Middle school education: Muddle or model?

I am not a fan of middle school and have irked many proponents with my past complaints that it is the Bermuda triangle of education, where achievement and progress go missing in the mist. I also think there is a lot of fuzzy talk about middle school and too much blaming of underachievement on hormones. (All adolescents in the world go through puberty. Why is it that American kids become too addled to learn?)

So, I was eager to take part in the teleconference Tuesday on the largest study ever – so say the authors — of middle grades education. Released today, the study by EdSource involved a survey of 303 principals, 3,752 English language arts and math teachers in grades 6-8, and 157 superintendents in California. The study compared policies and practices against the spring 2009 scores on California’s standards-based tests of 204,000 students in grades 6, 7, and 8.

“We did not ask opinions,” said Trish Williams, executive director of EdSource and study project director. “We asked what they actually did.”

“This helps us crack the code about what works at the middle school level,” said Robert Balfanz, advising consultant to the study and principal research scientist of Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

Middle school is important, said Williams, “because it is the last best chance to catch students who are behind in academics and get them on track. Most of what is written about middle grades, the reports are based on theory and philosophies and almost none of it is based on research.”

There was no one jump-out-of-your shoes finding in the comprehensive study.

Rather, the schools that did well focused on student achievement with every pore and breath, made it part of the culture, saw their mission as not getting kids through 6th grade science or 8th grade math but getting them ready for high school and college. The schools also talked about student achievement and what worked, and stepped in early and effectively when kids faltered. The best schools had game plans for the students as they walked in the doors in the very beginning, knowing through their prior school records who was in danger of failing.

While California does not have performance pay, some systems weight student achievement in staff evaluations. The low-income schools in which teachers were evaluated in part on student performance saw better academic outcomes. And there were also better outcomes when superintendents and principals were evaluated on student improvement and achievement. That suggests to me that people pay more attention to areas that they know matter in their job reviews.

By the way, many Get Schooled posters maintain that socio-economics set a student’s achievement arc, but Trish Williams noted that they saw the greatest achievement gaps in schools with similar populations of students rather than between poor and middle class schools, suggesting that it was the practices in those schools that made the difference.

According to Williams, “We often hear that school performance is associated with the parents’ background, but what is not talked about is that frequently the biggest performance gap is between schools serving similar types of students. If it is not student demographics driving the differential in performance, the performance gap, what is driving it? The No. 1 finding that we had, that came out on top no matter which analysis we ran, one year data or longitudinal, regardless if the school was low income or serving middle income was…an intense focus on student outcomes.”

By intense focus, EdSource meant setting measurable goals for students based on standards testing, a commitment to the student’s future success in high school and beyond, an emphasis on teaching study skills, a shared and collective responsibility among teachers, principals and superintendents for improving student outcomes and frequent and clear communication with parents and students about their role in student learning.

Grade configuration and governance didn’t make much difference in improving student outcomes. Many educators think that if they get this part right, that the student achievement will take care of itself. It didn’t make much difference if a school was a charter school or a k-8. One of the analogies offered was that we all have been too focused on the shell of the turtle rather than what is beneath the turtle, which is what actually makes the turtle move.

The report is written with the hopes that middle schools will discuss it. If you read it, let us know what you think.

62 comments Add your comment

Hole in the Dikes, ThD

February 24th, 2010
2:12 am

Complete muddle…based on the concept of coddling the babies.

