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Mayhem in the Middle

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Is high school reform the key to academic improvement in the United States—or are public schools sagging in the middle? In this Education Week Commentary, Cheri Pierson Yecke, the state chancellor for K-12 public schools in Florida, claims that the seeds of high school failure are sown in grades 5-8. She argues that the combination of lowered academic and behavioral expectations for middle school students, part of the "middle school concept," contributes to slumping achievement in later grades.

Do you agree with Yecke? Are America's middle schools the place where academic achievement goes to die? Or is the middle school concept sound?

56 Comments

Yecke's article suffers from the same malady as much of the discussion surrounding education reform, a gross over-simplification of the most complex neurologic response known to mankind, human learning. She prejudicially assumes all middle schools focus on "storms of adolescence" at the sacrifice of academic growth and rigor. She inaccurately characterizes schools' consideration of developmental appropriateness as a "malady of the middle school concept" citing as supporting evidence the apparent success of early adolescent students in other countries of the global spectrum. Yecke clearly, and inaccurately, asserts that high academic and behavioral expectations cannot co-exist with a focus on fostering strong adolescent development.

Indeed, middle level students learn best when placed in an environment that is both academically rigorous and developmentally appropriate. There is no questioning the need for reform in American public schools, elementary, middle, and high schools. Each requires its own specific changes. Middle schools are not exempt. However, to assert that all middle schools are academic mush is much similar to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Yecke leaves readers with the assumuption that, by simply increasing academic and behavioral expections, middle schools will begin delivering successful students. I certainly hope readers of this article understand that we must give consideration to the developmental needs of all ages and levels of students when we develop academic curriculum. Failing to give such consideration just sets the stage for the next series of failures.

Yecke's article is not worthy of debate or comment. Research her out of date references and irresponsible comments made out of context. On a proactive note, visit the site of mgforum.org and read about middle schools that are achieving results.

Yecke's article is not worthy of debate or comment. Research her out of date references and irresponsible comments made out of context. On a proactive note, visit the site of mgforum.org and read about middle schools that are achieving results.

I read your article with great interest. I believe middle schools, when run as they should, are a very positive place for students to learn. Teachers can have rigorus academic expectations of all their students and still believe in the middle school concept.
I do disagree with your statement that "Too many educators argue that little should be expected of middle school students, intellectually or behaviorly, because ....." Teachers in the middle do expect a lot of their students in class. Teachers do not come to class each day just to get a paycheck. It is hard work to teach and those who have been in the "trenches" for several years know this. Yes, there does need to be improvement, but it will take all working together to face the challenge, administrators, educators, parents and the community at large. Thanks for listening to me. Bob Stewart-

Mayhem in the Middle should have been replaced by the title Wasted Days and Wasted Lives. The K-5 elementary school has a clear mission encompassed by standards of teaching the youngsters how to read, write, and hopefully something about successfully interacting with each other and those around them.

The secondary high school also has a clear mission preparing students for entering in to the world of work or for post secondary education. The standards in many way support this and through their mastery somewhat indicate that the child is capable of taking his or her next steps.
This four years of schooling is presented with many problems primarily the deficit issues surround a great number of children upon their arrival at the high school.

So of these deficits are paradoxical. Some actually experienced examples: over half of the incoming 8th graders having been recommended for honors or accelerate course work, when their writing and reasoning skills were sub par; over 80% of those recommended for English Honors are girls. A brief review of handwriting neatness tells all. Those with good penmanship are recommended. The others are not. The extension of this problem is that honors paths are very hard to crack for those not all ready in that track. Therefore, penmanship determines higher level potential for more complex thinking type programs. I could go on.

The middle school suffers from terminal insignificance and hyper-irresponsibility. First, middle school teachers are considered secondary teachers by credentialing. Upon applying to districts, the overwhelming majority had sought work in their field at the high school level. When these jobs did not materialize, many take middle school grade level assignments hoping a high school position will come available. So there, they wait in hopes that they can be picked up by a principal at a high school.

The second pillars in this temple of responsibility are the principals. Again, principals are cut out of two molds – those who want to be at the K-5 elementary level and those that want to be high school administrators and principals. The high school is the show, the games, the scholarships, and the whole deal. Few folks training for administrative programs set their sights on being a middle school administrator. They arrive there by default. Again, they wait the time when they can either be place at a K-5 school or by filling a position on a high school administrative team. No one dreams of being that middle school principal.

And finally the students. They arrive on a high having completed elementary school, hopefully with most of their basic skills in tack. Here they dutifully follow what ever the curriculum the school might offer: English, social studies, math, Exploration of Home Economics, Exploration of Foreign Language, Wood Shop, Leadership, Teachers Aide, Office Aide and more. Soon, all too soon, the kids find out that the middle school grades do not count. The grades do not go on transcripts. Retention does not happen because it was primarily punitive rather than academic rehabilitation. Soon middle school grades become a mystery. Using the 'how to keep parents off of my back’ process one sees lots of B’s, and A’s. Parents of kids with B’s and A’s do not raise a ruckus. So soon, the level of responsibility of these students has sunken to where it most logically should be. Why am I jumping through these arbitrary hoops for nothing of significance? They have found out the secrets.

Teachers after about the third year have found the secret also. “ I won’t bother you, if you won’t bother me.” Projects are fun. Grades are pleasant. Teacher and student are relatively happy. Homework is next to nil. There are very few evening responsibilities, and the pressure of meeting college requirement for these middle school kids do not exits.

Principals get the same way. Wanting something else, but being at the middle school, the principals start out like gangbusters. Soon they learn their role in insuring irresponsibility. The come to roll along with the process. Keep the lid on. Keep the parents happy. Deal with the trouble makers and pass them all along to high school, because there things count.

These three years a ripe with no one taking what is happening seriously and what is done for the most part is insignificant.

I have been to other countries and they do not suffer from the 'hands and glands' mantra of the American middle school. The curriculum is rich and compliments the curriculum in the secondary college or high school. Reading, writing, listening and speaking are the orders of the day. The three years are focused upon the mastery of algebra by the end of the eighth grade. These schools also have rich athletic and activities programs that place them in competition with surround schools. Each school that I have visited has an aura of pride associated with it.

If I were an upper case policy maker in a school district, I would look to do the following:

• Determine the domains tested on the high school exit exam and focus all writing and Language Arts course on mastering these written processes.
• Algebra readiness assessment upon exiting the 5th grade so appropriate course could be set in place so that mastery of Algebra takes place by the 8th grade.
• Each student would be enrolled in Spanish 1 & 2 over the three years of middle school mastering all of the necessities of the language for advanced study at the high school.
• Each student would be enrolled in Chinese 1 & 2 for the three years of middle school mastering all of the necessities of the language for advanced study at the high school.
• Establish a middle school athletic program in the popular sports of the area that could include: boys and girls’ basketball, volleyball, soccer, and track. Softball, flag football primarily for boys, tennis – whatever could be feasible. This would bring on more parental involvement and would help to engender school identity.
• Activities would include something unique. Each 6th grade class upon arrival would select a three-year neighborhood/ community project that would bring positive change to those affected. This would be their project for the three years.
• Activities should also include chess competition, Odyssey of the Mind contest, Academic Decathlon, inner school Mind Madness competitions, and then Intra School Mind Madness competition.


The goals here would be to foster purpose and to foster academic connection, direction, and consequence.
The current High School Exit Exams have at their base about 90 % of what should have been mastered in the middle schools years.

