Middle school changes urged

Middle school changes urged

There are 8 comments on the Baltimore Sun story from Jun 25, 2008, titled Middle school changes urged. In it, Baltimore Sun reports that:

Middle schoolers need longer school days, specially trained teachers and more challenging academics if schools officials hope to reverse a decades-long trend of sagging achievement rates, according to a report ...

Join the discussion below, or Read more at Baltimore Sun.


United States

#1 Jun 25, 2008
I've been to many classrooms and worked as a social worker for 1 year in a City middle school. Unfortunately, I think Grasmick's strategies for improving middle school teachers or that business about "highly qualified teachers" are so short-sited. I observed many classrooms with highly qualified teachers and teachers who didn't have that credential. In the city, I've found that teachers who were good at dealing with inner city students were effective teachers. There were several teachers who were highly qualified that were terrible at maintaining order and getting the students to work.

I read an article about principal who completely turned around a failing school with a high poverty concentration to one of the highest achieving schools in the district. The school was zero-based so she could hire her whole staff. The main question she asked was "Do you love children?" That led to a discussion about how these prospective teachers would handle situations. She said, "Loving children is key. I can teach them how to teach."

So, teachers need to have the personality and passion for helping very troubled youths in very troubled and violent communities to make progress in the inner city. It takes an understanding of poverty and the culture that these kids grow up in. It's beyond challenging but it is what's needed. Not a teacher with a stupid piece of paper.

Since: Oct 07

Clay, NY

#2 Jun 25, 2008

If you want to look at the report ini question.

Baltimore, MD

#3 Jun 25, 2008
Longer school day? You've about had they're attention for all your going to get now! Plus. If you lengthen the middle school day without affecting the elementary and high school schedules, you'll have the increase your school bus fleets by about 1/3. If you lengthen the high school day, you've virtually eliminated sports and extracurricular activities.

That's the most impractical recomendation I've ever heard.
John R Stevenson

Baldwin, MD

#4 Jun 25, 2008
Someone sent me these remarks by the eminent historian David McCullough several years ago and think that they are a wonderful testament to the central importance of the arts in the eduction of every student. As he notes, exposure to the arts is not enough - in fact, in many cases they provide the 'authentic/real-world' applications of lessons learned in other academic areas.

Sadly, I'm not able to find the article online now to cite the source. Regardless of their provenance, they are well-written and powerful.

The Future of Imagination: Art at the Heart of a Great Society

by David McCullough, Historian, Author, and Host of the PBS series "The American Experience"

The arts - the fruits of imagination - are not accessories to life, nor to education. They are not the parsley that decorates the main course. They are education, and provide lessons that can be learned in no other way. The most important lesson of the arts is that there is no other way to learn except by doing. You learn to play the piano only by playing the piano. You learn to listen by listening. In the process, we begin to understand what we're doing and why. We also discover how much more there is within ourselves than we thought. And there is no other field in which an inspiring teacher can make a greater difference.

We want our children to have the best education possible. We want them to have art in school, and art that is seriously presented. Exposure alone is not good enough. Programs that bring artists to school or take children to performances or museums are wonderful, and the more, the better. But just exposing youngsters to art isn't enough, and it isn't the point. We have to be ready to make a clear commitment, backed by financial support, to the concept of art teachers being premier. We need the best possible teachers teaching a serious subject seriously.

What is the future of the imagination? The future of the imagination is wide open, safe and exciting, as long as we bear in mind that imagination is the future. We will not solve our problems as a society without imagination. We will not raise great models of our own meaning as a society without imagination.

All that the Founding Fathers wrote is directed to the future - what America could be. What we were to become was to be an effort of the imagination. We were to be something that had never been attempted before, something truly new under the sun. Today, it is our responsibility to educate young people to understand that there are still unlimited possibilities for the human spirit - for the imagination. Without the arts in our schools, we cut our own cultural, civic, and civilized lifeblood. We cheat our children, and the future.
John R Stevenson

Baldwin, MD

#5 Jun 25, 2008
While I stand by my previous comment, which was based wholly upon Ms. Davis' article, I've now had an opportunity to read the entire Maryland Middle School Steering Report and feel compelled to note a small but significant error in Ms. Davis' reporting.

The report recommends that all students be provided "fine-arts instruction that develops their literacy in music, dance, theater, and visual arts." This is much better than simply "expos(ing) all students to fine-arts classes, such as dance, music, theater and visual arts," as Ms. Davis reported. The difference is clear in two significant ways.

First, the report affirms the need for and ability to achieve rigor in the arts. As with other academic disciplines, the arts have rich content essential to a complete education. To be successful in the arts, students must be able to synthesize information from many other disciplines to create new and culturally meaningful work. Far from being a frill, as some regard it, art is perhaps the most significant way of expressing that we all share a connection and are, at the same time, simultaneously unique individuals. This can and must be taught; we can and should have high expectations.

Second, the report recommends that students develop their literacy in "music, dance, theater, and visual arts." This is a far cry from exposing students to fine arts classes "such as" music, dance, theatre, and visual arts. The language in the report quite clearly recommends that all students in the state of Maryland develop literacy in all, not some, of these arts disciplines.

The Maryland Middle School Steering Committee and Dr. Grasmick are now on record as supporting scheduling and staffing models that support the standards already approved in Maryland's Fine-Arts Voluntary State Curriculum.

Now, only the small issues remain. When will these classes be scheduled and who will pay for the additional highly-qualified teachers? I hope that the Baltimore Sun and it's readers will continue to pursue this issue - our future is at stake!

Dundalk, MD

#6 Jun 26, 2008
As a middle school teacher, I can confidently say that longer days are not the answer. The building I work in is understaffed because Baltimore County cuts positions every year. Foreign language? Ha!

At this age, students need love, absolutely. They also need HANDS-ON activities and courses - shop, cooking, sewing, etc. Such classes help students apply skills, boost confidence, and expose them to career avenues they might otherwise miss.

The real missing link, however, is resolve. Parents must be tenacious from the day a child is born, exposing the child to variety in arts, people, and literature. Go to the zoo, the library, the museum. Go A LOT, not just once. Reading to your child every day is essential - when you really can't, play recorded books. Today's students have very poor mastery of English, and reading to them is the real fix.


United States

#7 Jun 27, 2008
palynmom, agreed wholeheartedly!

Philipsburg, PA

#8 Jun 29, 2008
Middle school students need more attention from administrators, who decrease class size at other levels then turn around and pack our classes at 35. I agree that hands on activities, freedom to explore the arts, and more challenging work are necessary.(Posters and powerpoints are not the only answer!) I disgree that all eighth graders need Algebra I.(Think Piaget and concrete/abstract)

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