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Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Sun
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Report: Almost Half City’s Middle Schools Are Failing

Nearly half of the city’s middle schools are failing and the Bloomberg administration is not doing enough to help them, a report released today says.


Only a quarter of African-American and Hispanic eighth-graders can read at grade level, compared to half of white students, while at high-poverty schools, only 22% of eighth-graders read proficiently, according to the report.


The report — based on last school year’s test scores and issued by a group of parents, advocates, and education experts, the Coalition for Educational Justice (Make the Road by Walking is a founding member of this coalition)— comes on the heels of state test scores from last year, which showed a large drop in middle school grades, and last week’s release of a list of city schools failing under No Child Left Behind requirements, nearly half of which were middle schools.


The report’s authors say that education experts have long known about the middle school problem, but accuse city school chancellors of ignoring it over the past decade. They argue that abysmal middle school statistics will not be relieved by the strategies of the current schools chancellor, Joel Klein, to lift middle school achievement, which include the absorption of many middle schools into kindergarten through eighth-grade schools and high schools that begin in sixth grade.


Bloomberg ‘s administration "seems to be continuing the same patterns of not paying attention," the report’s principal author, Norm Fruchter, the director of the community involvement program at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, said. "Structural reform is not enough. You have to change the instructional conditions that have led to this."


The Department of Education said it is investing in instruction in middle schools, however. A spokesman, David Cantor, said in a statement that $40 million a year is going toward "academic interventions" and to "improve instruction" in middle schools, while failing schools are being closed and new smaller "learning communities" created to foster social and instructional cohesiveness.

"One result of the changes: New York City eighth-graders have outperformed the rest of the state in reading and math during the past four years by a substantial margin," he said.


But the number of city eighth-graders reading proficiently on state exams last year was only 1 percentage point higher than it was in 1998. This is a sign that middle schools have been ignored, according to the report, which says Mr. Klein’s hallmark "Children First" reform "has failed to register any sustained gains" in the middle grades over the past three years.


"Teachers are rarely very well prepared to teach students at this grade level," an expert in middle school grades at the Academy for Educational Development, a nonprofit group, Patrick Montesano, said. "Our concern is that in experimenting with grade configuration we not lose sight of what teachers have to do and know."


Beyond training teachers in the specific needs of middle school students, the report also calls for a more equal distribution of qualified teachers and an improvement of curriculum and class offerings at high-poverty schools.


Accelerated math courses are offered at 57% of high-performing schools, which have higher proportions of white students and lower proportions of high-poverty students, and only 17% of low-performing schools, which tend to have more minority and highpoverty students. Among teachers at the low-performing middle schools, 25% weren’t highly qualified under No Child Left Behind requirements, compared to 17% at high-performing schools.


A resident of the Mott Haven section of the Bronx and a leader in the coalition that produced the report, Carol Boyd, said she first noticed the problem when her daughter started sixth grade.


"It was mayhem," she said. "She didn’t know one-tenth of what I knew as a junior high schooler."


While Ms. Boyd was able to transfer her daughter to a middle school in Manhattan, she said most of her neighbors are forced to send their children to the failing neighborhood school.


"It’s exclusionary," she said.