Education Letter to the Editor

What ‘Middle School Concept’?

February 21, 2006 4 min read
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To the Editor:

To suggest, as Commentary writer Cheri Pierson Yecke does, that the failure of American schools is somehow the result of the failure of the “middle school concept” is absolutely ludicrous and without evidence (“Mayhem in the Middle,” Commentary, Feb. 1, 2006).

What is the middle school “concept”? If Ms. Yecke means the middle school “philosophy” or the implementation thereof, or both, then two of the five founding fathers of the middle school philosophy are restless in their graves, and the other three should be writing letters just like this one. William Alexander, Conrad Toepfer Jr., Donald Eichorn, John Lounsbury, and Alfred Arth never suggested that academic standards be absent from the implementation of the philosophy. The National Middle School Association and all of its affiliates have always promoted both high academic standards and meeting the child-development needs of early adolescents. Every piece of research has pointed to meeting the specific academic, social, emotional, physical, and psychological needs of this very special population of children.

There is nothing wrong with the philosophy of middle-level education or its proper implementation by teachers and administrators committed to meeting the needs of “transescents.” As a teacher, assistant principal, and principal of 32 years, I can assure Ms. Yecke that there is no mayhem in our middle schools. The mayhem is at home, and the schools are required to solve the problem.

Districts like ours that have embraced the “essentials” of the middle school philosophy are meeting the needs of children in all five areas of their lives.

Joseph A. Galli Sr.

Drexel Hill, Pa.

To the Editor:

Cheri Pierson Yecke’s appraisal of the “middle school concept” demonstrates much ignorance of research in the field. True middle schools are based on research from many in middle-level education, on such components as young adolescents’ social, emotional, and cognitive development; flexible scheduling; the advantages of curriculum integration; and the value of advisory sessions to the growth of young adolescents.

Someone genuinely interested in middle schools would mention the phrase “young adolescent,” which I noticed Ms. Yecke never does. Her previous writing on middle schools demonstrates her inability to address research in the field and her ignorance of what young adolescents are like. I offer Ms. Yecke’s own advice to anyone who would cite her or publish her rantings: “Do not resuscitate” her simple-minded opinions on this topic.

Dave F. Brown

West Chester, Pa.

To the Editor:

As a retired middle and high school principal, I take extreme umbrage with the statements made by Cheri Pierson Yecke in her Feb. 1, 2006, Commentary. In my school, as in no doubt thousands of others across the nation, the “middle school concept” has been applied and is working wonders for students lucky enough to be enrolled.

The problem with Ms. Yecke’s position is that it takes an all-or-none approach. The middle grades are not a time for learning rather than a time for personal adjustment. They are a time for both learning and personal adjustment. To forget this recipe is to fail both the students and the public.

If and when the public learns enough about middle-grades education, it will insist that flogging students with so-called rigorous academic standards to the exclusion of their personal growth leads to poorer, not better, performance.

Much has been written about the middle school concept. It is obvious Ms. Yecke has not learned from it.

Anthony A. Galitsis

Flushing, N.Y.

The writer was the director of science for the New York City board of education from 1980 to 1994.

To the Editor:

As an educator with more than 25 years of experience working with middle school students, I am perplexed and disheartened by Cheri Pierson Yecke’s definition of the “middle school concept,” and I wonder if she has read anything related to it. Whether we cite the National Middle School Association’s “This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents,” or the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s “Turning Points 2000: Educating Adolescents in the 21st Century,” creating and maintaining “high expectations for every member of the learning community” and an “inviting, supportive, and safe environment” remain the cornerstones of the middle school concept.

Similar to so many high-performing middle schools throughout the country, my school strives to effectively incorporate the best practices identified in these reports, which correctly define the “middle school concept.” Consistent with these recommendations, our faculty, organized in interdisciplinary teams, maintains high behavioral and academic standards and has the expertise and disposition to work successfully with this age group—another NMSA and Carnegie recommendation.

Thankfully, the “concept” to which Ms. Yecke refers is foreign to my school community. I suggest that she read the aforementioned texts or refer to the National Middle School Association’s Web site if she is looking for a blueprint for creating successful middle schools. She may find comfort in realizing that her call for “rigorous academic standards, a coherent curriculum, high expectations, effective instruction, strong leadership, results-based accountability, and sound discipline” is compatible with our common understanding of the middle school concept.

Jody I. Goeler


Avon Middle School

Avon, Conn.

A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 2006 edition of Education Week as What ‘Middle School Concept’?


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