy.

Well, maybe not everyone. There is a reason for middle school. Middle school has some very important concepts that deal with physical, emotional and psychological development of adolescents. However, few people really understand middle school and middle school kids.

Is middle school going to revert to junior high? It's far too early to tell, however, it is obvious that middle school has been and continues to be under attack. We'll keep fighting for what is right for the students. We believe in the middle school beliefs.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Finding us

We're adding Technorati so that we're easier to find.
Technorati Profile

What's in a name?

After a great deal of discussion, we've decided to change the name of our efforts from Middle School Musings to Middle School Matters. We really like the duplicitous meanings of the new name. Plus, since this is very early on in our endeavors, the change is really simple right now. We're still working on the podcast and making sure that it will sound good. We're also working on the structure of the podcast. This is your chance to see "behind the scenes".

As always, comments are always welcome.

Middle School Reform vs High School Reform

I've had many questions lately revolving around the very question of what is middle school? For some people, middle school is a schedule. In fact, for some people, middle school means teachers having an "extra" prep. That's it. Anyone who really knows middle school knows that middle school is much, much more. In future posts, we'll talk much more about the seminal research documents and the underlying concepts of middle school. What is really interesting to me about the question right now is the high school reform that is happening.
Let's face it, middle school is under attack in many places. I've seen many places espousing the abolition of middle school because it "doesn't work". Never mind that most places are truly doing middle school. Never mind that the underlying concepts haven't been implemented. Just say that it doesn't work.

So in short, what are the basics of middle school:

  1. Based upon the developmental needs (social and academic) of young adolescents.
  2. Organized into interdisciplinary teams.
  3. Flexible organizational structures.
  4. Advisory programs to address the needs of students.
  5. Exploratory opportunities
  6. Positive adult and peer relationships are developed.
  7. Engage the family and the community with the education of the middle school students.
  8. Connect schools with the community.
Anyway, the latest high school reform measures advocate many of the ideas, concepts and beliefs of middle school. However, since it being called high school reform, it is, of course, totally different. Here are the Breaking Ranks High School recommendations:
The overall goal of the Breaking Ranks Model of High School Reform is to help high schools improve learning opportunities and achievement results for all students. The model has been designed to assist high schools in achieving the following objectives:
  1. Ensure that all students have access to rigorous, standards-based, real-world instruction
  2. Restructure the high school into small, personalized learning communities
  3. Develop staff capacity to systematically use data for purposes of equity, accountability, and instructional improvement
  4. Implement collaborative leadership strategies that engage staff, students,parents, and the broader community in supporting school and student success
OK, lets take a look at these. #1 speaks to rigor and relevance. Certainly these are important pieces of middle school. Rigor has probably not been implemented as well as it should be. However, it is certainly part of the middle school model. Real world instruction and connection is a huge part of middle school.
#2 - Um, this is one of the major tenets of middle school. The whole idea of teaming, and connecting with kids is one of the major cornerstones of middle school.
#3 - Certainly this is good instruction and important in education. Not specifically a tenet of the middle school concept, but
important in middle school and school of all levels.
#4 - Engaging parents, students and the community. Again, another major tenet of middle school.

How about some suggestions from the Executive Summary:

1. Core Knowledge: Establish the essential learnings a student is required to learn in order to graduate, and adjust the curriculum and teaching strategies to realize that goal
2. Connections with Students: Increase the quantity and improve the quality of interactions between students, teachers, and other school personnel by reducing the number of students for which any adult or group of adults is responsible
3. Personalized Planning: Implement a comprehensive advisory program that ensures each student has frequent and meaningful opportunities to plan and assess his or her academic and social progress with a faculty member
4. Adapting to Differences: Ensure teachers use a variety of instructional strategies and assessments to accommodate individual learning styles
5. Flexible Use of Time: Implement schedules flexible enough to accommodate teaching strategies consistent with the ways students learn most effectively and that allow for effective teacher teaming and lesson planning
6. Distributed Leadership: Institute structural leadership changes that allow for meaningful involvement in decision making by students, teachers, family members, and the community and that support effective communication with these groups
7. Continuous Professional Development: Align comprehensive, ongoing professional development program and individual Personal Learning Plans of staff members with the content knowledge and instructional strategies required to prepare students for graduation.

Again, let's take a look at this.
  1. Core knowledge. Important in middle school.
  2. Connections with students. A major tenet of middle school.
  3. Comprehensive advisory program. A major tenet of middle school.
  4. Differentiation. A major tenet of middle school.
  5. Flexible use of time. A major tenet of middle school.
  6. Distributed leadership. In middle school, teachers, parents and students should have a voice in decision making.
  7. Continuous Professional Development. See #6.
No matter how I look at it, High School reform sure sounds a whole lot like middle school reform. This is not to say that middle school has been perfectly implemented. This is not to say that middle school research is all inclusive. It does, however, point out how important and vital that the middle school concept is.