En Español Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Citing Learning Slumps, Mayor Presents Plan for Low-Performing Middle Schools

By JENNIFER MEDINA

Calling middle school students the hardest to reach, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced yesterday that he would direct an additional $5 million to about 50 of the city’s lowest-performing middle schools and appoint a high-level administrator to devise professional development programs for middle school teachers and principals.

He acted as the City Council released a report detailing problems in the city’s middle schools, including teacher retention difficulties and large class sizes, and issued a number of recommendations to address them. The council report noted that the percentage of eighth graders who perform at grade level is just 45.6 in math and just 41.8 percent in reading. Those were sharp drops from elementary school.

“That’s when many students begin to lose their footing,” the mayor said, referring to middle school. “Generally speaking, those in elementary school do what you tell them to do. And I think it’s also true by the time they get to high school, they don’t. It’s in those middle years where they transfer from one to another.”

Driven by newly documented slumps in learning, by crime rates and by high dropout rates in high school, educators across New York and the nation have been struggling to rethink middle school programs and the best way to teach adolescents at a transitional juncture of self-discovery and hormonal change.

In a show of widespread support for the changes, the mayor and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein appeared yesterday next to Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn; Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers; and dozens of members of the Coalition for Educational Justice (of which Make the Road by Walking is a founding member), a group of parents who had agitated for increased attention to the city’s middle schools and their 220,000 students. The group released its own report in January.

But the mayor shied away from adopting the most far-ranging changes recommended in the reports, like significantly reducing class sizes, creating a special middle school academy to train teachers about early adolescence, and removing police officers from city schools to create a more welcoming atmosphere.

The mayor said the city would work to expand the number of advanced level Regents classes in middle school, which prepare students for tests they are required to pass in order to graduate from high school. The effort will first be focused on about 50 of the lowest-performing schools; those students will be able to take advanced-level classes at other schools if their current ones do not offer them.