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.