Navigating the Middle School Expedition C. Kenneth McEwin Tracy W. Smith Appalachian State University
Expedition• An expedition typically refers to a long journey or voyage undertaken for a specific purpose, often exploratory, scientific, geographic, military or political in nature.
SO, WHAT IS THE MIDDLE SCHOOL EXPEDITION?• What is the purpose of the journey?• What is the destination?• What are the challenges we face along the way?• What tools do we need to be successful?
The Legacy of Middle School Leaders: In Their Own Words• Project conceptualized in 2002• Investigation of a major educational reform in American education – the Middle School Movement• Design• Book published in 2011• Major findings
Major Findings Topic Summary• articulation and communication of the ideology and identity of middle school education• implementation of the various and collective components of the middle school philosophy• attention to the unique needs of young adolescents• the reorganization of middle schools; the influence of the middle school on American education
Major Findings Topic Summary• the implementation of appropriate curriculum for young adolescents• attention to appropriate teaching and learning practices• development of a substantial, scholarly knowledge base• commitment to specialized middle level professional preparation and development• the influence of policy, politics, and accountability initiatives on middle school education
Wanted: Middle Level Leaders! • Leaders are needed to continue the work that has been started on behalf of young adolescents and the schools that serve them. • The passion and intellectual energy that fueled those early years of conceptualization and implementation of middle schools is being extinguished by public and governmental forces that value quantitative data more than responsiveness to the needs of young adolescents.
Representative RemarksPaul George discusses need for leadership and the status of the Middle School Movement as an educational reform
Ideology and Identity of Middle School Education, 1 of 4• Early leaders - determined to right the wrongs in the way that young adolescents were being educated• Clear ideas, honorable motives, varied backgrounds and geographic locations• The attraction to educating young adolescents has often had a spiritual dimension. It has been called a moral imperative and a mission.
Ideology and Identity of Middle School Education, 2 of 4• Devoted energy to making middle schools look and operate differently from their junior high school predecessors.• It was some years before they began collectively examining and articulating their ideology about middle school education.• In retrospect, some of the early leaders consider this a great weakness of the Movement.
Ideology and Identity of Middle School Education, 3 of 4• Some participants believed that early leaders did have a clear ideology, one grounded in Progressive Education.• Among them, John Arnold, James Beane, Tom Dickinson, Nancy Doda, Paul George, and John Lounsbury, who described the Middle School Movement as “progressive education in contemporary dress.”• Perhaps it was not a lack of ideology that impaired the Movement but a failure to communicate that ideology clearly, widely, loudly, or consistently enough. [Joan Lipsitz video clip.]
Joan Lipsitz• Discussing the starting of a movement
Ideology and Identity of Middle School Education, 4 of 4• In 1982, the National Middle School Association published This We Believe, its landmark position statement about the organization’s vision for schools for young adolescents.• The Middle School ideology, then, has been characterized somewhat differently for those who have spent much of their professional lives inside it. At its core is the intent to provide the best possible education for young adolescents.• Individuals who have been involved have established their own positions about how that education might look and even why it is important.
Implementation of the Components of the Middle School Philosophy, 1 of 3• Participants characterized the implementation of middle school practices and programs as disappointing and too focused on structural changes.• Current challenge: too many middle schools that too narrowly define themselves.• Many changed the school’s name and grade configuration from junior high to middle school; may have started to implement some of the middle level organizational structures such as teaming or block scheduling, but they only began the journey and have stalled out.
Implementation, 2 of 3• Major mistake: implementing incrementally; leaders tried to implement middle school practices a little at a time.• We can no longer have a checklist or menu mentality about implementing best practices for middle level schooling.• Ken McEwin and Tom Gatewood recounted a prophetic warning Bill Alexander made very early in the Middle School Movement: “He [Bill] said we had to be really careful and not standardize the middle school.• One of the problems with the junior high school was that it became the same everywhere; it became standardized.” Ken McEwin maintained that “there are certain essential elements that ought to be in every middle school, but how those are implemented depends on the students and teachers and the community.”
Implementation, 3 of 3• The good news is that we now have a growing body of research to support empirically the implementation of middle school practices and structures.• Middle schools that more authentically follow the middle school concept (e.g., interdisciplinary team organization) have higher standardized test scores in reading and mathematics than do randomly selected middle schools.• Studies show that middle schools that have high levels of implementation of programs and practices associated with the middle school concept have higher achievement scores than schools that have only partially implemented the middle school.
Attention to the Unique Needs of Young Adolescents, 1 of 3• Participants believe that young adolescents have benefitted from the efforts of middle school initiatives.• Joan Lipsitz’s recollection helps us understand the magnitude of our progress in this area. She explained that when she wrote Growing Up Forgotten (1977), early adolescence was a “non-field.”• Now, nearly 50 years after William Alexander proposed the middle school in 1963 and nearly 40 years after the publication of Growing Up Forgotten (1977), millions of young adolescents have benefitted from an approach to education that was specifically conceived to attend to their needs.