Districts need to step up and demand that middle schools shape up quickly. To insure accountability placing the local high school principal in charge of overseeing the middle school operation with the site administrator serving as a satellite high school assistant principal might be the right step. In this manner, the discussions on growth and account ability would take place weekly with a team of others to serve as assistants

The above sturcture ans matriculation pattern would eliminate the in inconsequential nature of middle school, focus its intent and energy, and bring a sense of community to these schools. Something has to change to rid the system of this wasteland.

I teach middle school Special Day Class and my kids come to me in 6th grade lower and lower each year. Reading level lower than 2nd grade and math skills at the add & subtrat level. I do have the lowest kids at my school. I give my kids a strong math program reenforcing the basics +,-,x, /. Concentrate on times tables. In language arts I try to get them to a 3 paragraph story. We use Kidspiration/Inspiration to help with this growth.
Discipline this year with a new principal is let to us in the classroom. I am tired of being the heavy.I am strong on classroom management, but once they leave my room-- all hell breaks lose.
We have a police officer at our school that is able to write tickets and the joke is if you want it done call officer coil or an actual fight when written up turns out to be 'play fighting.' Result a slap on the hand with one day afterschool picking up trash.
In our district this type of crap isn't only in middle school.... Sandy

The middle school age is a period of personal adjustment, but it is also a period for academic rigor. All students need to be academically challenged. Teachers need to participate in embedded professional development; looking at student work, developing common tasks, and having students produce work that resembles the quarterly or trimester benchmarks. Our expectations should be clear-to our teachers and students.

The middle school age is a period of personal adjustment, but it is also a period for academic rigor. All students need to be academically challenged. Teachers need to participate in embedded professional development; looking at student work, developing common tasks, and having students produce work that resembles the quarterly or trimester benchmarks. Our expectations should be clear-to our teachers and students.

Ms. Yecke's bee-in-bonnet needs to be freed. I suggest she visit one of the rigorous middle schools among the international or overseas schools around the globe. In Europe, there are scores of these fine independent schools, mine among them, that expect high achievement from its middle schoolers. My own kids, for instance, are expected to visit world class galleries and museums not only in London but as far afield as Pompeii and Athens where they study the skills and attainments of the ancients as well as that of artists and scholars nearer our own time. Using 'standards' from accepted US sources, we teachers base our curriculum around -- and here my own liberal stance comes to the fore -- 'the whole child', and that includes raging hormones as well as human intellect.

I have also spent a decade teaching English and Social Studies. Here many of kids learned Greek to prepare for their field studies on the Peloponesus. They prepared themselves physically to conduct their own Olympic games in the original stadium at Olympia. They wrote poetry, fiction, and essays on what it meant to be a Greek in the ancient world. They prepared Greek food and then compared it to the real thing in Nauplion and ancient Corinth. And yes, they took tests, and many scored highly.

Many of our middle school students participate in international honor band and honor choir. They perform plays. They are computer literate. They have up to two hours of homework each night. And all in a setting that caters specifically to the needs of
pre-teens and early teenagers. Some of them actually find high school a relief after the rigors of our eighth grade.

And where do these kids go on to university? Before you name all the Ivy League schools across the East Coast and then sprinkle in the names of other top schools across the US, add those august colleges of Oxford and Cambridge here in the UK. It may very well be that Florida's middle schools need a reshake. The author of that article can not, however, tar us all with her brush of infamy and slander. It may that Mr. Bush needs to rethink what he has done to Florida's schools. Fortunately, we don't have to worry about that here in London where we are preparing for our cycle of Midstates Accreditation.

I would urge readers, especially those who value what middle schools do for the kids they serve, to become members of the National Middle Schools Association, and better yet to affiliate also with the European League for Middle Level Education. A simple Web search will locate both organizations. They offer much to contradict what Ms. Yecke has said. Perhaps we middle school teachers are indeed 'caught in the middle', but it is here that I have flourished as a teacher for over two decades, and I wouldn't want to work anywhere else. It may be that some of my colleagues around the world would rather be high school folks, but as I look around the lunch table at ASL, I find dedicated, happy professionals who endeavour to provide meaty, intellectual, hard-working and yes, FUN work for our kids. Long may the middle school reign and serve.

I truly wonder if Ms. Yecke has spent any time in a quality middle school. Yes, the middle school concept encourages attention to the social emotional development of students but that is not the only important concept stressed. High academic achievement and rigorous curriculum aligned to state standards is also important. I would suspect that middle schools that have not proved successful have not implemented all tenets of a quality middle school program. The middle school concept has worked well in our rural middle school. Maybe Ms. Yecke needs to investigate results from other schools in other states and work with the Florida educational system to develop a real middle school system instead of just bashing others. Ms. Yecke must believe that so goes the Florida middle schools, so goes the rest of the world. Maybe it is just the Florida education system that owes their children more and needs to find a way to resuscitate.

Yecke writes: "The key is to treat education in the middle years as education, rather than merely a period of personal adjustment. That means rigorous academic standards, a coherent curriculum, high expectations, effective instruction, strong leadership, results-based accountability, and sound discipline." Who says that the middle school concept calls for treating education as "a period of personal adjustment"? Only Yecke.

The National Middle School Association supports rigorous academic standards, a coherent curriculum, high expectations, effective instruction, strong leadership, results-based accountability, and sound discipline, as do their state affiliates and those of us who are actively involved in the classroom or administration of middle schools.

Yecke unilaterally defines middle schools without recognizing the fact that those of us in the trenches (I will stack up my credential of 16 years as middle school teacher and 9 years as middle school principal, with 4 years as a superintendent of a K-12 school district against hers, any day) live and breathe middle school. Just because we recognize that the affective side of education is vital to effective teaching (it is the core of sound discipline at all levels) doesn't mean that we are soft on rigor. While it is an unfortunate effect of the erosion of support that public schools have suffered from many directions, most teachers and administrators, including those in the middle, do have high expectations, believe in and practice effective instructional methods, and expect to be held accountable.

Yecke's premise relies on her narrowly constructed vision of middle schools and the learning that occurs within their walls. False premises lead to false conclusions. Reject her assumptions.

Chancellor Yecke is the educational leader in my State, Florida. Although I have not yet met her, I am looking forward to an opportunity to work with her to further to enhance the vision of moving education forward for our middle level learners. I agree that is it critically important that we continue to enhance the academic challenge that is provided for our students. According to Encarta® World English Dictionary © (1999 Microsoft Corporation), the definition of rigor is the application of precise and exacting standards in the doing of something. That ‘something’ is exactly what we need to define and refine. That ‘something’ is more the issue than the middle school philosophy.

Chancellor Yecke references educators arguing “little should be expected of middle school students, intellectually or behaviorally, because the storms of early adolescence render high expectations unreasonable. In my experience, I have never heard an educator espouse that position. I would hold Broward County’s middle level academic plan, commitment and results as a benchmark for rigor, relevance and relationships. Are we perfect? No. Are we where we want to be? No. We recognize that there is a significant challenge, in the American educational system, maintaining academic momentum as students – at all levels of accomplishment – leave our middle schools and embark on the next phase of the academic and human growth.