Dr. John Trotter

February 24th, 2010
2:32 am

Maureen, motivation makes the turtle move. In our very first MACE publication of 1995, I referred to the findings of the Rand Report (1976), a mega-study of studies, which concluded that the way a school is organized (middle school or 7-9), the teaching methods (stand-up, sit-down, teacher-centered, student-centered), or the curricula itself could not predict student achievement. The Rand Report simply stated that it could not find single variable of this nature which was predictive of student achievement. But, our educational bozos kept marching on with the magic middle school concept, student-centered (pooling of ignorance) learning, “Quality Core Curriculum” junk, snoopervision from shallow and many times abusive administrators, etc. All the while we at MACE kept and keep saying that what matters is the student’s MOTIVATION to learn. “The motivation to learn is a social phenomenon.” We also say stuff like this: “Order is the first law of the Universe” and “You can’t have good learning conditions until you first have good teaching conditions” and “It doesn’t matter what the curriculum is if students are swinging from the chandeliers.” Oh well, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The politicians and policy-makers and educrats don’t really want to know what the problems are in public education. They have too much at stake to really tell the hurtful truth. The problem is not the shell of the turtle, but the heart that lies inside. When a student’s heart is lazy, unmotivated, and perhaps hell-bent on simply causing disruptions at school, not much learning will ensue. (c) MACE, February 24, 2010.

Happy Teacher

February 24th, 2010
7:06 am

” The low-income schools in which teachers were evaluated in part on student performance saw better academic outcomes. And there were also better outcomes when superintendents and principals were evaluated on student improvement and achievement. That suggests to me that people pay more attention to areas that they know matter in their job reviews.”

Hmmm…

Great posting today. I’ll be very curious to see where this one heads. Middle schools need SO much work…

Attentive Parent

February 24th, 2010
7:14 am

Massachusetts is now providing analyses that show the proposed Common Core standards in English and Math are much weaker than its current state standards the feds do not want them to keep.

“Why Race to the Middle? First Class State Standards are Better than Third- Class National Standards” http://pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/100223_why_race_to_the_middle.pdf

This has come up on so many threads in recent weeks and probably deserves one of its own as our current State Ed Super insists we will adopt these weak national standards.

Vivian Bell

February 24th, 2010
7:43 am

I have a middle schooler and have seen a decline in performance. I think this is a total waste for the kids The teachers aren’t concerned at all. We lose the kids that are not closely monitered by parents.

Ann Duffy

February 24th, 2010
7:45 am

This report emphasizes that good practice – focused on student needs, committed to academics and intolerant of mediocre student (and adult) performance – can create a strong, nurturing school culture. There is no excuse for low performance in a middle school, though it is very easy to to wrapped up in the governance and the hormones. Some of the greatest improvements in student achievement in Georgia have come from the middle schools (see the NI list @gadoe). Perhaps because those schools had so far to go, but I agree with the findings of the report that it can be done.

The Problem

February 24th, 2010
7:45 am

Middle school does need a lot of work. The best way to start is to not let the parents do the work for the students and beg for retakes if a student does not score that A on a test. The parents are the problem because they think their students are still in elementary school. It’s ridiculous.

Tony

February 24th, 2010
7:57 am

Any school at any level should emphasize student achievement and learning. The sign in the front yard of the school says “SCHOOL”. By definition, that should be a place of learning.

The tradition of making excuses for adoloscents is unique to American culture more than any other. The excuses are not limited to the school house, but they extend throughout our families and communities. While it is important to acknowledge the physical, emotional, and social changes taking place during the middle school aged children, we must not make excuses about their learning.

Teachers, parents and school leaders must expect high standards for achievement and they must provide the proper support for students to meet those expectations.

Yes, we must stop making excuses. It really doesn’t matter how the grades are organized in a school, but it truly makes a difference when teachers expect performance.

we aren't mass

February 24th, 2010
7:58 am

Attentive Parent,

Why are we worried about what Mass. says? The question should be, is the common core standards better than what GA has currently, shouldn’t it?

Jennifer

February 24th, 2010
8:13 am

I think that this is right on target. Just this weekend I had a discussion with a 7th grade middle school student and her parents. This year and next are the important years to close any academic gaps so you can be successful and take a few AP courses in high school. To ignore the middle school years which are sooooooo important for such cornerstone academic skills — is the straw that will break the camels back.

RJ

February 24th, 2010
8:25 am

I’ve taught middle school for 13 years and I find the middle school concept to be a failure. Sixth graders lack the maturity to handle 6 or 7 teachers. They need the extra year in elementary school to mature. Sixth graders still need recess. Anyone that has taught middle school knows that once they become 7th graders they are much more mature. By 8th grade they’re even more settled. Grades 7-9 is ideal for middle school, not 6-8. I recently pulled my child from a public middle school and put him into a private school where 6th grade is still elementary. It’s made all the difference in the world. He still has a rigorous curriculum but he gets recess every day. This is how I remember 6th grade. I was allowed to be a kid, yet I was still challenged. Sometimes change isn’t good.