Attention to the Unique Needs of Young Adolescents, 2 of 3• Our most vulnerable students are the very students in middle school who need heightened affiliation, heightened intimacy, heightened connection with human beings, long term accountability relationships with adults and other kids.• Participants such as Nancy Doda, Tom Gatewood, and John Lounsbury spoke about the power of middle schools to provide places of affiliation for young adolescents and that such affiliation is connected to academic accomplishment and positive self-esteem.
Attention to the Unique Needs of Young Adolescents, 3 of 3• As with most aspects of education, we must communicate more effectively about young adolescents and their needs. We cannot let the portrayals of young adolescents in the media prevail as the public’s perception of reality.• As observed by Nancy Doda, “We must emphasize the “wonderful, rich, beautiful, intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual side of development.”
The Reorganization of Middle Schools, 1 of 3• Using the definition of middle schools as those containing grades 5-8, 6-8, and 7-8, there were 4,884 middle schools in the United States in 1970. By 2008, there were 13,227 middle schools with those organizational plans.• We have now reached a professional and public consensus about what middle schools look like.• Tom Dickinson noted that one of the successes of the Movement is that people understand that the middle school is focused on development.
Reorganization, 2 of 3• Organizational approaches should reflect ideology, implementation, and responsiveness to young adolescents.• Despite the progress and popularity of middle school organization and the proven success of middle school practices, organizational issues are not without controversy.• Some middle school leaders remarked that the Middle School Movement became too preoccupied with organizational aspects of schools or “procedural orthodoxy.”• In recent years, the organizational focus has been changing to a more flexible understanding of middle schools.
Reorganization, 3 of 3• The reorganization of middle-level schools in America has been profound and far-reaching.• Middle school is now a part of the education establishment.• With the restructuring work behind us, middle school leaders can hope that the best is yet to come, that we are now positioned to get to the work of developing and providing the best possible services and education within those structures to maximize the potential of young adolescents as the brightest human capital on earth.
Influence of the Middle School on American Education, 1 of 2• Perhaps the most obvious influence is that the middle school has changed the structure and continuum of American schools and schooling from a two-tiered system of elementary and secondary to a three-tiered system of elementary, middle, and high school.• The public has accepted middle school as a school, as an organization. I think there is a general feeling that it needs to be different from elementary, different from high school but it’s a necessary, separate entity of its own.• John Lounsbury: “We’ve remade the face of American education, no question about it. Middle school is now seen and heard everywhere.”• Raised awareness of young adolescence as an important and distinct developmental stage.
The Influence of the Middle School on American Education, 2 of 2• Not all news is good.• Howard Johnston suggested that “middle schools have been unfairly targeted as the weak link in the system…The institution has never caught the imagination, or the commitment, of the American people to the extent that it deserves.”• Without governmental support of middle schools as a critical, unique tier in the American education system, we will continue to struggle for public support and commitment.• We must examine our motives, our advocacy, our practices, and our role in American education. We must work collaboratively to rededicate ourselves to present and future generations of young adolescents.
Appropriate Curriculum for Young Adolescents, 1 of 6• In our transcript data, the topic with the most “coverage” across our participants was curriculum.• In spite of the rich curriculum heritage of the Middle School Movement, and perhaps because of it, almost all of our research participants expressed disappointment about the implementation of appropriate curriculum for young adolescents.
Appropriate Curriculum, 2 of 6• “I think curriculum, outside of the interdisciplinary emphasis, has been one of the most neglected things in the Middle School Movement.” (John Arnold)• “If there’s one indictment of the Movement – that is one…that we did not pay attention to the curriculum probably from day one as we should have because we had an inheritance from the junior high school with the separate subject curriculum which we should have looked at as part of our organizational changes and we didn’t.” (Tom Dickinson)
Curriculum, 3 of 6• Paul George concurred that “our influence on what the curriculum is has been far less than what our influences have been on school organization like teaching, team organization, and flexible schedules and that sort of thing.”• James Beane and Chris Stevenson remembered fondly specific moments and times when curriculum innovation on behalf of young adolescents was alive, but like many other participants, they spoke with regret about missed opportunities.
Curriculum, 4 of 6• Hindrances or barriers that have prevented maximum success in the development of an appropriate curriculum for young adolescents: – federal, state, and local mandates – proliferation of public policies and practices that compel schools and teachers to segment knowledge for the purpose of making teaching and the assessing of it more “efficient” – tradition of separate-subject approach to curriculum
Curriculum, 5 of 6• The fate of integrated curriculum is often determined more by outside factors than by any debate about its educational merits.• Tom Erb, Joan Lipsitz, Howard Johnston and other participants expressed that they value standards and their potential to influence curriculum innovation for young adolescents. Without exception, it was the standardization of curriculum and the overemphasis on standardized tests that our participants opposed.
Curriculum, 6 of 6• James Beane stated that “the road to rigor with young adolescents has to run through relevance.” In the midst of the standards and accountability movement, and in spite of it, middle level leaders persist in their belief that young adolescents must be involved in making decisions about their learning. It is most centrally what defines an appropriate curriculum for the age group.• As the emphasis on standardized tests and curriculum has increased, exploratory teachers and their curriculum have been further alienated because time for their courses and students’ opportunities to attend their classes are often taken away because time and resources are directed to teaching and remediating in the “real” subjects.
