Friday, November 02, 2012

I Have No Idea What Anyone Is Even Talking About

Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen:

Every morning, the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders at Paul Cuffee Middle School in Providence, R.I. join together in what’s called a Circle of Power and Respect. In this “CPR,” they discuss anything from an upcoming science project to how to get boys to stop purposefully clogging the toilets. Last spring, when a beloved teacher left the school, one classroom used their CPR time to process the change. “He said he’s leaving because this is good for his family,” a seventh-grade boy reassured his classmates. “It doesn’t have anything to do with us.”

If this kind of frank, organized discussion of feelings sounds odd for middle schoolers, it is. But, experts say, if middle schools can give as much attention to emotions and values as they give to academics, the double focus pays off in surprising ways.

Unfortunately, when it comes to our national conversation about what makes great schools, middle schools (which can serve any configuration of grades five through nine) and junior highs (usually grades seven, eight, and nine) are often like the overlooked middle child.

That's funny, because in the world I inhabit, the national reform conversation has been initiated and dominated by an authoritarian middle school model ("no excuses") that is an explicit reaction to and repudiation of the kind of school design they're attributing to Cuffee, which should be familiar to most people who attended middle schools in the seventies and eighties.

Sarah D. Sparks:

In most districts, researchers voiced concern that evaluation systems do not take into account the time it will take for even the most effective teachers to adapt to new areas of focus in the standards—not to mention that the common core deliberately omits guidance on specific teaching strategies to meet the new requirements.

Maybe they were talking about math, but on the ELA side, the authors go about as far as they can, through their voluminous official commentary to promote specific teaching strategies to meet the new requirements. Of course, nobody knows if those strategies are the most efficient or effective; your mileage may vary.

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