One of the issues that I didn’t see addressed in the report is the number of low income kids that begin middle school 2 grades behind. There is a real problem with education in general. What works in one state won’t necessarily work in another.

Kym

February 24th, 2010
8:30 am

I agree with Dr. Trotter. Motivation is key. That motivation has to come from within and that seed of motivation has to be planted by the parents of the student. As the parent of a middle schooler, I know my son better than anyone. I watched his development, I watched what he played with, what his interests were and what we would need to work on. Keyword WE. I’m the parent. I agree Tony we as parents do make excuses for our children way to much. I know many teachers who say how they spend hours arguing with parents about why their children have to learn certain things because “Really when are they going to have to use it?” Sad really because we are in really danger of rearing a complete generation of lazy bums.

Ray

February 24th, 2010
8:41 am

The link between a morning physical work-out and both behavior and neurogenesis is huge. Check out Naperville, Ill.

Restructure middle grades, where their minds are hormonally whack, to include 30 min. of daily AM aerobic exercise and the rest, grades, discipline, etc., will follow.

retired

February 24th, 2010
8:48 am

Dekalb used to have K-7 and 8-12…at the time they had the best education in the state. Maybe we need to re look at that concept. The community where I now live has k-8…Those schools are great and high achieving. The one MS is falling behind.

vt

February 24th, 2010
8:50 am

RJ is absolutely correct – 6th graders need to stay in elementary schools and 9th graders need to switch to middle school. I’ve taught both ninth and sixth graders, and for the most part, the students are just not ready to be in middle or high school. Also, low income students…where do I start? I had a repeat sixth grader who still didn’t know how to read fluently, didn’t want to be literate, and had parents who had given up on him already. In sixth grade!!

As a parent, I really don’t like the Georgia concept of middle schools. The middle school is a pool of several elementary schools, lots of hormones, and teachers who are too demoralized and too test-pressured to be able to adequately supervise the kids. Schools too often also do not have a long-term academic plan for their students. Administrators state-wide do still frequently cave in to helicopter parents, which sets up an awful pattern.

Both my kids had awful middle school experiences, and this affected their academics. “Strong, nurturing culture”? Looking underneath the turtle? Nope. We need to re-work the middle school concept from the bottom-up, I think, especially since the middle school years are when so many academic, emotional, and social problems begin for our kids.

Attentive Parent

February 24th, 2010
8:51 am

Kathy Cox is the one who brought Massachusetts into the discussion by asserting Georgia had based its standards on Mass. Since Massachusetts’ English and math standards are considered the best in the country and a primary reason for their fine performance on NAEP, Georgia should start seeing similar results if we just hold the course.

That claim though is factually incorrect.

I have just finished reading that Pioneer report linked above and it is one of the most damning documents I have ever read. Sonny and Kathy Cox both need to explain how they came to be associated with the disaster of Common Core as described in that report.

“Put simply, Common Core College Readiness will not get you into college”. Wow!

The CCSSI “do not show much if any increase in difficulty from grade to grade”.

Bill

February 24th, 2010
8:56 am

The Middle school concept coddles the students. My gifted eighth grader rarely has homework, much less than I had in Jr. High. Many students walk into high school unprepared. Having taught freshman for 20 years, I believe that they are less prepared for high school.

common core standards

February 24th, 2010
9:22 am

I suppose this Pioneer group had a special access to the standards, but I find it interesting that they talk about (according to Attentive Parent) grade-to-grade progression when grade level standards haven’t been released…

common core standards

February 24th, 2010
9:24 am

Actually, their HS standards that have been released are not in the form of course-by-course or grade-by-grade format, either.
http://www.corestandards.org/

back to 6-3-3

February 24th, 2010
9:26 am

I like the idea of K-6 inelementary, 7-9 in middle, and 10-12 as HS. As we change the system, we can also make some HS and combine them with a technical school to make a 4- or 5-year technical programs.

