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Aside from The Wire – Who is Concerned with Middle Schools?

The Department of Education is targeting “overage and undercredited” kids with their “Multiple Pathways” initiative and Klein trumpets the creation of yet another 200 small high schools. The just released Workforce Report points to early childhood education and a scheme to move kids after the 10th grade to college or vocational programs.

Does anyone care about the kids in middle schools? The only national debate on early adolescence, the middle school ages, is on the HBO series – The Wire!!!

For the last few years middle school structure has been debated back and forth – should we “abolish” middle schools by moving towards K-8 or is the answer creating 6-12 models?

Early adolescent years are difficult years for children. They are emotionally fragile, susceptible to fads and bullying, to the “craze” of the moment, and think of themselves as “immortal.” They oftentimes make bad choices.

Parents, and teachers wring their hands when it comes to dealing with those moody, recalcitrant evolving adults.

Too many middle schools are more concerned with “command and control” issues than education. Self-contained 6th, and sometimes 7th grade classes are created to keep the kids in their rooms!! The primary role of the school is to maintain order: education takes a back seat.

The most recent middle school State testing data is scary – kids fall further behind each year they are in a middle school.

The Department of Education mumbles and simply closes large high schools and sees small high schools as the nirvana. Unfortunately when middle schools “graduate” kids who have not met State Standards in English and Math and fail to achieve Chancellor’s Promotional Standards the high schools are doomed.

Should all “new” high schools be opened as 6-12? Frequently middle schools are burdened with proprietary programs (i.e., America’s Choice, etc.) that are mindless, and boring both to the teachers and their students.

Should the DOE create Empowerment Networks made up of middle schools? How do we support newer teachers in middle schools? Is the teacher turnover rate in middle schools as abysmal as I think it is? Should we concentrate guidance and social services in middle schools?

I read with compassion the “cries” of our newer middle school teachers who are writing on Edwize … perhaps the popularity of The Wire will force decision-makers to take a look at the world of the twelve year olds!!

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13 Comments:

  • 1 NYC Educator
    · Dec 21, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    6-12? My kid’s in fifth, and I don’t see her in a building with 21-year-olds trying to earn credit number 2, or whatever it is.

    I can’t imagine many parents feel differently.

  • 2 paulrubin
    · Dec 21, 2006 at 11:21 pm

    Does anyone really believe that combining 6th, 7th and 8th graders with younger or older kids is really the solution to what ails the middle school years?

    There are specific problems that pertain to that age group that are simply not being addressed, particularly by the NYCDOE. Some of the issues include the still outrageous class size, the inability to attract really good people to cover that specific curriculum, a failure to make an effort to relate to the needs of those kids in a really specific way and so on.

  • 3 jd2718
    · Dec 22, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    I endorse what both of the commenters, above, wrote. In addition, where are they going to find administrators qualified to deal with both 6-8 AND 9-12 issues? It’s hard enough to find one these days who is good at anything.

    This fall I saw my first transfer transcript from a 6-12 school. In this case, the administrators were all middle school people with no high school experience. I wanted to cry – the 9th grade courses were so poorly planned.

    One advantage for the DoE is that our DRs usually don’t deal with both high school and middle school; these things may be a slight obstacle to getting our work done right.

    Jonathan

  • 4 xkaydet65
    · Dec 23, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    I have long been a proponent of the K-8 organization. When people point to the relatively greater success in Catholic schools, they talk of uniforms and moral education, but the one constant is a 1 thru 8 organization.

    Younger kids are a brake on the behaviors of adolescents. Fewer hormone driven teens will lead to calmer schools. A greater sense of community is established by nine cohorts of kids from the same neighborhood. A greater insight into kids and their families will be created by the longevity allowed in these schools. Guidance interventions will be more knowledgeable and, hopefully , more effective.
    There are givebacks. The greater sophistication in courses like science labs may be sacrificed. Gym programs will have to be re organized. Discrepancies in the working conditions of Elem teachers and JHS teachers will have to be solved.
    But I think the results will be very beneficial. More so than the present system, and certainly more so than placing 11 year olds in the same building as 19 year olds.

  • 5 paulrubin
    · Dec 23, 2006 at 10:20 pm

    I see some K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12 organizations in the suburbs. Where I am is the same setup as NYC. Middle school works fine in both cases. What I’m not seeing is any benefit to 6-12 groupings. There’s nothing inherently wrong with K-8 schools. There’s really nothing inherently wrong with any of the various groupings. And just as importantly nothing inherently right. It’s possible to do a nice job with any of the various organizational system if the schools involved are well run, financially supported, value class size considerations, have an active parents association, quality teachers, a good technology plan, etc. Blaming the organizational structure is just another way of postponing the real needs getting addressed. Haven’t we seen enough of this sort of failed thinking under Klein?

  • 6 jd2718
    · Dec 24, 2006 at 3:17 pm

    Part of the idea, clearly, is to keep the system in flux. It disorganizes the union, it prevents longitudinal data from being collected on performance (protecting Klein and his various curricular underlings from being held accountable), and it keeps moving the pieces around fast enough that maybe no one will ask, “wait, aren’t you actually going to fix anything?”

    Jonathan

  • 7 xkaydet65
    · Dec 24, 2006 at 4:38 pm

    PR

    Do you see any middle schools in the burbs with 1700 kids? What happens in the burbs is that there already is a community in existence. On Long Island the most meaningful community anyone belongs to is not the town or village, it’s the school disrtrict.
    There is ongoing parent and community involvement. This is NOT possible in NYC middle schools where kids come from 4, 5, or 6 different PSs. A K-8 community school gives a chance to create a school community that the current set up makes impossible.

