Strong, Consistent Middle School Academics

As I listened to the Pam Nash’s (Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools) presentation on the Middle School Redesign to the Performance and Achievement Committee last night, I was thinking of an academic/elective middle school framework applied across the district that would be notable in its rigor and attractiveness to parents and some next steps. Personally, I consider fine arts and foreign language as core subject areas that all students need and benefit from in Grades 6-8.
Have at it and comment with your wish list/ideas, education and support for students, developing a few more options/strategies.
Possible “common” structure in middle school that next year could look like:
6th – math, social studies, language arts, science on a daily basis plus two unified art periods (one is A/B phys ed and music plus 4 one quarter units).
7th – math, social studies, language arts, science, foreign language on a daily basis plus two unified art periods (one is a/b phys ed and music plus 4 one quarter units)
8th – math, social studies, language arts, science, foreign language on a daily basis plus two unified art periods (one is a/b phys ed and music plus 2 half semester units

In each of the 5 day subject areas, look at differentiation – narrower, but not isolated, ranges of ability grouping and heterogenous classes. In math there would be the opportunity to take geometry in 8th grade, say. Other different challenging/support options in other areas. This is basically the current schedule at Hamilton Middle School and some other middle schools.
For the study units that make sense to offer on a quarterly then half semester basis, look across the district and see what the mixes are and also look at WI Code PI 8.02 (standards) to see what is required and allowed to be offered in quarterly or half semester units.
Look at participation in each elective at each school, look at skills/objectives in each. Survey parents and kids and ask them to rank their top 4, 5 or 10 electives. Offer these units as quarterly or half semester units for the next year. Identify those units that might go to a multi-quarter, one year or 3 one year course that would be an a/b, a) be excellent for this age group, b) leads into further study in high school, c) other.
I also think it would be worthwhile to pay close attention to what districts in the surrounding school districts are offering academically. These school districts could increasingly become Madison’s competition if they haven’t already.
From 2001 to 2004 1,200 new students are in school in Madison and the surrounding communities. From 2001 to 2004 Madison lost nearly 200 students. The economic value of 1,200 kids at $10,000 per student is $12,000,000. Losing 200 students loses $2,000,000 in revenue which equates to 40 teachers. Also, during that same time period approx 2,000 low income students entered the MMSD and 2,000 non low-income students were no longer in the MMSD. About another new 1,000 low income students are in districts surrounding Madison.
I’m pulling this data from DPI and will post soon. Low income children can require more support services – higher overhead. If we do not keep a mix of students, more of the overhead dollars (non-instruction costs) will go to support services. That’s less education for all – more parents will continue to go to the ‘burbs. This does not have to be but will continue to be so if the School Board does not factor in this issue.
Enough for now. I’d be interested in folks thoughts.

10 thoughts on “Strong, Consistent Middle School Academics”

  1. Barb,
    I’m going to pose the same question to you that I posed previously on curriculum. How would the proposed curriculum address the needs of kids who are not currently succeeding? Look especially at language, math, and science in the figures below — approximately a quarter of the students don’t make proficient. The current curricula apparently don’t work.
    Minimum – 3%
    Basic – 8%
    Minimum – 8%
    Basic – 21%
    Minimum – 10%
    Basic – 13%
    Minimum – 10%
    Basic – 17%
    Social Studies:
    Minimum – 3%
    Basic – 7%

  2. A subject area is not a curriculum. What I’m talking about is subject areas. So, I can clarify that on my post – subject areas.
    The district administration is using the word curriculum, which I don’t think is necessarily appropriate at this point in the proces, because if you’re talking about changes to curriculum, I would think that would take more time to work through than a few weeks of meetings that do not include the teaching professionals.
    I want all kids to take math. Connected math is the curriculum – is this curriculum teaching and challenging all kids?

  3. I think that any teacher worth their weight in gold should have the opportunity to utilize whatever curricular systems they feel will benefit a specific child at any given level. Some kids really connect with connected math while others might need a more traditional approach (or a more radical one at that). Ditto with reading. We’ve had great success at Black Hawk with the Read 180 program, but not every kid responds to Read 180 in the same fashion. As the demographics of the MMSD change, I’d think that having an arsenal of methods to reach the variety of learners surpasses a rigid “one method” system. Why don’t we give our fine teachers this type of freedom? Is it simply a logistical nightmare for administrators? Is there outside money tied to one program over another?