TechMom

February 24th, 2010
9:28 am

Middle school is definitely where the education system in Georgia falls apart. After a year of learning nothing new in 6th grade, constantly getting in trouble, and teachers who didn’t seem to care (likely b/c the administration didn’t care), I pulled the boy out and put him in private school. He still had multiple teachers but the academic teachers work on a team and work AS a team. The public school teachers were on a ‘team’ too but I use that definition loosely since the only thing they had in common was that they shared the same group of students. Yet another example of things that are great in theory but if you don’t have teachers and an administration committed to education and committed to each student’s education, it doesn’t really matter.

The school didn’t seem to have any goals in mind other than getting kids to walk out the door in 3 years and move to the HS. There was no priority for education but rather just a herding of students through the ‘awful middle school’ years. I found that the teachers and administration did not want parents at the school. As much as they say they want ‘involved’ parents, they don’t.

It was also apparent to me how awful the environment was when even the secretary was rude and always in a bad mood. I thought, geesh, if the people who are paid to be here don’t even want to be here, what kind of message are they sending to the students?

JR

February 24th, 2010
9:31 am

My youngest is in his final year of middle school (8th grade). I am shocked that so many here are not happy with what they have gotten out of middle school.

My husband and I were just talking recently on how the MS years were the best for our 3 kids. It is a top rated public school. The 6th grade teachers did a great job getting the kids organized and prepared for changing classes. 7th grade was tough academically and had lots of homework but the kids excelled. 8th did a great job getting my older 2 ready for HS and our current child is doing extremely well. Our current 8th grader had a teacher last year that is currently a finalist for GA Teacher of the Year.

Teachers and counselers are critical for MS years. However, most what is most important are the PARENTS and their support. I believe many parents of MS kids just start to be less active in their kids schooling, which is totally the wrong way of thinking. MS years are crucial because kids are going through hormonal and body changes, peer and social pressures, and they are certainly becoming aware of the insane World we live in.

Attentive Parent

February 24th, 2010
9:52 am

The federal DOE provided the states with confidential grade by grade progressions and Massachusetts and Florida filed them with their RttT apps.

That’s how they became public and the report says that expressly.

Thanks for asking where they got the grade by grade progression. It also means that what they’re analyzing is precisely what Georgia and Kathy Cox agreed to adopt word for word.

Legend of Len Barker

February 24th, 2010
10:13 am

My knowledge is in middle grades education. My observations:

- Kids aren’t intimidated by teachers. In elementary school, you can still put a little fear into the student. Educating by fear is probably saying it a little roughly, but the fear of consequences can do wonders for making a student behave.

- Lack of motivation. Bribery for good grades and good behavior sends the wrong message. But we aren’t rewarding the kids enough for academic superiority. In same places, kids seeing being smart and doing good as a minus, not a plus. There are way too many slacker cliques and not enough smart ones.Besides, a C passes you just as well as an A does, right?

- Attention spans/energy. I truly believe that even 8th graders need recess with toys, such as basketball, volleyball, and a frisbee. Somehow, working that energy off makes them more focused in the afternoon.

- Death of rural schools. True, Georgia’s rural schools were lacking in materials. But they offered so much. There was a community. Teachers knew parents, knew siblings, knew home situations. There was an added incentive because it was personal. It also had an athletic bonus as rural schools had basketball teams and it gave more chances for kids to play, to get to know themselves, and to learn how to work as a team.

- Parents. We’re not running a 24-hour daycare here. You are still, you know, the parent(s). Please take some responsibility while at the same time instilling responsibility.

- The gap. The gap between smart and dumb widens considerably in middle school.

- Reading. Kiddos, reading won’t kill you. Also, you can read for fun. That seems to be missing these days.

Been There. . . Done, well. . . just done!