Perhaps one place to start the dialogue is to review the style and rigor embedded within the statewide tests for middle level students versus the style and rigor embedded within the tests for grades 9 – 12. We feel that there is a dramatic disconnect in that arena. The disconnect occurs at the State level and not in the Middle or High Schools. The assessment tool should be a roadmap for building bridges and encouraging strategies for addressing both learning deficits and ever more rigor. These strategies could be a cornerstone for embedding a culture of reform, academic challenge, and innovation

I believe that the Chancellor raises some critically important issues: we must aggressively pursue enhancing academic offerings for our students as they prepare to enter an adult world and workforce that is far different than we imagined. I do not think that a dynamic process that encourages whole life learning, reasonable adventuring, and collaboration is the problem.

To Whom It May Concern:

Cheri Pierson Yecke called upon the forces of this country that are most engaged in improving America’s high schools to turn their attention to America’s middle schools, and I could not agree more. Historically, the middle school aged student has been viewed as a developing adolescent who is working through the complex and complicated process of growing physically, socially, and emotionally. As a result, when the implementation of the middle school concept was first introduced in the early eighties, nonacademic endeavors such as the emotional and social development of students was deemed to be the top priority and academic rigor took a back seat.

However, as middle schools developed and evolved, changes began to take place as the “you’re okay, I’m okay” philosophy of the eighties and early nineties began to show signs of vulnerability. The new millennium brought forth accountability and an understanding that schools have the absolute responsibility to prepare all students to be productive citizens within a world-wide economy. Middle school leaders and teachers understood the mandate, and they accepted the challenge to change. They studied data, established rigorous academic standards, provided differentiation of instruction, and they focused on staff development that would guide them in the development of world class students learning within world class schools.

It appears that Ms. Yecke is not aware of the evolution that has and continues to take place in middle schools. The middle school model serves as a guide for educators: it helps them understand middle school students so that they can create and institute conditions within schools that meet the academic needs of all students. As the principal of Azalea Gardens Middle School for the last six years, I have implemented many changes that have resulted in high levels of academic achievement and success for my students. Using the middle school model, I place my incoming sixth grade students within a cluster of five teachers who help these students make the transition to the middle school environment. My seventh and eight grade students follow various schedules that meet their academic needs. All of my teachers provide differentiation of instruction so that the modalities of all students are addressed and capitalized upon.

Ms. Yecke does not appear to understand that the issue is not school structure – i.e. middle schools vs. junior high schools or K-8 schools – the issue is about what goes on inside the schools and the classrooms. Like their high school counterparts, young adolescents flourish when their teachers know them well and challenge them with academic rigor. Ms. Yecke may wish to spend more time in the many highly effective middle schools that have “not surrendered”; but, instead, have accepted the challenge of being the pedagogical anchors as well as the pioneers, thus assuring success for all children.

Sharon I. Byrdsong
Azalea Gardens Middle School
“Striving for Equity and Excellence for ALL Students”
7721 Azalea Garden Road
Norfolk, VA 23518

Yecke is a yahoo (in the Swiftian sense not the search engine). Look at the endnote in "Mayhem" and then look at the full text of many of the articles she quotes. Her work reads like a sophomore's persuasive essay with quotes taken so far out of context it is almost laughable...almost. A similar approach to her work would lead one to insights such as, "it is clear that K-8 grade organization has not solved the problem of lackluster achievement in the middle grades" (29); "middle schools are on the right path" (i); "middle school grade configuration can work" (19); "we have seen .. middle schools that provide challenging academic coursework" (57).

Ms. Yecke's comments appear to be from hear-say, and not that of a practioner. I would question how many years she spent as a teacher and an administrator in a 6-8 environment.

This note to Dr. Tim Scully. How insulting your comments are, very pompous. To put the masses of administrators in a pool and say they are there by default. Did that happen to you or something? As an administrator I am where I am (6-8) because I chose to be here. To say no one dreams of being a middle school principal is absurd. I am beginning to believe that you too are sitting in an office and have had no practical experience. Curriculum consultant?

Either Susan Pierson Yecke is a classic example of the “Peter Principle” (rising to one’s level of incompetence), or she is a product of a “middle-school-in name-only” middle grades education. It is frankly appalling that one could rise to the top post in a state department of education and have so little understanding of cutting edge principals and practices in roughly one third of the educational continuum entrusted to her care.

In her Education Week Commentary entitled Mayhem in the Middle published on February 1, 2006, Dr. Yecke postulates that “In far too many cases, it is America’s middle schools where academic achievement goes to die.” She goes on to write that the middle school concept does not foster high expectations for student achievement and behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth! The middle level concepts, espoused by The National Middle School Association, include “high expectations for every member of the learning community, curriculum that is relevant, challenging, integrative and exploratory, and assessment and evaluation that promotes quality learning.” Furthermore the data shows unequivocally that schools that support these, and the other eleven tenets of middle level education, are successful by all measures including student achievement.

As Dr. Yecke points out these principals of sound middle level education are not new. What is new is that after twenty years, enlightened school districts around the country are doing more than paying lip-service to them. They are embracing the principles in increasing numbers, all to the benefit of the middle level students they are designed to serve.

Dr. Timothy P. Scully / Curriculum Consultant
Dear Dr. Scully, Please do not tell me as a middle school teacher that I took my job because I did not get a job at the high school. You clearly do not know what you are talking about. So, please do not speak for me. I wanted to teach middle school and have never wanted to teach high school. Some of your points would be taken more seriously if you did not include such rhetoric about middle school staff being at the middle school because they could not get into the high school.

Chancellor Yecke is the educational leader in my State, Florida. Although I have not yet met her, I am looking forward to an opportunity to work with her to further to enhance the vision of moving education forward for our middle level learners. I agree that is it critically important that we continue to enhance the academic challenge that is provided for our students. According to Encarta® World English Dictionary © (1999 Microsoft Corporation), the definition of rigor is the application of precise and exacting standards in the doing of something. That ‘something’ is exactly what we need to define and refine. That ‘something’ is more the issue than the middle school philosophy.

Chancellor Yecke references educators arguing “little should be expected of middle school students, intellectually or behaviorally, because the storms of early adolescence render high expectations unreasonable. In my experience, I have never heard an educator espouse that position. I would hold Broward County’s middle level academic plan, commitment and results as a benchmark for rigor, relevance and relationships. Are we perfect? No. Are we where we want to be? No. We recognize that there is a significant challenge, in the American educational system, maintaining academic momentum as students – at all levels of accomplishment – leave our middle schools and embark on the next phase of the academic and human growth.

Perhaps one place to start the dialogue is to review the style and rigor embedded within the statewide tests for middle level students versus the style and rigor embedded within the tests for grades 9 – 12. We feel that there is a dramatic disconnect in that arena. The disconnect occurs at the State level and not in the Middle or High Schools. The assessment tool should be a roadmap for building bridges and encouraging strategies for addressing both learning deficits and ever more rigor. These strategies could be a cornerstone for embedding a culture of reform, academic challenge, and innovation

I believe that the Chancellor raises some critically important issues: we must aggressively pursue enhancing academic offerings for our students as they prepare to enter an adult world and workforce that is far different than we imagined. I do not think that a dynamic process that encourages whole life learning, reasonable adventuring, and collaboration is the problem.

