City middle schools are caught in a “pattern of neglect” that is magnified in the poorest neighborhoods, a study to be released today charges.
The study, by the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (Make the Road by Walking is a founding member of this coalition), an organization of parent advocacy groups, found middle schools are plagued by substandard teachers and an unequal distribution of resources and course offerings.
It says the Bloomberg administration’s education reforms ignore middle schools, and recommends aiding them with a “Marshall Plan” that includes a richer curriculum and more emotional support for students.
“The middle schools are where you need to be concentrating on most, and in key areas, it’s the place we’re concentrating on least,” said Norman Fruchter, a researcher with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and one of the report’s authors.
“Compared to what the city’s doing in high schools, where there’s a full-court press, you don’t see a full-court press in middle schools.”
David Cantor, press secretary to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, said the city Education Department could not respond to the report because it had not seen it. But he objected to the notion that the city has neglected the middle grades, saying it has “implemented serious and lasting middle-school reform.”
Citing city and state data, the report found that teachers in middle schools are more likely to be teaching courses outside of their license areas and have less experience than those in elementary schools.
While 56 percent of elementary-school teachers and 57 percent of high-school teachers have at least five years of experience, less than half of middle-school teachers do.
Disparities in teacher quality and curriculum widen when low-performing and high-performing schools are considered.
For instance, researchers found that low-performing middle schools routinely do not offer math and science courses thought to be key for success in high school.
More than half of high-performing middle schools offer advanced math courses that prepare students for Regents exams, but fewer than one in five low-performing schools have such courses.
Some 1,028 students in high-performing middle schools took the Regents science exam in 2005, compared to just 26 in low-performing schools.
“Our city’s middle schools continue to function as pathways to failure, rather than platforms for success,” the report concludes.
The report is the latest salvo in an intense effort by educators and activists nationwide to solve what has been dubbed “the middle-school crisis,” characterized by slumping test scores, soaring dropout rates in high school, and escalating violence.
To combat the crisis, the city has pumped an extra $40 million into academic intervention programs, created small learning groups in large middle schools, and reconfigured dozens of schools to serve kindergarten through eighth grade – a structure thought by some to be more nurturing and productive.
As evidence that the reforms are working, the city notes that its eighth-graders have outpaced those in the rest of the state in gains on reading and math tests over the past four years.