February 24th, 2010
10:19 am

Maureen, the middle school “concept” was reportedly pioneered here in Georgia, and some of the above comments regarding its original intent essentially point to its way of serving as a transitional period, both academically and developmentally. In practice, however, I doubt the early proponents would agree completely with how many school districts operate them. Coincidentally – or not – when looking at donations from affinity programs sponsored by retailers, middle schools rarely appear in the top-tier of monies donated to schools. Normally, elementary schools & high schools receive the bulk of these donations – this trend holds some heavy implications. Having known (& still am friends with) middle grades educators, parents appear heavily challenged (in general) with their relationships with their middle-grades-aged children. The range of parental involvement swings to much broader extremes, with not nearly as many parents (in number) on the positive extreme of supportive of the teachers AND their children AND able to back it up with volunteer efforts, monetary donations, and follow-up communications regarding their child’s progress. I would LOVE to see some research comparing test scores and school rankings with MODERN middle schools and those resembling the formerly-used junior-high school model (not to forget the seldom-used-in-the-South intermediate schools, normally housing 7th & 8th-graders). If there ARE junior high schools still available, why not compare their test scores rankings, index rankings, etc. to those of middle schools to see whether the middle-school “concept” has really accomplished its original goals & satisfied the lofty mission statements drafted years back.

Been There. . . Done, well. . . just done!

February 24th, 2010
10:31 am

As an addendum to what was typed here before, some responses are needed: to Dr. Trotter, your comments could NOT have been stated any better, and with any more pointedness. To the “Legend of Len Barker”, yes, recess for middle-schoolers WOULD help them – they’re antsy enough with the hormones jumping earlier and earlier as more generations come up through their school years. To Ms. Bell, I have this to reply: the teachers DO care, but with having to deal with waste-of-time programming efforts jammed down their throats by central office educrats, state education gurus (self-appointed/appointed/promoted to these cushy positions by political “experts”), and administrators – in numerous cases – those entering the teaching profession AVOID middle school like swine flu. Why? Not enough time spent with the same student group – nor the inherent innocence & general decency – compared to those who prefer working with the elementary school kids, NOR enough emphasis on subject matter found at the high-school level, where subject-level experts generally thrive more. If middle school is RE-designed to serve as a REAL transitional model – accompanied with promising results shown, for years, to back up its existence – then perhaps it would not be the gate against which the battering ram of ‘Reform!’ constantly pounds!

Confused

February 24th, 2010
10:45 am

As a middle school teacher I can say that I understand that the middle school concept may need work. However, I think the blame can be placed on teachers, students, and parents…NOT just teachers alone. It gets frustrating as a teacher that is working until 7:00 at night to come up with activities and lessons that are engaging to hear parents and others say that I am demoralized and not concerned. If I was not concerned I would not be in the profession I am in. I do realize that some teachers out there do not care, but to place all the blame on the teachers is doing an inservice to those that do care.

Tonya T

February 24th, 2010
10:47 am

I’m 29, and i had the benefit of attending both a jr. high (7-9) and a middle school (6-8). I hated middle school then, and despise it now that my oldest is getting ready to head there next year. It is a muddle of unabashed hormones and immaturity. Junior high was a good experience and a much better prep for high school.

Tony

February 24th, 2010
10:52 am

Common Core Standards, since that has been brought up, are probably weaker than most of the the GPS. States are not asked to throw out their standards when they are stronger, only to make sure alignment works. They are doing this so that we can move to a national test. Many of you on this blog have asked for a national test for comparison.

Our GPS for math is one of the strongest curriculum plans in the nation, yet many of you are decrying it because it is “too hard” or some other flimsy excuse. Now that we have a strong curriculum in place, it’s time for everyone to put their money where their mouth is. Get behind the curriculum and expect our students to rise to the challenge.

V for Vendetta

February 24th, 2010
10:53 am

retired said something interesting,

“Dekalb used to have . . . the best education in the state.”

Maureen,

This is an absolutely true statement; however, we’ve never discussed what happened. I find that odd considering it is the exact same thing that is currently taking place in Cobb and Gwinnett. Funny how that works . . .