Ms. Yecke's article on middle level education makes strong allegations about the ineffectiveness of the "middle school concept." Unfortunately, she cites no research to support this position. On the other hand, there is a growing body of research that schools with a high degree of implementation of the middle school model as described in _Turning Points 2000: Educating Adolescents in the 21st Century_ have higher achievement levels on standardized tests than those schools with low levels of implementation. Although she dismisses these arguments by saying this is only a "fad" and is effective "only when [the model] is is properly and fully implemented." I would argue that a model that has existed since the mid sixties is hardly a "fad" and that of course implementation of a reform effort is required for success. People can say anything they like about school reform efforts, however unless they have research to back up their assertions what they say is at best opinion and at worst slander. In the case of Ms. Yecke I would respectfully state that you are simply wrong.

As the Principal of a middle school that practices middle level educational practices, I take offense to the commentary “Mayhem in the Middle” by Cheri Pierson Yeeke. While I agree with the requirements of academics excellence for middle school students, as does the Turning Points 2000 study, she never mentioned the emotional and social changes that young adolescents face during their middle school years. Changes that students face and schools must address if they are in a k-8 structure or middle school. Ms. Yeeke suggest that the two can not live together in a school setting and turn out academically talented, stable and well adjusted students. It is the formula of high academic standards, parental and community support, good instructional practice, leadership, accountability and a sense of community and socially acceptable behavior are the cornerstone for middle level education and the goal should not be to do away with it but to give more communities and school districts the support, both financially and educationally to truly move their 5-8 grade levels into true high performing middle schools. I am sure that the schools Ms. Yeeke refers to when she says, “Granted, some schools containing the middle grades are showcases of academic excellence..” are those schools that have truly adopted and are supported to be a this true middle school model.

There is a trend for the "ivory tower" education consultants thinking that they can solve the issues of schools, all schools, by handing down their personal words of wisdom that come from mounds of reading and data and little work within the actual schools they criticize. Ms. Yecke seems to be wielding her power as a Florida official because she can...or thinks she can. I hope people do not take her words to heart without doing a little research of their own. Ask yourself, who would know more about middle schools and their successes and failures -The National Middle School Association or Ms. Yecke? Yes, NMSA has a biased interest in presenting their side of this debate, but their interest is based in years of research and reform, development of various working models of successful schools (because not all schools are cookie-cutter copies of each other due to their demographics), and desire to develop a moral society through education. Ms. Yecke wants higher test scores which prove little more than the ability to take a test. How many tests have you taken in your adult life? Schools are more than teaching to these insane NCLB goals that make all kids conform to the "sameness" that will destroy our democracy. Maybe that is what those in the ivory towers want because it is easier to control a public that is all "same-minded"...I hope not because I love the diversity of our country and the promise, or at least hope, of education for all of us, individually. Middle schools foster the healthy sense of self that we all take through our whole lives, not just to high school. This does not mean there aren't high standards and academic learning going on. Quit blaming middle schools and start looking at the fact that our nation spends way more money on war than it does on education...all schools would be better and all of us better for it if we invested in more teachers so class sizes were smaller. If Ms. Yecke wants academic achievement to improve, middle school concept or not, there is mounds of research that shows that a lower student-teacher ratio is a direct correlation. Middle school concept should not be the scapegoat for poor academic achievement. Do your research. Ms. Yecke!

I am perplexed as to how Dr. Yecke has developed her understanding of “the middle school concept” as a philosophy that emphasizes, “identity development and social-skills training as the priority” and that middle schools implementing this concept are “places where expectations for high academic attainment and good behavior are often lax and intermittent.”

I would invite Dr. Yecke, and those who support her position, to explore the websites of four organizations known to support the middle school concept – the National Middle School Association , the Middle Grades Forum , the National Association of Secondary School Principals , and the National Association of Elementary School Principals . Middle level educators are given a similar message at each site – successful middle level schools (regardless of grade configuration) emphasize academic excellence, high expectations, and teach a challenging curriculum while at the same time respond to the unique characteristics and needs of young adolescent learners. This is a far cry from Dr. Yecke’s contention that those who support the middle school concept believe that the “storms of early adolescence render high expectations unreasonable.”

In 2003, the National Middle School Association published its most recent position paper, “This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents.” In this booklet, NMSA list fourteen characteristics that research has shown to be present in successful middle level schools. Among those listed are courageous, collaborative leadership; educators who value working with this age group and are prepared to do so; high expectations for every member of the learning community; multiple learning and teaching approaches that respond to their diversity; students and teachers engaged in active learning; curriculum that is relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory; and assessment and evaluation programs that promote quality learning. I find it rather ironic that Dr. Yecke’s solution to middle level education is “to treat education in the middle years as education, rather than merely a period of personal adjustment. That means rigorous academic standards, a coherent curriculum, high expectations, effective instruction, strong leadership, results-based accountability, and sound discipline.” Seems in part, similar to the middle concept as defined by NMSA, doesn’t it?

Providing a quality education to students at any level is a difficult, complex task. I applaud the efforts of the many, many, many quality middle level educators I am acquainted with who have chosen to work with this unique age group and would not move to an elementary school or high school for any reason!

I have been teaching in the middle school my entire career (10 Years) and I am truly dissappointed in Yecke's view of the middle school concept. The concept of forming nuturing communities where students engage, cooperate, innovate, question, and communicate learning as being a place that is not rigorous is appauling. Never has the middle school concept been for low academic targets, on the contrary. It is for high academic standards with the appropriate instruction for this developmental stage which is the philosophy at any level. It is important that we differentiate instruction, think about the human beings we are educating, and create climates of learning accordingly. It is not acceptable to replace this with the "conveyor belt methods" of education and call this rigorous academics. Our high schools are not failing because of the middle schools. They are failing because they have not followed the very sound research that learning communities and teaching to the whole person to reach academic goals is the approach that works. One size fits all is not highly rigorous and that is the reason that we are "leaving children behind". Turning points is sound research for educational practice that supports rigor and academic achievement but does not support expecting all students to reach the same academic standards in the same way and at the same time. Because we haven't made this leap we still have failing middle schools and high schools. So if Yecke wants to reduce the mayhem than this is where she should start.

The perspective of your article is interesting - High schools dissing middle schools. Since middle schools can easily do the same with elementary schools and elementary schools can do the same at parents and society. So let's look at the entire system K-12 (although I live in the only state that does ot require kindergarten, but that's another story)From the very beginning high standards of academic and behavior expectations must be set and kept and parents held to those same standards. Let's not point fingers, let's study what does work and encourage those models of excellence K-12.

I agree with the author of this article in respect that we should not place too much emphasis on raging hormons, and set the bar higher than we currently do. I would be in favor of requiring middle school students to earn credits. In my opinion this could create an environment in which students are more vested in their own education. Which ever side of the argument on middle schools you take, it is imperative that the most important formula for success in any building regardless of the model is buy-in from administration as well as teachers. If everyone is focused on the same goal, the chances of academic success is much more likely.We need to hold middle school students accountable. This is certainly easier said than done.

Chancellor Yecke is the educational leader in my State, Florida. Although I have not yet met her, I am looking forward to an opportunity to work with her to further to enhance the vision of moving education forward for our middle level learners. I agree that is it critically important that we continue to enhance the academic challenge that is provided for our students. According to Encarta® World English Dictionary © (1999 Microsoft Corporation), the definition of rigor is the application of precise and exacting standards in the doing of something. That ‘something’ is exactly what we need to define and refine. That ‘something’ is more the issue than the middle school philosophy.

