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The end of middle school?

In Stamford, Conn., Superintendent of Schools Anthony Mazzullo wants to reconfigure his district's K-5 and 6-8 schools into K-8 models. Not only do middle grade students feel alienated from students and teachers in their separate school, their achievement levels drop off dramatically when they reach middle school, he says.

In a K-8 setting, Mazzullo says middle grade students can have a team of teachers with smaller groups and more connections. And ma eighth-grader can have a schedule that mirrors the one in high school to prepare for high school while staying in a small setting. He adds that parents fear middle schools as "institutions."

"Children still need a lot of nurturing that elementary school provides," Mazzullo says. "What adds are exposed to in TV and media games is suggesting that they are older than they feel. They feel a sense of alienation and their grades drop and their attitudes are not that positive."

Mazzullo's idea is supported by the RAND Corporation's recent study on middle schools.

The study claims that evidence shows that 6-8 schools, which mainly started in the 1980s, and the transition for children can cause problems that negatively affect students' developmental and academic progress. The study calls for fewer stand-alone schools to help reduce student stress.

But according to the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, it doesn't matter if adolescent children are taught in a K-8 school building or a 6-12 school or even a 6-8 school. What matters is whether or not students are given a middle grade education. "The issue is not grade configuration but about practices that go on in the school building," says Deborah Kasak, the forum's executive director.

The problem with middle school education nationwide is that such practices have not been uniformly implemented to the degree to which they should, she adds.

With tight school budgets in recent years, schools are more inclined to cut team teaching, where two to four teachers have the same students and work together on lesson plans. This works well with middle grade students who need more familiarity, Kasak says.

The No Child Left Behind act is also altering the way teachers think about school and success, thus, stressing test scores, she says.

Middle school students need academic excellence balanced with developmental responsive practices so students want to do well for teachers. Having students connect to adults for help is also key, Kasak says.

www.rand.org/research_areas/education/
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Title Annotation:Update: education news from schools, businesses, research and government agencies
Author:Pascopella, Angela
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
Words:405
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