Tony

February 24th, 2010
10:58 am

One more thing, the Race to the Top initiative is more from our Governor than from DOE.

retired

February 24th, 2010
11:05 am

Spent 13 years in middle school. Originally,I loved it. Sixth grade worked in two or three teacher teams, with lots of flexibility. After a few years that really changed. My last year I taught 186 sixth graders social studies…It took two weeks to learn all the names. Imagine how these children felt having 8 teachers!!
I keep thinking though Middle Schools were established because the JR High concept by in large was failing. 10th graders were not being successful in high school. Maybe the whole system needs over-hauling.

retired

February 24th, 2010
11:08 am

Thanks V and I will say my children got a great education in Clayton County. The music program was considered the best in the state. They both participated in band and drama in HS and college, graduated from GA colleges and are leading successful professional lives.

Attentive Parent

February 24th, 2010
11:26 am

Tony- Your information on Common Core is not correct. There is no opt out for demonstrably rigorous state standards and Common Core requires that its standards be adopted word for word.

The Pioneer Report gives 3 states credit for high math standards: Massachusetts, Indiana, and California. The fact that Georgia is actually using its Frameworks to teach its math curriculum and that it failed to provide those Frameworks in either 1998 or 2005 to Fordham means that the state DOE misled the Fordham reviewers and failed to fulfill the terms of its participation in the surveys.

Although Sonny has been vocal in his support of Race to the Top so has Kathy Cox. I know firsthand from attending one of the meetings with David Driscoll when he came to town to trumpet Common Core.

Back to the middle school topic, it’s hard to imagine what middle school will be like if Georgia adopts these English standards that have little if any increase in difficulty from grade to grade.

It is as if the Common Core English and math standards were made to order for the constructivist philosophy the Atlanta Public Schools has so clearly trumpeted in the past.

Maybe that’s precisely what is going on. Chester Finn wrote yesterday how much the Gates Foundation is committed to the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Attentive Parent

February 24th, 2010
11:38 am

Maureen,

I’ve been stuck in the filter for a while.

Please rescue.

Attentive Parent

February 24th, 2010
12:06 pm

You also mentioned the national test involved. The Pioneer Report linked above says these standards appear to have written by the testing companies for the benefit of the testing companies.

In a presentation earlier in the Week to the Governors. Linda Darling-Hammond commented on the open-ended, subjective nature of the questions. She said the answers will need to be graded by teachers, not computers.

Maybe that’s part of the appeal of this initiative but if the Boston Herald says in an editorial that the English standards are “incoherent and unusable by real teachers”, we should take their word for it.

As Georgia’s teachers write on this blog daily, standards that are unusable in the classroom make teaching very frustrating even if it does create more teaching jobs.

Susan Mulcaire

February 24th, 2010
12:14 pm

So many recent reports confirm what many parents and teachers have sensed over the years that, as Ms. Williams (EdSouce) states “middle school is the last best chance to catch students who are behind in academics and get them on track”. Now is the time to stop the “fuzzy talk” and make meaningful, specific changes in middle level education. Some things educators should, by now, be able to agree on are: 1) the intervention time table should be set to an earlier date. Most intervention resources and all-out efforts should be shifted to the middle school level. 2) Often a lack of achievement in middle school is the result of a lack of study skills. Papers go missing, homework isn’t turned in and a student falls behind, loses confidence and is lost – even otherwise high achieving students can fail as a result of poor study/organizational skills. The middle years are the perfect time to help students learn good academic habits. Study and organizational skills apply across the curriculum and should be a standard part of a solid and successful middle level education. 3) Teacher evaluations matter. I know of no other profession where an employee does not receive an evaluation. They are useful tools providing feedback to help a professional improve the quality of his/her services and should be a part of every school’s improvement program.

common core standards

February 24th, 2010
12:20 pm

As I understand it, when the Governors signed on to this initiative (note it was the governors’ idea), the agreement simply stated (I believe) that each state will “adopt” the common core standards. There was no definition of what “to adopt” means. I don’t think it will be inconsistent with the agreement to adopt the common core standards for a track of students while having more rigorous sets for other groups.