Chancellor Yecke references educators arguing “little should be expected of middle school students, intellectually or behaviorally, because the storms of early adolescence render high expectations unreasonable. In my experience, I have never heard an educator espouse that position. I would hold Broward County’s middle level academic plan, commitment and results as a benchmark for rigor, relevance and relationships. Are we perfect? No. Are we where we want to be? No. We recognize that there is a significant challenge, in the American educational system, maintaining academic momentum as students – at all levels of accomplishment – leave our middle schools and embark on the next phase of the academic and human growth.

Perhaps one place to start the dialogue is to review the style and rigor embedded within the statewide tests for middle level students versus the style and rigor embedded within the tests for grades 9 – 12. We feel that there is a dramatic disconnect in that arena. The disconnect occurs at the State level and not in the Middle or High Schools. The assessment tool should be a roadmap for building bridges and encouraging strategies for addressing both learning deficits and ever more rigor. These strategies could be a cornerstone for embedding a culture of reform, academic challenge, and innovation

I believe that the Chancellor raises some critically important issues: we must aggressively pursue enhancing academic offerings for our students as they prepare to enter an adult world and workforce that is far different than we imagined. I do not think that a dynamic process that encourages whole life learning, reasonable adventuring, and collaboration is the problem.


MAYHEM?
I believe Ms. Yecke is way over the top in this article when she states there is mayhem in the middle. This conotates that things at the middle level are out of control. That is ridiculous.
Also, to contend that we must go back to the dark ages when the young adolescent's curriculum was nothing more old high school books past down to the kids in 8th grade. Please NO!
Further, the test scores she sites are actualy good news. Are we not trying to stem the decline in test scores overall in our public schools (not just at the middle level)? Well, stating that NAEP math scores have risen slightly and reading scores remain the same is cause to be happy (though not content) in many school districts.
Also, a strong component of ANY school in today's society should be to assist our students to become better people and to apprciate diversity. It appears Ms. Yecke is advocating the dumping of character education programs that have been so successful (and I say this from personal experience). Teaching kids about respect, how wrong bullying is, sharing with others....is a curriculum gone bad!?!
Further, she sites the examples of urban schools that are recently "going back" to the days of the K-8 building. Let's be honest about this new movement. As much as anything, this is a budgetary move...not a move that ensures a better education for those kids. Talk about
re-released "fad ideas." Also, was it not the clamoring of the same people 25 years ago that wanted to separate the middle level kids from 3rd & 4th grarders because of the "negative" influence adolescents would have on the elementary kids? Also, why is it that school districts that can afford it have "expanded" the middle school concept to Intermediate Schools that host 5th & 6th graders?
Finally, I have been involved in middle level education all of my career. I strongly support and promote the continuous and on-going development of the "the middle school concept." We all are designing curriculums that are rigorous and designed for the middle level student. We do so much more than prepare the kid to pass geometry. We should celebrate the true middle school whose curriculum may not always be connected to a test score or NCLB. That is not a bad thing.
The middle school does not need resucitating. We are only 20 years old and just beginning to be appreciated and respected for all that we do for the young adolescent in transition.

Kurt Lundgren
Associate Principal & Activities DIrector
School District of Rhinelander (Wisconsin)

I have been involved in the middle school movement since the early 70's and I have always felt that its strong emphasis on nurturing the emerging adolescent child is the key component of the concept. Being advocates for children and connecting with children are paramount to helping children grow and develop. We have an award winning middle school at Pine-Richland and I am very proud of our accomplishments. The spirit in our school which involves the total middle school community is unmatched. However, I just finished reading Thomas Friedman's book The World Is Flat and I now realize that we must wake-up and shape a new future for our schools. We are behind other countries in math and science and our children lag behind in their knowledge of geography and international affairs. I want my grandchildren to be able to compete in our global society and I believe doing things the way we have been doing tham will not suffice anymore. This is why we are developing a new shared vision for our schools at all grade levels. I give Cheri Pierson Yecke credit for raising the issue and creating debate and discussion on changes that may be necessary at the middle school level. Also, I am fasinated that Gov.Jeb Bush is requiring students in grades 6-8 to earn at least 12 academic cedits at this level. It is time to make some changes in grades 6-8; however, rigorously caring for children is compatible with academic rigor.

I have been involved in the middle school movement since the early 70's and I have always felt that its strong emphasis on nurturing the emerging adolescent child is the key component of the concept. Being advocates for children and connecting with children are paramount to helping children grow and develop. We have an award winning middle school at Pine-Richland and I am very proud of our accomplishments. The spirit in our school which involves the total middle school community is unmatched. However, I just finished reading Thomas Friedman's book The World Is Flat and I now realize that we must wake-up and shape a new future for our schools. We are behind other countries in math and science and our children lag behind in their knowledge of geography and international affairs. I want my grandchildren to be able to compete in our global society and I believe doing things the way we have been doing tham will not suffice anymore. This is why we are developing a new shared vision for our schools at all grade levels. I give Cheri Pierson Yecke credit for raising the issue and creating debate and discussion on changes that may be necessary at the middle school level. Also, I am fasinated that Gov.Jeb Bush is requiring students in grades 6-8 to earn at least 12 academic cedits at this level. It is time to make some changes in grades 6-8; however, rigorously caring for children is compatible with academic rigor.

I've read her article and, "Wow! What a shock. A Republican idealogue attacks public education!" You could knock me over with a feather. Clearly Ms. Yecke doesn't spend much time working in Middle Schools. Next time, she should save the papaer and the ink.

I have taught 14 years in a middle school setting. I was educated in the "middle school concept" vein, and have worked throughout my career to implement it. I am a bit perplexed by Cherie Pierson Yecke's commentary. Apparently she is referring to a middle school concept that is unlike the one I understand. Yes, middle school kids are clearly different from either elementary students or high school students, and those who fail to acknowledge that fact are approaching them at their own peril. However, I have run across very few middle level educators who would say, or believe, "accommodations for raging hormones should trump high academic expectations." Quite the opposite. It is more important, not less, to teach kids to strive, and achieve, excellence ---- despite what their hormones and rapidly changing bodies might be telling them.

I have taught in three middle schools, and each has embraced the "middle school concept," appropriately so. That is the middle school concept that stresses awareness of a unique audience as a CONTEXT for high academic standards and consistent standards of behavior.

Don't blame our shortcomings, and I freely admit there are some, on the "concept." There is no "profound difference" between the middle grades and schools that embrace the middle school concept, which is nothing more than systematically addressing the students for the unique beings they are. Take failure in middle level education, as it is found, on a case by case basis. Often, it is a case of failure to implement. "Saying" you are all about the middle school concept, and having success with it, are two different matters entirely. This article was nothing more than the latest in the never-ending stream of erroneous broad-brush proclamations that ultimately serve no one.

How could Education Week publish such a bogus article? EdWeek's credibility just dropped a notch or two for me!! I request that you also publish the National Middle School Association’s response to her absurd narrative. I have led Middle Schools for the past 18 years and without the Middle School concept, you would have pre-adolescence not being able to function in the classroom. Ms. Yecke: Walk a mile in my shoes before you make comments like this!

As a former middle school principal of sixteen years, I find the article by Cheri Pierson Yecke very troubling. As I read the article, I wondered if she really understood what the term middle school concept meant. Her definition of the term focused on a school organization that only emphasized self-concept and personal growth and completely ignored academic development in the middle grades.

What she needs to understand is that the middle school concept, when accurately defined and implemented, creates a school organization and system that does support an environment that emphasizes the developmental needs of the early adolescent,supports a positive learning environment and, most importantly, emphasizes academic development and rigor.

