Fixing the Middle Mess

In a recent entry from her Answer Sheet blog on the Washington Post website, Valerie Strauss contemplates How to fix the mess we call middle school. As anyone who’s taught students in that age group knows, the mess ain’t pretty.

In my school experience, I’ve attended a “middle” school that included grades 5 through 8 and taught in a “junior” high with 9th graders. In our district, three of the 24 middle schools start with 6th grade instead of 7. It seems as if the concept has largely be shaped by a combination of experimentation, sketchy research, and speculation, and the mess is not limited to the US.

Cutting through the international jumble of approaches to organizing schools for the “middle” years, Strauss offers some pretty simple suggestions for fixing the problem.

The answer: blowing up middle school as we know it and turning at least some of it into a “boot camp for life.”

Enough with “academic rigor.” Stop testing kids ad nauseam.

We need to create middle-school education environments that would allow kids to learn skills in unconventional ways and that would give them far more time to engage in physical activity outside the classroom. It is a perfect time to help kids learn the value of manual labor while they learn to use their brain.

As Strauss concludes,

The sustained experimentation with middle school-age students has continued because schools have failed to meet the emotional and academic needs of adolescents.

Changing the grade configuration isn’t going to do it. More tests and a mountain-range of data won’t do it either. We need real reform.

Exactly! Although layering on more test prep is so much easier and cheaper than actually addressing the problem.