If the federal DOE provided the draft to the Pioneer group, we should also keep in mind that these are simply a draft of the grade-by-grade standards. There is supposed to be a public comment phase as well as a reviewing committee. So, the final grade-by-grade standards may be different from the draft, too.

GA math standards

February 24th, 2010
12:20 pm

I agree with Tony that the math GPS is a pretty good one. We need to distinguish the GPS from the way it has been implemented, and most of all, from the frameworks.

RJ

February 24th, 2010
12:52 pm

@Susan Mulcaire, all teachers are evaluated every year. I’m not sure what school system you’re speaking of that doesn’t do evaluations, but it is required by everyone. Some schools have informal and formal evaluations. I’ve been teaching 15 years and I’ve ALWAYS been evaluated. There is a new evaluation tool to begin next year developed by the state – CLASS KEYS. Nothing new though.

Attentive Parent

February 24th, 2010
1:12 pm

If you watch the December presentation on CCSSI by Gene Wilhoit who heads CCSSO and Dane Linn, the Director of the NGA Center, they tell precisely what they mean by adopt.

Adopt means a state must enact the final English and math standards 100% word for word. A state may also then add up to 15% additional content. Some commentators misunderstood this as 85% commitment.

After the January 19, 2010 filing deadline for Race to the Top, CCSSO and NGA cleared up this misunderstanding and expressly said that the commitment to Common Core in a state’s application was to enact all of the standards verbatim. EdWeek covered this less than imely clarification.

Teachers should read the Pioneer report and appreciate what it would be like to try to teach with such vagueness. It will truly be a case of going from the frying pan directly into the fire for teachers trying to increase the academic knowledge and skills of students.

Attentive Parent

February 24th, 2010
1:16 pm

The Pioneer Report says expressly we need to slow this process of national standards down and do it right.

CCS- Read the report and then tell me your specific concerns.

I worry that with these CCSSI standards, the only kids in public middle school in the future who are well read and can write well and are solid in math will be those who get their skills from home.

Where’s the equity in that result?

cobbteach

February 24th, 2010
1:42 pm

As a high school teacher, I have observed that, at least in my part of the county, it takes us at least a month to get it over to our new freshmen that their opinions and contribution to the life of this high school are valued. Middle school seems not to be about the students at all. It’s about testing and walking in lines. Education isn’t “Can you do this?” Education is “What can you do and how can we help?”

Elizabeth

February 24th, 2010
1:53 pm

I have spent 21 years in middle school and 9 years in high school. High school came first. Middle school is a joke. Kids know that they will have unlimited opportunities to make up work. My school has a “no zero” policy so I spent my break grading “makeup” work which was due in January. Then these kids get to high school and all the rules change.

Parents think kids are still in elementary school and expect their children to be coddled as though they were. They fight every attempt I make to instill self discipline and responsibility in the studetns. and the adminsitrators back the paremts.

Kid fail and are promoted anyway.

All of that said… the real key to improving middle school academics is to require that , like the high school, SUBJECT SPECIALISTS be required in the core subjects. In my school we have “middle grades certified” people who cannot speak or write correct English– yet they teach language arts. If you want more rigorous content, make teachers in middle school specialize in a subject like high school teachers do. I am certified in English, grades 6-12, and have resisted all pressure to switch to middle school certification” so I would be more versatile”. Translation: so they can assign me to teach math or science, which I definitely am NOT qualified to teach.

Susan Mulcaire

February 24th, 2010
2:06 pm

RJ — Class keys? Can you explain? Will this include measurable markers of student achievement and improvement?

common core standards

February 24th, 2010
2:22 pm

Interesting information, but what about multiple tracks? Could a state adopt a common CORE standards for a track, but have separate tracks?

I would certainly agree with the idea of “slowing down.” If we thought the GPS implementation was a joke, the speed at which the current initiative is moving along is 100 times worse. If 4 years weren’t long enough time for publishers to create textbooks, would they be able to come up with textbooks in 4 months? Or even 14 months? Are they going to implement in K-12 all at once? Start in Grade 6 like the GPS – I think the DOE started with Grade 6 precisely because there were concerns about not much happening in middle school years. Or, are they going to take 13 years starting with Kindergarten?