  • 8 paulrubin
    · Dec 24, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    Who’s advocating 1700 kids in a middle school? And my kids’ middle school takes its kids from 5 different elementary schools. So? The well run middle school in Brooklyn that I teach at takes its kids from dozens of elementary schools? So? A well run middle school creates a community. A poorly run one cannot. As I said earlier, it’s possible to have successes and failures in all combinations. Recombining what doesn’t work accomplishes nothing. In fact, given the reality that Klein and company will likely be replaced by who knows who in two years, it would make more sense for our kids to improve what we have rather than invest two years wasting time in further drastic reorganizations based on research that really doesn’t exist.

    There’s enough money coming down the pipe to bring middle school class size into a better place and there’s enough to experiment with internal modifications like the one my school has successfully used since the 70′s (1200 kids broken into 9 separate groupings to foster the community you say is important).

    If the system spent as much time and effort supporting the schools that worked well and trying to emulate them in the schools that don’t, we wouldn’t be in this mess. No amount of student reshuffling will change that.

  • 9 Jackie Bennett
    · Dec 26, 2006 at 5:36 pm

    I agree with Paul Rubin . The grouping (K-8, 6-12, 6-8) doesn’t matter much — it’s what goes on in the classroom. I worked in a K-12 for years. There is some advantage maybe in knowing your 6th graders when they get there,but it’s minimal. And since running an elementary and middle school (let alone a high school, too) tends to require different styles for the different concerns, it takes extremely strong leadership to make it work.

    One problem we saw with combining 6-12 was that students did not have that ability to start afresh in grade 9 — the social mistakes of grade 6 (and in my school, grade 3) followed kids forever. In addition, arriving at the front door of a high school is a kind of initiation for students, a rite of passage into a more grown-up world. It can make them more adult. That doesn’t happen, however, when kids stay in the same school from 6-12. In fact, the teasing and bullying of middle school sometimes continue unabated into the upper grades. On the other hand, there is something to be said for continuity from middle to high — it’s a dangerous time, that transition, and one student’s “starting fresh” is another student’s beginning of disaster. And, when classes stay together for a long period of time — especially when the student body is small — the class can develop a strong sense of itself as an entity. That can be good, perhaps, for making communities — or not. The kids all know each other for ever. They have private jokes going back to 2nd grade. Pity the teacher, always the stranger in the room!

    So, there is no magic bullet.

    What truly matters are quality teachers with small classes, working in a supportive environment. The middle school at my own school has all of that: class sizes capped at 25, great teachers, involved parents, good overall leadership. All of these factors probably contributed to our scores, which are well above the city averages.

    None, of these positive factors, I might add ,have anything to do with Klein. We pre-date him . We’ll outlast him too.

  • 10 Persam1197
    · Dec 27, 2006 at 8:43 am

    The Kleinberg administration’s mantra is change. However, change for the sake of change is not progress. As Paul Rubin states, reshuffling the deck is meaningless.

    From my perspective, “Children First” is nothing of the kind. It is a grand opportunity to move public dollars into private hands. Besides the massive increase of non-competitive bids (i.e. Snapple), the “Empowerment Zones” are new ways to outsource the school districts into private hands. The icing on the cake is Klein’s appointment of Chris Cerf, an Edison operative, as Deputy Chancellor. See http://www.nytimes.com/2006/….. These folks don’t even try to hide their shannigans anymore.

    The only question now is what will be left of public education, including the middle schools, after Kleinberg leaves? I certainly hope that the UFT will not support the extension of mayoral control and the further breakdown or fire sale of education.

  • 11 paulrubin
    · Dec 27, 2006 at 10:40 pm

    Mayoral control isn’t the problem. It’s this particular Mayor’s control. He doesn’t trust the teachers. Fine. He doesn’t trust the supervisors? Well big surprise there. But he doesn’t even trust the parents. These are their kids and their wishes are of zero consequence. So what has it given us? Are test scores on legitimate tests meaningfully better after 6 years of Kleinberg? Have we really improved the quality of those in the classroom or leading the schools? And I’m talking about meaningful provable stats. Not propaganda and doublespeak. And if there are in fact any concrete improvements, can we isolate them and reproduce them rather than lose them in another round of change for change sake?

    All I can say is the next Mayoral election should be fascinating. Would be interesting to know who’s even in the running.

  • 12 Persam1197
    · Dec 29, 2006 at 10:58 am

    I wouldn’t trust any mayor to have control over education. The decisions made by whomever will be based on politics rather than what is in the best interests of our kids. I’m not sure that the damage done by Klein and Bloomberg will be reversable. The next chancellor will have to contend with consultants sucking edudollars right out of the classroom, the special ed fiasco, low morale among teachers, overcrowding, “empowerment schools” and their corporate sponsors, cronism at Tweed with Bloomberg LLP family members serving in mid-management positions, etc. And that doesn’t include the damage that Chris Cerf will do as he continues the privatization of the DOE.

    The old Board of Education was far from perfect but the possibilities of improvement were ever-present, even under Giuliani. There needs to be a new BOE with real teeth and folks with real educational credentials in charge. Hopefully, the UFT will not support mayoral control regardless of who is mayor.

  • 13 paulrubin
    · Dec 30, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    I don’t see the UFT supporting Mayoral control. Unity would run the risk of being voted out in a landslide. Rather I expect them to do what they so often do which is to do nothing.