Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
  Middle Schools and the Puberty Fairy
If the poorly administrated No Child Left Behind act has done one positive thing, it is that it has highlighted the struggles of Middle Schools. (Article is free but requires registration) John Hockridge recently tried to spark a discussion on different options for grades 6 through 8 here in North Adams.

The fact is that one size does not fit all. Some kids still need more support and guidance in the adolescent years while other need challenges and academic rigor. You've got kids who still look like pre-pubescent babies mixed with others who look like, and sometimes pretend that, they are 12-going-on-18. Add to this mix a dose of raging hormones and all of a sudden you have the typical American middle school.

Do I have the answer? No. But should this issue get more discussion. Certainly. Conte M.S. has taken a lot of heat for its performance over the past few years and I've always thought it was a cop-out to use standardized test-scores to lay fault at the feet of teachers and administrators. (Yes, soon-to-be-ex-Governor Romney and all the right-wing anti-public school folks, I am talking about you.)

In a perfect world, there would be multiple options to meet the differing needs of various kids, but that is probably asking too much of an already strained district. (More on that topic someday) So the question becomes - what solutions best serve the most kids? Somehow I doubt the current model fits that bill.
Well, it's my contention that as kids get older, school becomes less and less about learning and more and more about being social - at least, for the majority. It's perfectly natural - they're really discovering their party bone and their sex bone and their individuality bone and their part of the crowd bone in ways they have never before. The thing is, so little of school is actually about learning at any point, so little time is spent on it - and you can read that as a public opposition to extended school days, which I believe are useless and miss the point altogether - that it's no wonder it all goes Lord of the Flies in 7th grade or so - the kids are just dispensing with something that was more of an affectation than a calling anyhow.

I have heard the suggestion - I believe it might have been from Maria Montessori, though I could be wrong - that kids shouldn't even go to school during those years because most are incapable of learning in any meaningful manner. I'm not entirely opposed to that, actually, though I understand the further issues that would create. Still, I do think the point it is making is right on and in line with the point you are making.

The ugly truth is that North Adams schools have gotten better since the MCAS and the pressure of the MCAS have played a role in that. The other truth is that the tests only serve as a grim enforcer and no school system can go past the initial jump start with any real substance without proper resources, real innovation, actual enthusiasm from the community and a culture in the schools that promotes education as an exiting journey rather than a by-rote exercise. I doubt you are going to get that combination in the right measure in any place, where the people hate the testing but also want results now. America has to change the way it views education and how to implement it.
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