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Bush Institute Tackles Middle School Learning

Lest anyone thought President George W. Bush hasn't already had a pretty big impact on public education, courtesy of his signature No Child Left Behind Act, an institute created in his name is looking to extend that influence.

Today, the George W. Bush Institute unveiled its second education initiative, this time focused on improving middle schools. (The first focuses on recruiting and training principals.)

"Middle school is the last and best chance to prepare students for a successful high school career," former first lady Laura Bush announced at a Houston school today, according to a press release. "Research shows with systematic, intensive interventions that students who started middle school behind can catch up."

The intention is to bring a "comprehensive, research-based approach" to middle schools, the announcement explains. (I should caution that the Bush administration encountered some criticism over how it chose to define "scientifically based research" in education.

The project is being led by Sandy Kress, a name that's surely familiar to the "inside baseball" crowd who followed the debate over the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. As a White House aide at the time, he played a key role in working with Congress to craft the legislation.

Yesterday, I spoke with Kerri Briggs, the director of education reform at the Bush Institute, about the new effort, dubbed Middle School Matters.

"Working together with top researchers and practitioners from around the country, we've pulled together research about middle school and middle school students to create a platform ... that will ensure that students are ready for high school," she told me. "We're starting it as a pilot project," said Briggs, who was an assistant secretary of education under President Bush.

Researchers developing Middle School Matters have identified 11 elements seen as critical for middle school success. They include strong school leadership; effective teachers; interventions in reading, writing, and mathematics; and the use of data to drive instruction.

The institute will select 10-15 schools to participate by the end of this year, with an emphasis on schools that serve low-income and minority communities. The press release notes that each pilot school "will undergo a tailored needs assessment and will be matched with a support team to assist in the implementation of the Middle School Matters specifications over two years."

Briggs said she hopes that the initiative will expand to more schools over time.

"Success breeds interest, so if our hypothesis is correct [about this effort's potential], it will naturally lead to others being interested, if we do it well," she said.

So far, the institute has raised $500,000 for the project from the Meadows Foundation, based in Dallas, but further fundraising is under way.

Partners in the initiative include the Southern Regional Education Board, America's Promise, Civic Enterprises, the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

The Bush Institute is part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which includes the presidential library located at Southern Methodist University.

For more on the project, you can also check out this Associated Press account.

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