Wednesday, January 03, 2007

He Said

I've been thinking a lot about my eighth graders from last year during my first year in grad school. Even though it was probably the most frustrating year of my life, it was also one of the most rewarding. Amid all the chaos (and there certainly was a lot of it at my former school), I had a lot of wonderful kids that tried really hard to do the best they could in school. So whenever I read articles like this one in the Times, I immediately become skeptical of all the focus on middle school. While I recognize a lot of the distractions that middle school kids have to deal with mentioned in the article and I agree that they certainly have a negative impact on learning, the narrow focus obscures the larger problems. As one kid says in the article, they are not adequately prepared to succeed in middle school. I think this is a big, if not the biggest, reason so many kids in my after-school program (in 6th, 7th and 8th grade) were doing so poorly in middle school. They were so far behind that it is not realistically possible for them to catch up and then do well on the tests. This wasn't entirely the fault of the middle school or their hormones. Even though a lot of them got discouraged after continually not understanding what was going on, we had a number of kids that put in a lot of extra effort to raise their test scores.

But the point of talking about middle school "solutions" is about getting them ready to do well in high school, not just about test scores. I think there are a lot of things that could have improved the environment in my former school (a 9am start time would be a great start) that would have helped my 8th graders learn and get better prepared for 9th grade, but I don't see how any solutions that start in middle school are going to resolve the larger problems in a school system that starts leaving kids behind long before they get there. I keep thinking about a Dominican kid who had been stuck in ESL classes for years because nobody recognized or did anything about his learning disability. He worked harder than almost anyone and was one of the most charming kids I’ve ever met, but he had never really learned how to read and this of course limited everything he did in middle school. He passed 8th grade somehow, but I’m not too optimistic about his chances in high school. Even if he makes it, it’s not realistic to expect most kids to overcome so many obstacless.

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