|There appears to be a considerable amount of research that supports the establishment of middle schools; however, frequently one hears the question: Why establish a middle school now? We went through the traditional junior high and it educated us. People tend to forget that society is always in a state of flux, and it is somewhat easy to see why people think schools should not change; in fact, schools are still functioning on the industrial model. Some (Achilles, 1990) believe that schools are a miniature of society. For instance, during the agricultural age, schools were like barns, one room buildings where everyone was educated. As industry became more important, schools changed; there was specialization, with teachers teaching only one subject, in 55-minute time blocks, with students moving from room to room, somewhat like an assembly line. Schools have changed little over the last forty to fifty years; yet during this same time span, society changed significantly. Our clients have changed much over the last several years; we have to be able to have the schools meet the needs of the students, rather than to have the students meet the pre-formed school program.|
Through a review of a number of articles, conferences, readings, talking to others, and working in schools for a number of years, this writer identified the following changes providing possible reasons for establishing a middle school, as opposed to keeping the traditional junior high:
These changes suggest that the clients changed significantly over the last several years; not only have the needs of the students changed, but there have also been significant changes in the students communities and families. Advocates of a middle level program suggest that, while the students and their needs have changed, the traditional junior high has not changed to address these new needs. One could view this as a Leave it to Beaver school system trying to educate the child from the Simpson Family.
The advocates of a middle level program have long supported the middle school as the most appropriate way to educate young adolescents and have developed the following essential elements of a true middle school. (Lounsbury, 1982)
James Garvin, the director of the New England League of Middle Schools, reported on parental expectations from middle school. (Middle School Journal, 1987). Based on several thousand interviews, Garvin compiled the following as the most important aspects of a middle school for parents:
Garvins findings support other research, such as was reported in Turning Points (1990), which showed that for the parents of middle school students, content is not as important as the affective domain in their childrens education. Garvins findings also stress the importance of continued and on-going communication between the school and the parent. Glatthorn & Spencer (1986) report that During both the junior and senior high period, a group of adolescents of the same chronological age will usually have a range of at least six years in maturational age. (22) The greatest differences generally occur between the ages twelve to fourteen for girls and between the ages of fourteen to sixteen for boys. For many students, the high-point of the differences between these adolescents occurs when they are in junior high. These differences are manifest in a variety of ways.
There are a assortment of differences in the cognitive levels of the middle level adolescents, with some students still at the concrete level while others have entered the formal-operations level, where logic can be applied to the solution of problems. (Glatthorn & Spencer, 1986) Additionally, according to Glatthorn and Spencer, there are differences in the psycho-social development of the young adolescent, as well as wide differences in the physical and moral development of the middle level adolescent.
One report stated that Data from 130 exemplary schools show that changing to middle school organization positively affects student achievement and personal development, learning climate, faculty morale, staff development and parental and community involvement. (George & Oldeker, 1986; 79). The article suggested that successful middle schools have very similar programs which are based on the recommendations found in the literature of middle level education. These programs, report George and Oldeker are ... distinctly different from those common to elementary and high schools. (George & Oldeker, 85; 79)
Some community members may express concern that the middle school de-emphasizes academics; however, proponents of the middle school feel that if a child is not mentally capable of learning a concept, to expect the child to learn only produces frustration. College preparation needs to remain in the hands of high schools, since the middle level student is not intellectually ready to learn the concepts needed for college level work. While a child may look to be 16 years old, we cannot assume that the child can also think like a 16 year old. In fact, very few middle level youngsters can be expected to perform consistently at the higher intellectual levels that normally develop when they are in high school. (Arth, 1985; p1)
George Melton, the Deputy Executive Director of the NASSP spoke at the Annual Convention in 1990. In his speech, called Last Best Chance, he made reference to the Carnegie Report Turning Points (1990); the report, claimed Melton, did not come up with anything new; what it did come up with was a lack of evidence of commitment to the goals - the scarcity of actual practices that demonstrate the commitments that we profess to possess.
Melton claims that the 1989 report showed apathetic students, routine procedures, irrelevant curriculum and fragmented instruction. Every hurdle can be cleared, said Melton, except that of a lack of commitment or lack of belief. At this time in our history, according to Melton, children appear to be a liability; for instance, the tax code treats children as a liability when preparing taxes. The US is rapidly becoming a nation of adults. Educational quality deteriorates when children are held in low esteem - when children are seen as a liability, according to Melton. (1990) As the number of single parent homes continues to increase, caring for children - both from a financial point of view and from availability of time - it becomes more difficult to raise children. The majority of US families have no children under eighteen years of age. Seventy percent of new home buyers need two incomes to make the mortgage payments.
Perhaps most importantly, we must avoid the transmission of learned helplessness. As Melton stated at the NASSP conference:
We teach them (children) to their ability and convince them that they cant perform; we make them feel different, unwanted, unloved, and as they grow older, they carry with them this learned helplessness. They become not what they once thought they were but what we thought and told them they were. ... We must find a way in which each child can be successful, help him achieve success and learn that he or she is a person of worth. Specifically, Melton recommends:
J. Howard Johnston has contributed much in the area of tracking; speaking at the NASSP convention in 1990, he advocated for a change in the system of grouping. Because of tracking, Johnston feels, a lot of kids have too few connections to school, which makes it easy for them to check out when they reach the age of sixteen. Students dont make demands on the system to meet their needs if they feel that they do not belong.
Johnston reported at the NASSP convention that his research indicated that the teacher adjusts his/her performance expectations based on the perceptions that the teacher has of the classs ability. With higher achieving classes, the teacher asks more open ended questions, provides direct instruction and encourages student planning. When teachers are asked to describe lower level classes, teachers describe these students in terms of what they cannot do. Since group membership is very important, students in lower groups have to meet the expectations of the rest of the group members, which discourages achievement because this group does not value learning. We program ourselves to make it virtually impossible to teach either group, said Johnston.
David Hornbeck, a member of the Carnegie Commission who helped write Turning Points (1990) paints a rather scary picture, stating that 50% of all the students aged 10-15 are at risk; only 25% of the students in this country can think critically or solve problems. According to Hornbeck, what the young adolescent needs most are: a sense of belonging, intimacy, a sense of security, a feeling of success, and having adults who care. Teachers must be trained to understand the special needs of these young people. Because such a high percentage of these youngsters are at risk, this stage - young adolescence which ranges from approximately 10 to 15 years of age - is indeed the ... last best chance... that these students have.
Among Hornbecks recommendations are the following:
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last updated on 25 July 2008
© H. Jurgen Combs