Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

Reconfiguring Schools Is Not a Panacea

March 14, 2006 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Your story “K-8 Structure Gives No Academic Boost, Analysis Finds” (March 1, 2006) indicates that rather than simply shuffling and reshuffling students from school to school, we should spend our time and resources focusing on what happens inside the classroom.

That is the long-standing view of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, which has identified nearly 80 “Schools to Watch” in 14 states that prove good middle-grades schools do not come in one size. These schools to watch represent various grade levels (K-8, 5-8, 6-8, and 7-12) and are located in all kinds of communities—urban, rural, and suburban. Despite their differences, they all share four basic qualities:

1. They are academically excellent and offer every student a rigorous and relevant curriculum that fosters critical thinking and problem-solving.

2. They create a safe, healthy, and personalized learning environment that is responsive to the unique needs and interests of young adolescents.

3. They make sure that all students have access to high-quality classes and the support they need to achieve at high levels.

4. They have shared leadership, offer powerful professional development, build a strong learning community where teachers share with one another and reflect on their practice, and take other steps to ensure continuous improvement.

Despite the current popularity of shifting to K-8 schools, there is little hard evidence that simply reconfiguring schools enhances student performance. Creating small schools, or small learning communities within large schools, may help facilitate greater personalization and lead to improved teaching, learning, and social development. But even these actions are not a panacea. What really matters is providing a challenging curriculum, effective instruction, highly trained teachers, and caring, supportive relationships.

Nancy Ames

Vice President

Education Development Center Inc.

Newton, Mass.

The writer is a founding director of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform, located in Champaign, Ill.

A version of this article appeared in the March 15, 2006 edition of Education Week as Reconfiguring Schools Is Not a Panacea

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