Across New York State and the nation, educators are struggling with performance slumps in middle schools and debating how best to teach students at a transitional, volatile age. Just this week New York City put in place a new budget formula that directs extra money to middle schools.
Briarcliff has emerged as a nationally recognized model of a middle school that gets things right, a place that goes beyond textbooks to focus on social and emotional development.
There is no question that the Briarcliff school starts out with many advantages. It is part of a district in Westchester County that spends $24,738 per student, or more than one and a half times the New York State average, and can afford to buy extra sets of classroom textbooks so that students can leave their own copies at home. Its student body is relatively homogenous — 91.8 percent are white — and so well off that less than 1 percent qualify for free or reduced lunches. In contrast, in nearby New York City, 72 percent of the population qualifies.
But even affluent districts generally see a drop in student achievement in grades six through eight. Briarcliff has not; it is at the upper end of about 50 middle schools — out of more than 600 — in New York State where test scores have held steady and in some cases even increased slightly from the elementary level, according to state education data.