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Principals Release Agenda for Improving Middle-Level Education

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Washington--To improve education in "middle-level" grades, teachers should be given more control in schools and students should be encouraged to take a wide variety of courses without feeling pressure to master them, according to a report released here last week by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

The report, "An Agenda for Excellence at the Middle Level," argues that middle-school educators should not force students into a specified curriculum.

Instead, schools should recognize "that the young adolescent is interested in 'virtually everything, but nothing very much,' by providing adequate exploratory programs that introduce students to a variety of topics, skills, and content fields without requiring mastery," the report states.

This can be accomplished, the report says, by offering a number of short courses or electives, thus giving students a sense of control over their education.

The report's recommendations are based on school visits, research, and meetings with educators conducted over the last nine months by the four-member nassp Council on Middle Level Education, according to J. Howard Johnston, the document's primary author.

More Teacher Control

To make middle schools academically productive, key decisions involving curriculum and instruction, classroom management, and student services, should be made by individual teachers or by teams of teachers "working closely with students and other school personnel," the report states. "Schools should be organized so that decisions are made at the lowest possible level in the organization."

"This is just sound management practice," Mr. Johnston said in an interview.

The report lays out a plan for an effective middle-level program, said Mr. Johnston, who is dean of the college of education at the University of Cincinnati. "Some schools are already there," he said, "and some are not."

The 20-page report has been distributed to nassp's 35,000 members, about half of whom are middle-level school principals.

'Acne and Heartache'

According to George E. Melton, deputy executive director for nassp, students experience severe emotional, physiological, and intellectual changes while passing through the middle grades. "Their days may be filled with acne and heartache," Mr. Melton said. "They are unique and require a unique school."

"It is important that only the very best teachers, those who understand the subjects they teach and the development of early adolescents, be permitted to work with these dynamic youngsters," the report states.

It suggests that these teachers should be specially trained and certified. Training should include study in human development, counseling, instruction, classroom management, and home-school cooperation, according to the recommendations.

To encourage good middle-level teachers to stay in the profession, the report says that schools must:

Raise all teacher salaries by a minimum of 25 percent.

Provide "ranks or career ladders" whereby promotion is based on "specific professional criteria judged by colleagues and administrators.''

Establish a system that rewards exceptional teaching performance and encourages profesional excellence.

Stop assigning teachers to non-instructional duties such as supervision and clerical assignments.

Limit teaching loads to the equivalent of four academic classes each day and the student load to between 80 and 100.

In addition, the report argues that principals, with the assistance of parent and teacher advisory groups, should have control over their own budgets, staffing, and physical plant, and be allowed one assistant principal for every 300 students in the school.

Members of the nassp council that prepared the report include: Mr. Johnston, Alfred A. Arth, professor of education at the University of Wyoming, John H. Lounsbury, editor of the Middle School Journal, and Conrad F. Toepfer Jr., professor of education at the State University of New York, Buffalo.

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