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Boston Compact's Success in Middle Schools Called Mixed

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Boston's business community, one of the first to reach out to public schools through formal, districtwide agreements, has begun turning its attention to the middle-school level--thus far, with mixed success, according to a new report.

The report by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, which outlines recent partnership ventures and efforts at middle-school restructuring, says such programs show signs of promise in a "fertile area for reform." But over all, it says, the middle-school efforts suffer from a lack of clear focus.

Most of the city's business-school programs of recent years, including the Boston Compact, have concentrated on high schools, note the au4thors of "Improving Middle Schools in Boston: A Report on the Boston Compact and School District Initiatives."

The variety of programs now penetrating the crucial pre-high-school years, write Colleen Connolly and the late Eleanor Farrar, educational researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo, offer the possibility of coming to terms with some of the problems encountered in partnerships at the high-school level. But in many cases, they say, business resources have been misdirected or not used to greatest advantage.

While jobs, college scholarships, and career-education programs are important, the study concludes, resources aimed at retraining teachers, providing districtwide reading programs that work, and addressing other systemic deficiencies might prove more effective in the long term.

Middle-grade improvement efforts were spurred in the spring of 1988 with the expansion of the Boston Compact to 10 middle schools, a move that included the first pairings of businesses and middle schools through the Boston Private Industry Council.

The pic had received requests for such help from district and middle-school administrators, according to the study, and businesses were interested, it says, because of "unproductive partnerships" with high schools.

Business leaders saw the middle-school setting as providing greater access to the building principal, more flexible scheduling for activities, and students who, because of their age, would be more responsive to outreach efforts, according to the study.

It is too early, the report says, to fully evaluate progress. But the fact that middle schools are not amenable to many of the activities aimed at high schools, it says, has made finding a program focus difficult.

The pic is currently considering expanding to more middle schools a dropout-prevention program now operating in 10 of the city's 14 high schools, one elementary school, and one middle school.

That program, Compact Ventures, restructures the 9th grade into small clusters of students who take core academic courses together and are taught by teams of teachers. Students also get extra remedial help and extensive career-education counseling.

Another program aiding middle schools is the Boston Plan for Excellence, a business-sponsored education fund that manages gifts in excess of $15 million to support individual schools, teachers, and students.

The Hancock Endowment for Academics, Recreation, and Teaching, or heart, one program under the fund's umbrella, provides support to middle schools for academic-enrichment and extracurricular sports programs.

But the study concludes that heart academic grants "largely are supporting conventional teaching and learning approaches," rather than spurring major changes.--rrw

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