Attention to Appropriate Teaching and Learning Practices• Participants expressed a positive view about innovations in instruction for young adolescents.• The Middle School Movement has been tremendously influential with regard to instruction.• Middle school classrooms today more so than thirty or forty years ago involve much more hands-on, engaging type activities, to some degree projects, and to some degree inter-disciplinary or multi-subject units and activities.• Nancy Doda noted that “teachers today are more likely to engage in collaborative teaching methods than they did in the 1960s.” She stated that generally speaking, middle school classrooms today are “livelier and more engaging in methods and pedagogy than they were in the 1960s.”
Development of a Substantial, Scholarly Knowledge Base• A substantial, scholarly research base for middle school education is important.• Growing body of research related to middle school education and young adolescence.• Research has shown that implementing middle school practices makes a positive difference for young adolescents. (Tom Erb, Ken McEwin)• Middle school teachers have benefitted from a growing body of descriptive data about what good middle school teaching looks like. (John Arnold)• Unanimous belief that more research is needed.
Specialized Middle Level Professional Preparation and Development, 1 of 2• Without exception, participants in this study are advocates of specialized middle level teacher preparation.• Critical to the success of young adolescent students and middle-level teachers whose confidence, effectiveness, and efficacy are increased when they feel knowledgeable.• Knowledgeable teachers are better positioned to lead innovative efforts on behalf of their students.
Specialized Middle Level Professional Preparation and Development, 2 of 2• The failure of the Middle School Movement to advocate for and establish specialized middle school teacher education programs early became a barrier to maximizing its progress.• The overall course of action, it seems, is to do whatever we can to support the training and preparation of all professionals (e.g., teachers, principals, counselors) who work with young adolescents in middle-level schools so that they will feel prepared, confident, and determined to have an impact.• Any other approach is the equivalent of “malpractice.” (Ken McEwin and Tom Dickinson)
Influence of Policy, Politics, and Accountability Initiatives, 1 of 2• State and national politics and policies affect education at every level, and middle level education has been especially vulnerable to the changing tides of politics.• At the state level, perhaps the two most influential elements of policy are related to teacher licensure and the curriculum.• Many states now have specialized middle level teacher licensure or endorsement.• Also, many states have a curriculum that is divided into elementary, middle, and high school levels.
Influence of Policy, Politics, and Accountability Initiatives, 2 of 2• Policies at the national level have not been so friendly to middle level education.• Major national bills like Title I and No Child Left Behind reorient our schools.• NCLB also narrowly defines teacher quality and student success.• Joan Lipsitz seemed to suggest that we cannot merely reject the entire notion of public accountability. Rather, we must offer alternatives, ways to demonstrate that the time young adolescents spend in our schools adds value to their individual lives and adds to the cohesion of our democratic society.
Current Status of Middle Level Education, 1 of 3Good News First• More teachers than ever are more understanding and responsive to young adolescents.• The greatest asset of the Middle School Movement has been a serious and more than rhetorical commitment to young adolescents. (James Beane)• The middle school concept has brought more teachers into better relationships with young adolescents. And I think it has made their lives better. I think they are happier about being a teacher than they would have been had the concept not opened the door for them. (Beane)
Current Status of Middle Level Education, 2 of 3• We know more about best practices than we’ve ever known before; we know what good pedagogy looks like; we know what good middle schools can look like; we know that the research supports these practices that we can articulate.• Convergence of understanding about great teaching, the advances of looking at quality of student work have improved conversations around teaching and learning.• Middle school is established as a legitimate part of the continuum in K-12 American public education system.
Current Status of Middle Level Education, 3 of 3Bad News• Lack of complete implementation.• Described it variously as in limbo, in a pause, in neutral, stagnant, at a standstill, not growing, no new ideas, in a state of arrested development, a plateau, losing ground, at a peak, but could be starting downhill, in a defensive mode, under assault, unfairly targeted as the emblem of school failure in the United States, shaky, struggling, a process of becoming, in for some rough roads, fragile, being eroded, in trouble, the whipping boy for public education.• These words and phrases suggest that participants characterize the Movement as being in a passive, neutral stance.• They described their own dispositions as reluctantly cynical, wanting to be hopeful, and cautiously optimistic.
Movement• In horology, a movement is the internal mechanism of a clock or watch, as opposed to the case, which encloses and protects the movement, and the face which displays the time.• In the Middle School Movement, it seems we worked to create a model of a school, a case to enclose and protect young adolescents and our beliefs about their sacredness.• We also worked to communicate that model to others, to expose the right face for middle schools.• Some schools literally changed their faces by changing the signs on their door from “junior high school” to “middle school.” However, the essence of those schools, their inner workings, were not fully developed.
Possibilities• Fortunately, the middle school leaders who participated in our study did not concede defeat with a passive characterization of middle school education.• Rather, they offered many insights for reigniting Middle School Education as a vibrant, dynamic, “green and growing edge of educational reform.”
Next Steps• In light of this information and these findings, what do you see as your role in promoting an appropriate education for young adolescents in your school, district, community, and state?• How do you plan to navigate the expedition of progress in middle level education and reform?