The implementation of a true middle school concept creates learning communities that allow each student to be known well by the significant adults in their school lives. These learning communities create an environment where the student feels they belong and are part of a smaller community within the school. This is extremely important for the students of this age.

Secondly, the middle school concept supports academic course work and curriculum that allow the "student in the middle" to experience and explore a variety of learning concepts and experiences that readily prepare them for high school. Included in this is a focus on literacy and conputational skills that help prepare the student for life.

Lastly, the middle schools that have effectively implemented the middle school concept have consistenly shown standardized test results that have exceeded those schools where the "junior high model" is still in practice. The data supports the model, which as we know is important in this day of accountability.

Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need to make sure we understand what this model is before we dismiss it as a "fad".

The positive growth and development of each child, the creation of a structured and safe learning environement, and the academic growth of each student in preparation for high school are all significant aspects of a true middle school concept.

If Cheri Pierson Yecke had even a basic understanding of middle grades education, she would understand that middle level schools containing educators who do not understand effective strategies for young adolescents (and don't even want to teach in the middle grades) will NOT be effective, regardless of what the schools are called or how they are configured. If she understood the middle school concept she would know that it WAS about academic rigor, and that attention must be paid to the cognitive AND affective needs of this age group; this is not an either/or proposition. Is Ms. Yecke aware that middle grade students bring weapons to school and use them? Are we to ignore this plus the other issues facing young adolescents, or should we address them knowing that addressing/preventing these issues will help us "get through" to kids relative to academics? Education is a "people" business, and schools will be effective or ineffective based upon the relationships established coupled with the expertise and efforts of educators in the building. You win, or lose, with people.....not with the sign over the front door.

It is safe to assume this author has not traveled
north where Mass.middle school students are held to the highest academic standards in history.I invite her to look at not only the STATE
CURRICULUM FRAMEWORKS but most importantly the STATE ASSESSMENT TESTS(MCAS).
I would even be happy to mail her a copy of the grade 8 Math MCAS test!!We are also proud of our STUDENT OF THE MONTH PROGRAM where kids are rewarded for showing kindness ;respect etc.
And yes :We are doing both BECAUSE WE believe
in these kids and continue to expect great things from them.

It is safe to assume this author has not traveled
north where Mass.middle school students are held to the highest academic standards in history.I invite her to look at not only the STATE
CURRICULUM FRAMEWORKS but most importantly the STATE ASSESSMENT TESTS(MCAS).
I would even be happy to mail her a copy of the grade 8 Math MCAS test!!We are also proud of our STUDENT OF THE MONTH PROGRAM where kids are rewarded for showing kindness ;respect etc.
And yes :We are doing both BECAUSE WE believe
in these kids and continue to expect great things from them.

If what we are doing is not working, what are the high schools doing that miraculously fixes it in only four years (or is that called maturity takes over)? Also, what is the "fix"? Remember, you must take into consideration all unfundated mandates that are wearing on all teachers, increasing class sizes, to numbers not allowed in elementary schools, and draining budgets for additional teachers, supplies, materials, professional development, etc..

Chancellor Cheri Pierson Yecke's position on middle schools, and the middle school concept, is short sighted, divisive, and wrong! But then again, she has been wrong before, most recently in Minnesota! Now, again, she shares an opinion that is not supported by recent data or documented results.

Here are some facts worth considering:

1. In her new home state of Florida, 65% of the public middle
schools in 2005 EARNED an A or B on the state's highly
touted grading system. Somebody is doing something right!

2. On the same grading system, only 32% of the high schools
earned an A or a B. Oh oh, it doesn't look like a middle school
problem after all!

Here's something else of interest - Chancellor Yecke states that
the middle school concept fails to promote academic achievement. I wonder if she has taken the time to visit middle schools or even read a position paper on the middle school concept. The fact is The National Middle School Association belief statement calls for middle schools to " provide curriculum
that is challenging, integrative, and exploratory". They also call
for " varied teaching and learning approaches " and " assessment
and evaluation that promote learning " . This is not fancy rhetoric. This is what happens in middle schools throughout our
nation daily.

Perhaps most troubling is her being so presumptous as to claim to know what parents want now and in the future. I don't know whom she has talked to or what surveys she has read. I do know what parents of adolescent students want. They want their children to succeed in a safe, nurturing, and friendly environment. They do not want their 12, 13, and 14 year olds
in anything that looks like a high school. Not yet!

In her book, Chancellor Yecke tries to play the " blame game '".
It is one of the oldest games in education, but it has never worked. She would serve the public much better by being a true leader instead of a finger pointer. Everyone wants better schools at ALL LEVELS. I can only hope that Chancellor Yecke can, and will lead a coalition of all stakeholders in trying to reach that goal.

After reading "Mayhem" I was not impressed at all by Ms. Yecke's opinions. As a dedicated MS teacher with 10 years previous high school experience, I can say from experience that the middle school model is not to blame for the existing problems in our educational system.

I am very proud to teach for a wonderful district that’s been nationally recognized for excellence in education, but I see very clearly that there is improvement needed on all of our parts. To this end, I serve on a district committee comprised of parents, teachers, and administrators who are charged with reviewing our district’s middle school program for needed changes. Our first task was to research the current middle school model. When we finished looking at the research and data, it was unanimously decided to continue using this MS model because parents, students and teachers are united on its effectiveness. Combining high academic standards with character education and other activities really works. The proof is that our MS students go on to do well at all 4 of the nationally acclaimed, “high-achieving” high schools in our district, then proceed to do the same at college and beyond.

If Ms. Yecke wants to criticize, let her look to the changes needed to our entire educational system. Unfortunately, these changes will not fully come about until Americans recognize that the missing link is that we have not responded to our children’s changing methods of getting information. Want better results? Listen to David Thornburg and other’s ‘radical’ ideas about changing our educational delivery systems. We know that kids are using technology to get tuned in, turned on, and stay in touch all the time. Tap into what they are doing for themselves, and you’ve got a large part of the answer. In other words, teach them how they want to be taught!

To catch this wave, funding is needed for and from businesses to help develop learning solutions that use technology to effectively deliver learning to in the short, fast bursts that are how today’s kids learn best. This same technology also gives students the opportunity to relearn and practice before moving on at their own pace, which is critical to NCLB succeeding. Too many educators unwittingly stand in the way of kids who can move independently through curriculum at their own pace if only they are provided with the right equipment, clear learning targets, good examples of achievement, and the means to self-check their progress. Using technology effectively in education is no longer a choice, but a necessity if we want to dominate in a global economy based on informed citizens and high productivity.

The author is correct. I have been following causes of high dropout rates in high schools(50%in Georgia) to identify a cluster of causes for
the problem. Based on my experience as a former
high school teacher in Atlanta Public Schools, and participation as a tutor of middle school students under the NCLB program, it is clear that
middle schools should be structured as true centers designed to help young adolescents develop the level of academic skills that will ensure their success in high school. There are a number of grade configurations which could be used to replace the inefficient 6,7,8 middle school model.

The author is correct. I have been following causes of high dropout rates in high schools(50%in Georgia) to identify a cluster of causes for
the problem. Based on my experience as a former
high school teacher in Atlanta Public Schools, and participation as a tutor of middle school students under the NCLB program, it is clear that
middle schools should be structured as true centers designed to help young adolescents develop the level of academic skills that will ensure their success in high school. There are a number of grade configurations which could be used to replace the inefficient 6,7,8 middle school model.