  4. I think similar subjects in middle schools differs from which curriculum is selected to teach a subject. I would hope that teachers have input into any curriculum and that there is ongoing evaluation of curriculum effectiveness to help children’s learning.
    MMSD administration says their selection of curriculum is research based and designed to reach the diversity of Madison’s children. I don’t think all parents and teachers agree with that. However, selection of a curriculum is based on a number of issues mentioned. Also, similar curriculum means that if a family moves from one part of Madison to another, the curriculum will be similar.
    I wonder what effect MMSD’s selection of curriculum for various subjects is having on parents’ decisions where to live and send their child to school?

  5. David,
    I should have also mentioned Read 180 as a good remedial reading program. The MMSD uses it in a few schools, but the administration didn’t follow through on its own plans to expand it to other schools in the last budget.
    How does Blackhawk use Read 180? Are students pulled from other classes so that they have time for reading instruction or is Read 180 built into their schedules?
    Of course, it would be better if ALL students could read when they leave elementary school, but it ain’t gonna’ happen in the MMSD.

  6. Black Hawk uses Read 180 and it is a pull-out program. Interestingly, our PTO had to pony up the initial cash to get the program in our building. Now the district covers the cost, although my understanding is that it comes from the building budget.
    An interesting aside is that when the MMSD reports the scores of reading tests done in elementary schools, only kids who attended that school for the entire year are figured into the calculation; hence, it is very skewed for schools with high mobility rates! My experience at Black Hawk (via 6th grade teachers) is that far more kids of poverty (think mobility as well) are reading at a 2nd-4th grade level when they enter 6th grade….fuzzy test score criteria give that “closed achievement gap” less luster than we’d be led to believe:(

  7. Dave – I think the criteria for whether or not a student’s result is included in the test scores for a particular school may be different depending on what test it is and how the measure is being used. On the DPI website, they use the term “full academic year” (FAY), which means that a student was at a particular school for the full academic year prior to taking the test, which would mean that for a 4th grader’s score to count, that student had to be at the school for all of 3rd grade as well. Some scores are reported using FAY as a criteria and some not. I’m assuming the introduction of the FAY concept was intended to try to mitigate the effects of mobility and get a truer picture of the quality of academic programming in each school…as much as that can be measured by test scores anyway. It really wouldn’t be fair for a school being measured for No Child Left Behind to have to include the scores of kids they didn’t have the opportunity to influence with their programming. They don’t get to count the scores of mobile high achievers either….although there are probably far fewer of those!
    You are right that the results of this policy can be misleading regarding the achievement gap, but that really depends on which kids are being counted. Some times the FAY measure is used at the district level, meaning all kids who were within MMSD in the previous year are counted…so those kids who might move from Vera Ct to Darbo to Allied would be counted, but those kids who moved in from Milwaukee or Chicago or elsewhere may not. How to properly count mobile kids is an interesting problem. It’s inaccurate to count them when trying to measure the academic progress of a particular school, but if they aren’t included, when do they count? These kids are the ones that are likely at most risk to fail, but with the emphasis on testing and “no child left behind”, they often aren’t even in the numbers. Ironic, isn’t it?

  8. I also find it odd that the kids we are striving most to help with some of the more intensive programs at our school, are the ones who are most mobile, and hardest to get any sense of progress for.
    I am fascinated by all this middle school and high school ‘curriculum’ discussion and how much of it is left to the teacher. At our elementary school, not one of our three kids’ Kindergarten or first grade teachers has used the same methods or curriculum for reading or math. The two who have already had higher grades as well, have also had very different teachers with very different methods and materials. For example, some use a book for math and have lots of busywork homework, and some use self-designed and eclectically borrowed materials, with no books at all. Even for what is supposed to be the same grade or level work (2nd or 3rd grade, for example, were very different for our two kids who had very different teachers during those grades). It seems strange that there is so much freedom to use what works for your class in elementary schools here, but more rigid guidelines for middle school, where the differences in readiness across “heterogeneous” classes are so obvious.

  9. No matter what, teachers have always made the difference in how happy my daughter is in school and how well she does in school. In both elementary and middle school, I’ve seen lots of different approaches used by teachers teaching the same subject and using the same curriculum, which reflects style and experience gathered over the years. In middle school, CMP is the “core” math curriculum, but the math teachers bring other material for children.
    Since the timeframe for the middle school redesign is so short (report to Art Rainwater in December), I think we’ll probably see a more similar structure of subjects offered – for example, in 7th and 8th grade children have one foreign language daily for the year in all schools rather than one school offering a foreign language for two semesters another school one full year, another school two full years.

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