Brooklyns worst middle schools are about to receive some help.
The city will split $5 million between the 50 poorest performing junior highs in the five boroughs as part of a series of new initiatives aimed at improving failing middle schools.
I think its a start because you always need finances to take care of programming, said James Dandridge, president of District 18s Community Education Council (CEC), which has advocated for additional support for its schools in East Flatbush and Canarsie.
The initiatives were created based on a report filed by the City Councils Middle School Task Force, which was formed in response to parents complaints that local junior highs, especially those in low-income neighborhoods, are unable to provide students with a quality education because of limited resources and funding.
Dismal standardized test scores have supported parents cries and suggested that student achievement declines once children reach junior high school.
On the 2006 state English Language Arts (ELA) exams, the number of students who met or exceeded standards by scoring in the top two levels on the tests steadily dropped from grades three to eight. Citywide, 61.5 percent of third-graders excelled on the ELA exam but in the eighth grade, just 36.6 percent of students placed in the highest brackets.
There were similar results for last years math exams. Approximately 75.3 percent of the citys third-graders scored in Levels 3 and 4. Of the citys eighth-graders, just 38.9 percent met or exceeded standards.
Test scores were lackluster this year as well, as less than 50 percent of middle school students met or exceeded ELA standards.
When announcing the new initiatives at a junior high in Manhattan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg acknowledged, Middle schools are where too many of our students begin to lose their footing.
Since the $5 million will be shared, each school will receive roughly $100,000 to pay for professional development, additional guidance counselors, or extended day programs. The city Department of Education (DOE) has yet to announce which schools will get the cash next month.
When you start to give the teachers what they need in terms of professional development, [you] train them to be better teachers, said Lenore Brown, a member of Cypress Hills Advocates for Education and the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ), an alliance of parent organizations lobbying for improvements to middle schools. (Make the Road is a founding member of the Coalition for Education Justice.)
To provide all students with challenging curriculums, which parents say will renew their interest in learning, Regents-level courses will be offered at all middle schools in the city.
We want all middle schools to be the best middle schools. I want to be able to send my daughter to the school up the block instead of traveling 45 minutes, said CEJ member Zakiyah Ansari, whose daughter travels from their Brownsville home to I.S. 78 in Mill Basin.
The DOE will also be paying extra attention to middle schools, which critics say have been ignored in years past.
The department hired Lori Bennett, a local instructional superintendent in the just-abolished Region 8, to serve as director of middle school initiatives.
The Middle School Task Forces other recommendations, like lowering class size, were not included in the initiatives but parents hope theyll be included in the future.
This is the first step. Were starting with these now and if they work out and they put more money into that, then next year they can start with something else out of the recommendations, Ansari said. Its going to be a process because the middle school crisis didnt happen overnight and its not going to be fixed overnight.