As the new Chancellor of Florida schools, perhaps she should take a closer look at schools and economics in her state, which is after all her charge. Ponte Vedra schools have extremely high achievements-- some of the highest in the state. They also have some of the highest per capitas in the county. Go down the road to St. Augustine, same state, same county, same school system, and achievement levels that are abysmal. Much lower per capita. Middle School programs --both have them. Program or economics -- which do you think?

I agree with the "Mayhem in the Middle" article. Teachers need to be encouraged to give real grades that reflect the student's effort and mastery of the subject. It is laughable when I have parents come in for a conference who say their child is an "honor role" student and they can't understand why I insist on giving tests without giving the answers for the students to memorize. I tell my students the first day I have them that they need to learn to take tests. Nearly every occupation requires a certification test because employeers can no longer rely on middle school and high school grades as a true reflection of ability and productivity. How can a student score in the 30 or 40 percent range of a state mandated test and be making an "A" or a "B" in their math or English classes? Is the conspiracy to dummy up the population so much that we have to have to become a welfare country with 75 percent taxes on the people who fall between the cracks and learn?

"But the key to renewing middle-grades education in the United States is much larger than an issue of configuration."
This is true! It does not matter if you are in a "middle school", k-8 or junior high. Good education comes from dedicated professionals and families. You can send a child to the best school in the world with the highest expectations, but if that child is not suported at home and does not come ready to learn and accept the help to meet standards then there is not a lot people can do. I see this as more of a problem then the school configuration.

Cheri Pierson Yecke has now worked for two Bush administrations, one in Washington and one in Tallahassee, and it shows. She has been paid, in both places, to trot out the same tired right-wing, anti-public school, anti-educator nonsense, whether there is any evidence to support it or not. She charges, once again, that for two decades middle school educators have been maliciously ignoring the pressure to increase academic achievement while simultaneously allowing their students to run wild in the schools, raging hormones erupting everywhere. And, she alleges that this is the “middle school concept.” Oh, please. These charges had no basis in fact 20 years ago, and they are even more ludicrous today.
I have visited more than 500 American middle level schools, in virtually every state, in the last 25 years. On the basis of this experience, I can say with complete confidence that middle school leaders and classroom teachers have been focused on increasing academic achievement, for every child, with a laser-like focus every moment of the school day. Educators in middle schools have also worked tirelessly to help young adolescents behave responsibly. To charge otherwise is simple ignorance or politically inspired malevolence. In either case, it does not help the profession move forward.
Yecke boasts about our governor’s attempt “to make middle school more like high school.” This is astonishingly ironic, since most high school reform movements around the nation are busily incorporating components of effective middle school practice, such as academic teaming, school-within-school organization, mentoring, and so on. Do we really want middle school to be more like high school? Is this because high schools have been so effective until recently? Paradoxically, Yecke also touts the change of a few districts to K-8, but is this because she thinks middle schools should be more like elementary schools? Which is it that middle schools should emulate, high school or elementary school?
I believe there are many more important questions than these tired old conservative nostrums. Why, if they have not, has it been difficult for middle school educators to implement “best practices” effectively on a wide scale? Why is there virtually no teacher or administrative preparation, or in-service professional development for middle level educators? How can we educate the most able learners and the least successful in ways that raise the level of academic achievement for all? How can we push up academic achievement while we encourage students, increasingly diverse, to see each other as members of the same community? Do factors like urban stress, poverty, large warehouse-type buildings, and puberty interact? There are at least a dozen other important questions that policy-makers and bureaucrats could be addressing. One more round of wild-eyed accusations and ignorant allegations will not move us forward. Perhaps new elections will.

Ms. Yecke's observation of the difference between middle grades and the middle school concept is accurate, however, I believe the solution to the problem should focus on teachers. Why should attention to emotional and social development and attention to behavioral discipline and academic rigor be mutually exclusive? Compassionate, knowledgeable, and skilled teachers create classroom environments where personal growth and academic achievement go hand in hand.
Randall S. Smith
literacy consultant
Tucson AZ

I am a middle school principal in Minnesota. When I opened the latestissue of Education Week I was dismayed to discover that Cheri Pierson Yecke is continuing to write inflammatory articles attempting to discredit the middle school concept. I have a unique viewpoint because the Minnesota Legislature removed her, in 2004, from the post of Commissioner of Education. I was one of practitioners who testified in hearings against her appointment.

Her article is a spin-off of a book she wrote, The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America’s Middle Schools, in which she blasts middle schools as being ineffective institutions. The book is a window into her thinking, thoughts, political ideology. It is hardly the work of an independent researcher. The book is a reflection of what she will do to middle level education and why educators all across the nation should be greatly concerned.

Frankly, I’m surprised she didn’t mention the book in her article, unless she’s worried people might actually read it. From the book, it is clear she believes middle schools are ineffective institutions and that they should be reverse engineered into old-fashioned junior highs. Years of carefully documented research has demonstrated the clear benefit of middle schools over junior highs. Yet she continues to expound on an outdated model that never ever worked for kids.
For example, in the book, she deliberately criticizes cooperative learning practices, even though research clearly shows it works in the hands of a highly skilled teacher. She criticizes cooperative learning practices even though we know that the number one reason adults get fired in the world of business is because they can’t work with other people.
However, what is really alarming is the language and rhetoric which she uses in the book. She says we, (meaning people who work in middle schools) are “radical activists,” and that we “are a threat to the “integrity of public schools.” She says it is “time for the American Public to reject the radical middle school movement.”
This is a ridiculous thing for her to say because there is no “radical middle school movement.” These are words she made up because she doesn’t like the model.
In her book, she uses anecdotal and inflammatory language backed up with very little research, other than numerous quotes from people agreeing with her position. I might be old-fashioned, but I expect researchers who write books to emphasize facts and data, in fact to demand facts and data, and to use logical reasoning with tightly woven arguments to establish the case in any situation. I do not expect to see words of hyperbole, misdirection and smoke and mirrors.
Unfortunately, she continues her pattern of using inflammatory language in the article she wrote for Education Week. For example, in the article, she claims that “Too many educators argue that little should be expected of middle school students, intellectually or behaviorally.” Where did this statement come from? I don’t know of a single middle level educator who has ever made this argument.
In November of 2004, Minnesota was host to the National Middle School Association Conference. Over 10,000 middle school educators from all over the United States descended upon the convention center in Minneapolis for the conference. The National Middle School Conference was Minnesota’s opportunity to shine in the national spotlight and hilite Minnesota’s role as a leader in middle school education.
At the time leading up to the National Conference and including the debate before the Minnesota legislature as to whether or not she should be confirmed, I was President of the Minnesota Middle School Association. No matter where I went or who I talked with from other states, the question inevitably came up, “What is going on in the Commissioner’s Office in Minnesota?” Many times I didn’t have an answer.

Middle schools are a perception of how we, the people, view education. The legacy of middle school education in Minnesota and across the United States is something that I am very committed to and something of which I am very proud. I want it to stay that way. Middle school educators and students deserve better than the vitriolic writing of Cheri Pierson Yecke.

I agree that middle schools are concerned about the whole child--but I do not beleive we do this at the expense of academics. Middle school students are an interesting lot no matter what the grade configuaration is or whether you call it a junior high or not. I have worked with middle schools since 1974 and I beleive that students need a caring faculty that truly want to see their students succeed. Our students (we are a 6-8 school)are not sixteen and can not drop out of school and with many of them coming from challenging home situations---we often are the only positive adults they may see all day. At high school age, they can drop out or they have adjusted to their home/school situation. I have been a principal at both middle, junior and high schools and I hope that we are a caring community that does not foresake academic standards---that would be cheating the students.