If nothing else, we should have learned from the way how the math GPS was implemented and do a much better job this time around.

Attentive Parent

February 24th, 2010
2:47 pm

Absolutely not an option for multiple tracks which is ridiculous. The whole premise of Common Core is that ALL students be held to a single standard which it defines as College and Career Ready.

As the Report states specifically though this one standard is so low that “put simply, Common Core College Readiness will not get you into college”.

I think you would find yourself in agreement with the report’s concern that not all desirable academic knowledge should be a prerequisite for getting a high school diploma. That does not change the fact that certain knowledge and skills is essential for success in college and certain professions.

In some ways Common Core seems to be trying to nationalize Georgia’s commitment to one track for all in high school. Many Georgia teachers, parents, and students can tell precisely why the lack of multiple tracks, especially in high school and maybe middle, is a horrible idea.

Joy in Teaching

February 24th, 2010
3:15 pm

I’ve been teaching for 21 years.

The first 13 were spent in high school and now I’m teaching at the middle school level. When I taught 9th grade, I griped constantly about how my kids didn’t know how to behave, didn’t have any sense of accountability, and how little content they knew. I finally got sick of griping and decided to do something about it so I moved down to middle school.

Now that I’m in middle school, I gripe about how my kids didn’t know how to behave, how they don’t have any sense of accountability, and how little content they know.

I don’t think it is the kids. I do think that it is the system in general. For instance, I have one student in my 6th grade class who cannot read on a second grade level. Yet he is in the 6th grade. Why? Because his IEP says that accommodations have to be made in order to account for this. While I feel sorry for the kid, what type of accommodations is the world going to make for him when he gets out of school? None. And then what will happen to him? Not much. But he will have a certificate that says he completed 12 to 14 years of school.

To paraphrase Dr. Walter Williams, we have become a nation of sissies and we’ve become a nation increasingly ruled by emotions and feelings. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings so we do the warm and fuzzy thing so that we can lift others up.

The thing is, we’ve over done it. We are raising a whole generation of children who think that it is ok to be passively ignorant while being overtly rude and disruptive. Teachers aren’t allowed to hold them back although we threaten to do so if they don’t pass a standardized test. Yeah…like that ever happens. Teachers aren’t allowed to do much if anything to discipline a kid because it might hurt their self esteem. Today, I had a 7th grader come to class without something to write with so I gave him a pencil from the “found pencil” box at the front of the class. It was pretty chewed up, but it did work. He not only refused to use it, but demanded that I give him the pen that I was using. Yeah, right. Dream on, kid.

How do you fix middle schools? It wouldn’t be difficult, but it needs to be consistent. Someone with some big brass balls needs to be in charge in order to enforce the rules and not be such a wuss when it comes to dealing with parental demands. This model administrator should also be aware of what his/her teachers are doing and make sure that they are doing everything they can do to help students achieve. They also shouldn’t play favorites with either teachers or students.

Here are a couple of examples:

• Your kid didn’t do his homework last night? He can get credit for it if he does double the amount and it is on the teacher’s desk tomorrow.
• Your kid can’t multiple double digits? He’s not allowed to enroll in this school until his math ability is up to grade level.

But, it won’t happen. Why? Because we have become a nation of sissys.

Tony

February 24th, 2010
5:02 pm

Since the inception of the idea of Common Core, I have been opposed to their adoption. I have used the analogy that to level the playing field also require pushing down high spots to fill low spots. I do not think our state needs to adopt these standards and that we need to stick with the ones we have. We also need to continue to seek ways to improve them. The link below comes from a report that is hot of the press.

http://liberty.pacificresearch.org/publications/why-race-to-the-middle

Tony

February 24th, 2010
5:06 pm

Well, duh. If I had read all the posts today I would have seen Attentive Parent beat me to it. Way to go.