Can we do a better job of rigorous academics---of course we can--our middle school allows students to be in gifted and advanced classes and even take alg 1 & 2 as well as Spanish 1 & 2 for high school credit.

Where I think we are losing kids are when they are coming from home situations that do not allow them to do their very best. Even if we work for the betterment of the whole child--circumstances will not allow us to reach and teach them.

I am always willing to listen to experts who can help us achieve for all students.

I agree that middle schools are concerned about the whole child--but I do not beleive we do this at the expense of academics. Middle school students are an interesting lot no matter what the grade configuaration is or whether you call it a junior high or not. I have worked with middle schools since 1974 and I beleive that students need a caring faculty that truly want to see their students succeed. Our students (we are a 6-8 school)are not sixteen and can not drop out of school and with many of them coming from challenging home situations---we often are the only positive adults they may see all day. At high school age, they can drop out or they have adjusted to their home/school situation. I have been a principal at both middle, junior and high schools and I hope that we are a caring community that does not foresake academic standards---that would be cheating the students.

Can we do a better job of rigorous academics---of course we can--our middle school allows students to be in gifted and advanced classes and even take alg 1 & 2 as well as Spanish 1 & 2 for high school credit.

Where I think we are losing kids are when they are coming from home situations that do not allow them to do their very best. Even if we work for the betterment of the whole child--circumstances will not allow us to reach and teach them.

I am always willing to listen to experts who can help us achieve for all students.

I agree that middle schools are concerned about the whole child--but I do not beleive we do this at the expense of academics. Middle school students are an interesting lot no matter what the grade configuaration is or whether you call it a junior high or not. I have worked with middle schools since 1974 and I beleive that students need a caring faculty that truly want to see their students succeed. Our students (we are a 6-8 school)are not sixteen and can not drop out of school and with many of them coming from challenging home situations---we often are the only positive adults they may see all day. At high school age, they can drop out or they have adjusted to their home/school situation. I have been a principal at both middle, junior and high schools and I hope that we are a caring community that does not foresake academic standards---that would be cheating the students.

Can we do a better job of rigorous academics---of course we can--our middle school allows students to be in gifted and advanced classes and even take alg 1 & 2 as well as Spanish 1 & 2 for high school credit.

Where I think we are losing kids are when they are coming from home situations that do not allow them to do their very best. Even if we work for the betterment of the whole child--circumstances will not allow us to reach and teach them.

I am always willing to listen to experts who can help us achieve for all students.

Cheri Pierson Yeche has shown that her own agenda outweighs her responsibility to support her voice. The information she presents in her article and writings fails to use any authentic data to support her position. Her failure to follow true research design by doing meaningful studies, gathering authentic data, and accounting for variables leads readers to false assumptions about middle level education and its value. Much of her information is misleading. Schools that are not true middle schools are used as examples of failures. Urban city schools that have inherent societal issues that compromise education across their educational system no matter what level are used as examples of the failure of middle schools today.
True middle schools are rigorous, challenging, meet the needs of all children and have well trained educators leading the way. Misinformation, individual agendas, and lack of current meaningful research should not be the foundation for any movement. Education has become a true science. Advances in brain research, changes in educational design, exemplary teachers are what make true middle schools work.
Where is Ms. Yeche's science ? Where is her research design ? Call it what it is, a movement with no merit, no value.

I taught middle school science for nine years, followed now by upper school science and computer science for fifteen years.

Yecke makes some good points. "Feel good" middle school philosophies are too common and too ineffectual. Designing middle school curricula as a collective therapy couch for early adolescent angst undervalues the considerable academic strengths that middle graders can bring to bear when properly motivated and guided.

But Yecke moves well beyond this reasonable position with terms like coherent curriculum (federal, one-size fits all?), results-based accountability (more testing?), and that most elusive of all goals, sound discipline (but in congruence, of course, with the ADA and litigious, permissive, remote parents). This sort of sinewy conservatism sounds plausible and even admirable on paper, but in practice tends to be mean-spirited, unrealistic, parochial, and, ultimately, ineffective.

Let's move to a more middle ground.

As your article indicates some schools containing the middle grades are showcases of academic excellence. I believe if you would dig a little deeper you would indeed find that these academic excellent schools do properly and fully implement the true middle school concept. Teachers have time to plan and to work with students, parents are true partners and programs are supported and funded. Most schools that are refered to as middle schools do not function as "true middle schools" but instead only have the name posted on the building. It is interesting that Bill Gates and others want to embrace the small school or school within the school concept at the high school level. Many of the ideas for the new high school reform are very similar to the middle school concept. As a former middle school assistant principal and principal I can assure you that it is possible to meet the social and emotional needs of students as well as maintain high academic standards. With the proper funding and support as well as excellent leadership the middle school philosophy does work. We can never forget that children of this age do have different needs and do need to be treated differently than high school aged students. The bottom line is the needs of the middle aged child can be met and high academic standards can be maintained. I know this because I have been there and done that.

I did my undergrad at MIT and met many smart individuals who were great academic success stories. Unfortunately, some of the brightest could barely tie their own shoelaces, let alone function socially. There SHOULD be more to a students development than academics. Of course we want our children to be successful, but that should include the whole child--their emotional, physical, social, and intellectual self. (It was sad having a classmate jump off her high rise dorm, and another set herself on fire. They were very successful young ladies by academic standards.)

Middle School Teachers--You are doing a GREAT job in an undercompensated position. You are teacher, parent, cheerleader, counselor, and advocate for many of your kids. And they will be better off for it. Keep up the good work!

Bill Gates says that high schools are obsolete, yet Cheri Yecke says that the key to improving middle schools is to make them more like high schools. Wrong. The key to improving both middle schools and high schools is to stop parroting the language of rigorous academic standards, coherent curriculum, and sound discipline--and replace this "formula" with personalized and accountable inquiry-based methods.

My only comments are experienced based, not researched based. My oldest daughter, now 32, went to junior high. It was hard but when she started high school, she was prepared. Always an average student in public school, she excelled in college. My next two children went through the "middle school" concept. Middle school was easy to them but when they began high school, they had a rough time. They are now 22 and 25 and also college graduates. Looking back, they both say they were treated as if they were still in elementary school in "middle school" and didn't learn too much. They were shocked when they reached high school because they had to work more independently. Both were A students in public school and struggled through college.

Based on my own experience, which is limited, I believe our school system got progressively easier over the years. In conversation with the teachers in our area, they agree and tell me it continues due to Georgia's Hope Scholarship. Parents have threatened to "get teachers fired" if their son/daughter doesn't have the required B average for the scholarship. Has NCLB helped the situation? No because now ALL students, including special education students, are now in the same classroom. The teachers tell me that they are expected to "differentiate" their instruction to include MID students. This, they say, causes them to slow down to the level of the lowest student. I don't know the answer but I hope someone comes up with a solution before my grand children begin school.

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  • Parent: My only comments are experienced based, not researched based. My read more
  • Thom Markham/Assoc Director Buck Institute for Education: Bill Gates says that high schools are obsolete, yet Cheri read more
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  • Russell Chaboudy Assistant Superintendent: As your article indicates some schools containing the middle grades read more
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